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Submitted by Jon Wilcox on November 23 2007 - 17:52

The Fires of Liberation arrive on Xbox 360 as Project Aces' latest arcade flight shooter appears on the radar...

One of the lesser brands synonymous with the PlayStation brand, Namco Bandai's Ace Combat series has finally made the leap to Xbox 360 with 'Fires of Liberation', the first time away from the PSone or PS2 since 2005's Ace Combat Advance on GBA. Pretty much a secondary franchise, especially in the West (Ace Combat 6 recently featured very highly in the Japanese software charts), can Ace Combat 6 break the mould and offer a more engaging experience but without affecting too much of its ten-year heritage?

It's fair to say that for many twenty- and thirty-somethings, Top Gun remains one of the most memorable movies of the 1980s. With a guitar-heavy soundtrack and fast jet fighters, the movie even had a direct positive effect on the number of applicants to the US Air Force - and for the rest of us it probably created a fantasy of flying F-14 Tomcats until games like Ace Combat allowed some small sense of fulfilment.

Highway to the Danger Zone

Having focused on the Belkan War on PlayStation 2 with a story arc that lasted three separate titles, Fires of Liberation features a brand new storyline that has players fight back to reclaim their homeland invaded by pseudo-Soviets one piece at a time. Built up with an overly-dramatic narrative that follows the time honoured Ace Combat tradition of showing the war from the perspective of ordinary people and military personnel on the ground, Fires of Liberation sees Estovakian forces overwhelm its neighbour Emmeria, capturing its capital of Gracemeria within the very first mission. Attention then turns to clawing it back with both Emmerian land and air forces (including the player's two-man Garuda team) travelling to plains, mountain ranges, and urban areas along the way.

The screenshots of the game have teased us with beautifully rendered killers of the sky for many months now, impressing us further during a demonstration at this year's Leipzig Game Convention, but it's not until you get behind the stick and move the camera around the outside of the plane that the full effect can be felt. Catching the sun like a promo for the RAF, Armee de l'Air, or USAF so that the wings are bathed with tips of light and lens flare repeatedly causes jaws to drop and rightly so. They've been so well crafted that Namco Bandai actually has a "Real or Ace Combat" section on the official website, asking users to consider which in a series of jet images are photos and which are taken from the game...

So which fictitious countries are waging war for the sake of gamers flying around some of the top jet fighters in the real world today? Fifteen licensed aircraft from around the world are available to unlock, purchase, and use through the course of events, from the F-16 that players begin with right up to some of the more fashionable fighters like the F-22 Raptor and the Eurofighter Typhoon. Aging workhorses like the F-14 Tomcat, the Tornado, and the F-117 Nighthawk are also available along with the A-10 Tankbuster and the Mirage 2000C. Each has a complete breakdown of various attributes such as a speed, and effectiveness in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat, together with a host of primary and secondary weapons open to purchase and selection according to the circumstances of the impending missions. In a real 'Cold War gone warm' scenario, the Strigon elite Air Force of Estovakia use the Russian-built Su-33 jets in response to the NATO-like itinerary of Emmeria, though both sides have access to technology from both sides of the former Iron Curtain.

Take my breath away???

The missions themselves are pretty epic this time around, helped by a new structure that sees players tackle multiple objectives in a single battle. Based around a single end objective, such as helping to take out enemy forces threatening a small bastion of Emmerian forces or offering air support to a number of attack groups on the ground, these sub-objectives can be selected and completed in any order by players. Offering additional tactical awareness updates are AWACS control planes that warn Garuda team when other groups require the player's assistance, throwing in the occasional rapid response that makes you feel like you're pretty much taking on the entire Estovakian military alone...not even Biggles would dare attempt that. The bulk of the missions are largely made up of two distinct areas: air-to-ground attacks and air-to-air combat, disrupting Estovakian lines and securing advanced positions such as airports. Despite initial sparks of excitement as the dogfights and bombing runs progress, they quickly die down into a rather turgid and repetitive affair, exacerbated by the long length of the missions. Besides the rinse and repeat bread and butter gameplay, Fires of Liberation is peppered with a small number of 'Boss' encounters against the game's superweapons - a rather deadly (and fictitious) super flying fortress with multiple Cruise missile launching capabilities, and a long-range railgun - together with the recurring presence of the Strigon, the cream of the Estovakian Air Force. Both superweapons offer classic set piece experiences, and have something of the 'Rebel Alliance vs. Death Star' about them.

For whatever reason Ace Combat has largely remained a niche franchise, though Project Aces has worked to ensure that Fires of Liberation is one of the most accessible instalment to date. Besides offering two distinct control systems for novices and aces alike, though we'd definitely say that the jump to the more advanced system allows for a greater sense of immersion, for the most part it manages to straddle both arcade and sim action. Fast paced dogfights obviously hold appeal for both sections, but with the option to control manual landings, take-offs, and mid-air re-fuelling, there is just about enough to keep veterans of the series happy.

As the first instalment on what can perhaps be finally called the 'current-generation' of consoles, we have to admit that it's a tad disappointing to see that Project Aces hasn't implemented additional feedback into the game. For instance, the pilot remains unaffected by G-Forces that would otherwise be fatal. Despite ticking off most of the checklist of gameplay features, Ace Combat 6 ultimately fails thanks to the wildly over-extended missions that seem to drag on and on. Project Aces does deliver a 16-player online multiplayer option however, with a variety of solo and team-based dogfighting gametypes together with objective-based gameplay. Perhaps a more purer gaming experience than its 'Soap Opera in the sky' campaign, it's difficult to see many who would stick Ace Combat 6 into their Xbox 360s at the expense of multiplayer greats like Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, and Gears of War, for very long. It remains the closest that many of us will get to aerial combat however, and gives us the opportunity to quote lines of Top Gun dialogue over Xbox Live like a bunch of Maverick/Goose/Iceman/Jester wannabes.

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  • Graphics: 84%
  • Sound: 71%
  • Gameplay: 80%
  • Originality: 82%
  • Longevity: 64%
Overall Score: 7/10
Yes, the jets look stunning and at a great distance, so do some of the landscapes. Get closer however, and Ace Combat 6 doesn't hold up to scrutiny, with both its visuals and gameplay coming up short. Trademark rinse and repeat missions now offer multiple objectives in-flight that can last dozens of minutes but sadly don't hold much interest after a while, leaving players little choice but to inject some of their own seeing how close and fast the jets can get to the woefully low resolution ground without crashing into a ball of flames. Talk to me Goose...

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User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Fri 11th Jul 2008 18:34, Post No: 4

Ive had ace combat 6 for about 5 months and ive noticed a overall good look but as you look harder it gets a lot less realisistic. It does have a lot of good video and gameplay you can beat a level a hundred differrent ways

User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Sun 23rd Mar 2008 04:25, Post No: 3

conveyed to the latter by an express clause in his charter. It was put upon b37MXfm6x3 new system with regard to the corn laws, in many respects better

By: Scenseless Appentice

Added:Tue 29th Jan 2008 23:41, Post No: 2

Eh???? Sorry????? What do you mean???????????????

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By: Anonymous

Added:Sun 16th Dec 2007 19:10, Post No: 1

its horrible to see that you cannot see the plane from further differnt angles such as seeing the plane from a distance.