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Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation

Because it kicks the ass out of your flight simulator.
The Game:
For years, the Ace Combat series has been a staple of console-based aircraft simulation gaming. To be fair, there haven't been too many flight sims in the console world. I figured it was always due to controllers. Plane-based games always work best with a joystick, which are more readily available for computers. Either way, Ace Combat has carved out a place for itself due to its high quality gameplay, not because of a lack of decent competition.

In this latest iteration, the first for this generation of gaming, the war between fictional nations of Emmeria and Estovakia escalates to new heights. In between levels, the game provides cutscenes that attempt to personalize the story by providing us with the narratives of a few different Emmerian citizens and pilots. By far the weakest part of the game, these narrative links are poorly produced, with awful voice acting and animations that look like they were taken straight out of the first Silent Hill game--for the PS1.

Luckily, the rest of the game is as stellar as we've come to expect from Ace Combat. You start the game with only a small sampling of fighters, but as the game progresses, you can unlock more (or purchase them online). No matter which you choose, you'll find the controls are sharp and responsive. You can use a standard controller or spend more (a lot more) and get a joystick. Either way, you'll not find a better flight experience on any next gen game.

The missions start off easily enough. In fact, they're a little too easy. The only way you'll die in the early stages is if you purposefully crash your plane. But things do get progressively more difficult, to the point where by the end you might even be breaking a sweat from the pressure. To help you out, you get a wingman, and you can give him orders to cover your back or attack targets you designate. Initially, you won't even need the help, but by the end, he can be a literal lifesaver.

The other major weapon in your arsenal is...a major weapon in your arsenal. Specifically, before each mission, you can choose from a selection of different special weapons. These range from bombs that can devastate anti-aircraft artillery on the ground to a series of sweeping air-to-air missiles that can take down a bevy of foes. The timely application of these forces of destruction can save you in a pinch, and gives you a little re-playability as you will want to try the levels again with a different special weapon to see how it affects the course of the battle.

The single player mode is shorter than fans of the series have come to expect, but it's more than made up for it with some new multiplayer options that are a blast. You can do versus or team battles with up to 16 other people, and it can get just as crazy as any of the campaign modes. You can participate in either ranked or unranked battles, and you get the opportunity to try a large selection of airplanes regardless of whether or not you've unlocked them in the single player stages.

The Graphics:
Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation is a bizarre mismatch of styles and quality. The cutscenes are hideous: Jagged, archaic backgrounds framing awkward, stilted, poorly detailed characters that would have looked poor two generations ago. But none of that matters when you get into the meat and bones of the game. The levels look fantastic. The planes are so detailed, I can only imagine that the developers were using the blueprints of the real deal. The throw distant goes for miles, with only the slightest amount of stair-stepping in the far off mountains. Also, the framerate is rock steady and constant, making even the most chaotic battles crisp and clear on your screen.

The Audio:
The audio soars even higher than the graphics. The sounds of dogfighting have never sounded so intense or in your face. The rat-a-tat of machine guns, the explosions of the bombs, the rush of the air as it blasts over and around your wings. It's exhilarating. Further, the chatter of your teammates, calling each other, shouting out warnings, puts you firmly in the world. I was consistently thrilled with the audio on this title.

The Conclusion:
Ace Combat 6 wasn't one of the more hyped titles in the latter half of 2007, but that's not from lack of quality. Between the rock solid gameplay, eye catching graphics, and truly immersing sound, Ace Combat 6 is a strong debut for the series in this console generation. Whether you buy the game by itself or splurge on the higher priced bundle with flight sticks, you're going to have a great time with this one. Highly Recommended.


Second Opinion
I agree wholeheartedly with Daniel concerning the quality of Ace Combat 6. Although I got the distinct impression that the single player campaign felt a tad rushed in terms of length, the expansive multiplayer options and healthy player base balance the scales for replay value. While I also agree that the storyline was weak, I found the dialogue to be unintentionally hilarious. The one-liners are vastly more entertaining if taken in that context. I found the single player levels to be fairly balanced with the exception of a couple tough sections; such as the sharpshooter level.

With the recent downloadable content heading to the marketplace soon, Namco is dead set on continuing to support this successful franchise. The pricing seems a bit high though. While there is one free plane to download on the 31st of January, the remaining planes cost 200 points each ($2.50) and the Su-47 Berkut costs a whopping 400 points ($5.00). I'm all for a new plane on the marketplace, but the cost seems twice as much as it should be. Ace Combat vets will probably snatch these up immediately; especially those who want to get an advantage in the online arena.

If you are interested only in the single player, this title can be beaten in about 5 hours. Stick to a rental period. For everyone else, don't hesitate to pick up this title if you love online flight battles.