I took a somewhat odd approach to Ace Combat for the PS2, having gotten into the series late. I started out with Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War based on what I had read from fans and reviews and had a lot of great fun blowing up jets and hitting my objectives with plenty of firepower. After getting through it, I found myself looking forward to more arcade action in the wild blue, so I picked up Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies. It was easy to see where Ace combat 5 had improved on the formula, but the action in Shattered skies was still plenty of fun for a newcomer like myself.
Into the Sky
The story behind the action revolves around the nation of Erusia which was struck by a meteor in 1999, inflicting over five hundred thousand casualties with many more becoming refugees fleeing the devastation. A weapon called Stonehenge, originally built to defend against such asteroid strikes, was also discovered to be an extremely effective weapon in keeping the skies clear over most of Usea whether the enemy happened to be another meteor…or enemy planes. Taking advantage of this, Erusia launches a campaign of war across the continent of Usea, driving the remnants of its neighbors to the eastern coast where the Independent States Air Force regroups itself in a last stand.
The story is told through a series of stills drawn in an anime style to show a world not too different from our own through the eyes of a child as he experiences the Erusian occupation of his home. The player takes on the role of Mobius 1, an ace in the ISAF who will be taking the lead in the missions against Erusia’s war machine, while the progress of the war and its impact on the people will be narrated in between by one of its victims. While it might not have CG cut scenes to lay out what is going on, the stills and the story told from the pictures give it a unique feel that delivers the feeling of someone telling you their side of the war.
Taking to the Skies
The Ace Combat series is not a hardcore flight simulator that forces you to memorize several tiers of instruments in order to start your engine. Instead, it licenses real-world planes while keeping the gameplay simple, meaning that afterburners never run out, you carry enough missiles to supply your own air force, and depending on the difficulty, missiles may or may not kill you with the first hit. It’s a lot more like an arcade shooter which might not appeal to players looking for a more authentic experience, but it’s still packed with a lot of fun that should appeal to players itching to simply take to the skies and mix it up with millions of dollars of virtual hardware.
As you go through the game, you’ll also earn quite a bit of credit depending on your performance that you can spend on planes as they are unlocked through the game. You’ll be able to purchase new planes, sell old ones aside from the first default plane you start with, and even load up on special weapons specific to each bird to give you an extra edge in combat. Planes ranging from the F/A-18 Hornet to the Su-37 and F-22 round out what you can choose and as you get deeper into the game, you’ll need the hardware just to survive. Each plane has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, whether it is as a deadly weapon that does well against targets in the sky or ones on the ground, or a balance of both. Using the right plane for the job can either make things easier on you as you hit your objectives, or much harder if not impossible if you take the wrong one.
The controls are easy to get into with a little practice, and the missions that you follow the story with will ask you to destroy targets ranging from enemy planes to performing an attack inspired by Pearl Harbor on the enemy by destroying their unsuspecting fleet as it sits pretty in its harbor. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of missions to go through before the game is over with only eighteen waiting to be finished, and some of these can literally be finished in minutes. Saves are done in between each mission, or you can retry it again to improve your score or jump right into the next one.
Enemy planes will fill the sky, just waiting to be blown away, and most of them will put in a few decent moves before you can get that kill shot that you’ve been twisting around to get. But the enemy aces of the game, those that belong to the legendary Yellow Squadron that will eventually learn of your reputation, will test your skills as they juke, twist, and spin away from your missiles and bullets. Most of the game, however, will involve firing plenty of missiles at your foes which might disappoint players looking forward to old fashioned dogfighting with guns.
If you happen to run out of ammo, you’ll also be able to fly to a point on the map to land and restock your plane with firepower. Some of these ‘return to base’ sequences are interactive, giving you the chance to try and land your jet. If hitting the tarmac is something you’d rather leave to the PS2, you can always skip these sequences and just focus on flying and fighting.
The main campaign can be finished in just a few hours, possibly making this rental material for those looking for a much longer experience. Once it’s finished, you’ll be able to play the main campaign all over again with the money and planes that you’ve earned, or pick and choose which missions you want to try again to improve your performance. But unlike Ace Combat 5, it also includes a split screen two player feature that you can challenge a friend with for even more gaming goodness across several different challenges.
Destroy All Asteroids
Ace Combat 4 Shattered Skies is a fun, if short, arcade flier with a good story and gameplay that helps to set the stage for what you’ll experience with Ace Combat 5. It might only last a few hours, but you can also challenge a friend with its versus mode to sharpen your skills or realize that you need more practice. Solid graphics, decent music, and voice acting help round out the collection of unlockable planes and play options that would-be top guns will have at their fingertips when they take to the Shattered Skies in a war to free their homeland.
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