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Top Gun: Combat Zones
Review By:  Christopher Coey
Developer:   Digital Integration
Publisher:   Titus
# of Players:   1
Genre:   Flight Combat
ESRB:   Teen
Online:   No
Accessories:   Memory Card
Date Posted:   12-28-01

After having played this game, my biggest question about it would be: What does this have to do with Top Gun? Why does the opening screen have the Paramount Pictures logo? There are no characters from the movie, not even the names. And at the very least, shouldn't a Top Gun game include the theme music from the movie? To be called a "Top Gun" game, I should rightly have expected some sort of in-game rivalry or ranking system against pilots with cool handles like Goose or Maverick. What exactly did the producers buy when they bought the Top Gun rights? No music, no storyline, no characters.

My second biggest question is: was Digital Integration trying to develop a flight simulator, or an arcade flyer? The general flying around part of the game is slow. Like most PC flight simulators, the weight of the plane seems heavy. The turns are sluggish and wide. I'd imagine that the physics are fairly realistic. I've never flown a plane personally, but I know what they are, and (more importantly) are NOT, capable of. Therein lies the problem. Flying planes isn't all that much fun, unless you're sight seeing. Even fighter planes, like the ones in this game, probably wouldn't really be all that exciting (not that I wouldn't want to try). It all comes down to physics: the faster you fly, the harder it is to turn. SO, you can slowly fly around enjoying the sites all day. OR, you can fly fast, but if you miss your target, it will take you miles and miles to turn around in order to get another shot. Either way, not a fun console gaming experience. And that pretty much sums up this game: not very fun.

Lately, this whole 'cashing in on a franchise' thing is really ticking me off. It's misleading, it's dishonest, and it's poor game development. For those reasons alone DO NOT BUY THIS GAME! I bought it because I was expecting a slick game, with tons of cool planes. Hopefully an interesting, mission based, in-depth, character driven storyline. Maybe some in-flight banter from my co-pilot, or wingmen. A cool ranking system where I compete with my fellow Top Gun students for top ranking at the academy. Those are the things I would expect from a game with the Top Gun label. Where any of those things actually in the game? Nope, none of them. What a wasted opportunity.

Not only does the game NOT include any form of Top Gun academy banter or competition; there are NO wingmen or co-pilots. You fly by yourself, always. Certainly no realism there. Most of the air-to-air missions require you to square of against ten, and sometimes twenty or more enemy planes each with an stockade of lock-on, targeted missiles. Consequently, when you DO find yourself in a dogfight with the twenty other migs, it's not a matter of trying your best to take out all the other fighters: it simply becomes hoping that one of the other TWENTY planes doesn't manage to get a lock on you. Where's the skill in that? The air-to-ground missions often have the player taking out over fifty targets, without help. BUT, even with twenty enemy migs flying all around you, it still feels like you're flying up there by yourself. Never once did I get the feeling of personal one-on-one combat. There is no sense of action. It always seemed like I was shooting at a bunch of drones. The computer AI is appalling. The enemy planes have almost no sense of intelligent piloting, and have zero aggression. Especially terrible are the enemy choppers; they are basically a non-issue.

There are a number of planes to unlock within the game, apart from the three planes given during each of the three eras. Each new plane unlocks if you achieve a bronze, silver, or gold in every mission. However, the game never actually tells you what the requirements are for each medal. You simply find out whether or not you achieved the medal AFTER you complete the mission. PLUS, you need to achieve the medals in ALL missions, not just for each specific era. That's 21 missions, not including the training missions. Seems overly difficult, and not really worth the effort. I would have like the opportunity to try out some of the unlockable planes, and there should have been a LOT more included; but they should have been easier to unlock. The scoring system itself makes very little sense: it seems to reward the wrong skills, and isn't very intuitive. After all the concentration on 'flight simulation', there is a weird 'arcade' twist that rewards "first blood" [definitely not very Top Gun-like], and "multiple hits". Make up your minds!

Let's discuss the graphics and sound. They too suck. It's almost as if the programmers didn't understand what they were doing. There was obviously an attempt at creating some sort of 'surround sound' within the game. The result is that instead of the fluid motion of a directional sound moving from one set of speakers to another: the sound starts in one speaker, then cuts out and moves fully to the next speaker. That is, of course, when there are sounds. Some are conspicuously lacking; such as a bombing sounds, or a target lock indicator.

The graphics are also, inexcusable. Although there are some good texture mapping, there is so much fogging you hardly ever get to see any textures. Not to mention that the fog is usually the same color as the sky, so more often than not you can't tell whether you're flying up or down. Since there is an attempt at realistic physics, you tend to fly at extreme speeds; meaning enemy fighters fly by quickly, then get lost in the fog, or off-screen. Attempting to single out a fighter without a target lock is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Then, at the end of each area is a replay of all of the NON-action that happened during the mission. The only time you might get a chance to see some of the textures is ruined by an awkward, shaky camera. Another example of the producers making bad decisions. The shaky camera actions looked good in the movie, because the movie was edited extremely well; AND it was made a good number of years ago. For a video game, it just doesn't work. It makes the replays frustrating to watch; and the game was frustrating enough to begin with.

HIGHS:

  • The 'real world' planes are cool
  • Some good textures

LOWS:

  • Shoddy controls, frustrating gameplay
  • Terrible fogging and pop-up problem
  • Poor sound effects
  • Boring, uninspired missions

FINAL VERDICT:

Once again we have a cool franchise name thrown onto an underdeveloped game engine, ruining what should have been a great game. Or, I suppose more accurately: a poorly developed game that should never have made it to market, except for the fact that the "Top Gun" label was placed on the box. There are so many problems with this game: extremely limited sighting distance, poor controls, bad sound. But most importantly: the game is boring. Once again, in case you missed it the first time: DO NOT BUY THIS GAME!

Overall Score: 3.4

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