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Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies
Review By:  Jared Black
Developer:   Namco
Publisher:   Namco
# of Players:   1-2
Genre:   Flying
ESRB:   Everyone
Date Posted:   11-08-01

Does Namco ever make a bad game? If you take a look at the companyís offerings on the PS2 thus far (Ridge Racer V, Tekken Tag Tournament, MotoGP, Klonoa II, etc.), each game has been among the top games in itís genre. This tradition of excellence continues with Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies, a slightly flawed but nevertheless amazing experience.

Let me start off by saying that Iíve never played an Ace Combat game before. As this is my first experience with the series, Iím able to approach this game with a different perspective (not a hardcore flight fan) than other reviewers might. And as a casual fan of the genre, Ace Combat 4 has done an excellent job of grabbing me and turning me into a fan of the genre.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, itís basically an "arcade simulation" Ė meaning that although real-life situations are simulated, the controls are very arcade-like. The controls are much more basic than what youíd find in other flying games like the Janeís series, thus widening the gameís appeal to more fans of action games. The player controls the general direction of the plane (via the left analog stick), as well as the camera view, guns, missiles, and special weapons. And thatís it. All of that other stuff in more strict simulations (that kills the "fun" for a lot of gamers) is nowhere to be found here. Even landing your plane is optional, although youíll probably want to do that yourself simply because itís so easy to do.

The battles are your standard variety of objectives youíll find in any war-based (mech, plane, whatever) game. For some missions youíll have to take out various ground objectives, while in other missions youíll have to shoot down a certain number of planes. The battles themselves arenít tied together by any sort of storyline, other than the pre-mission briefing on why youíre taking out what you are. However, in-between most missions a seemingly unrelated storyline will play out via comic book cutscenes and sound effects to accompany each image. As you progress further into the game, that story will slowly converge on whatís currently happening and will begin to make sense. Surprisingly, the story is actually pretty gripping. While obviously the narration is limited (this isnít an RPG), it has one of the stronger and intriguing storylines this side of Final Fantasy III.

Blowing up stuff without having to worry about complicated controls is always fun, but what really makes this game such a treat is the way itís put together. The presentation of both the graphics and sound is top-notch, and does a great job in immersing the player. On the graphic side of things, this is the most realistic flying game anywhere. The terrain is both mind-bogglingly detailed and diverse, although if you look closely (usually before you crash) you can spot some blurry textures and seams in the landscape. Up in the air (where it really matters) however, it looks virtually photo-realistic. Each plane model is also very detailed, with distinct characteristics and designs. The weaponry is also done to perfection, with some gorgeous explosions and accurate weapon designs. Add to this the fact that each camera view is both beautiful (particularly the cockpit one) and very playable, and youíve got a gorgeous game.

The interface is also worth a special mention. It has a very distinct design that really conveys the feeling of "war". From the usage of the proper fonts to the excellent mission maps, the entire interface flows together in one perfect package. However, scrolling through your available planes and weapons before each mission can be hard on the eyes due to the fact that Namco used light colors for both the background and text in the foreground. In some cases it can be extremely hard to make out what youíre looking at. This is a very minor inconvenience however in what is overall an excellent interface.

The sound is also wonderfully done. All of the voice acting is excellent, from the pre-mission briefings to the radio chatter to narration during cutscenes. There is plenty of radio chatter throughout each mission, and rarely does it repeat more than once or twice. Even when it does repeat, itís generally only something you would expect to hear multiple times (such as "Youíve got a bogey on your tail") in each mission. Of special note is the music, which ignores the standard rock/metal tracks found in games of this type for a more classical and soothing feel. And for some odd reason, that works in this genre much better than hard rock ever has. It was definitely a bold and excellent choice in the music department. Everything else sounds exactly like it should, from the various explosions to plane sounds.

HIGHS:

  • Beautiful and nearly photo-realistic in-game graphics.
  • A surprisingly good storyline.
  • Dogfighting has never been so user-friendly or accessible. Just jump in and blast away.
  • Missions are diverse and focusedÖnever a dull moment.
  • Load times are virtually non-existent thanks to very smart front-end programming.

LOWS:

  • Might be too simple for hardcore vets of the genre.
  • A little on the short side, but thatís only because you want to keep playing after itís all over.

FINAL VERDICT:

Please forgive me if this review is a little vague, but I havenít had a lot of experience in the past with this genre. I hope Iíve gotten my point across however, as Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies is an amazing game that will appeal to both pure action fans and flying fans. Take it from me, if youíre only a casual fan of this kind of thing you still need this game. This is a must-play for everyoneÖwell, except for pacifists anyway.

Overall Score: 9.2

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