Does Namco's newest aerial shooter deliver the goods, or does it crash before even taking off? Find out in our review of Ace Combat Advance!
"In the year 2032 globalization has blurred the frontiers between countries." This is how the Ace Combat Advance instruction booklet starts. To break it down for you, the story goes like this. One huge multinational corporation has hogged all of the Earth's natural resources and created an Air Strike Force, its own personal sky army. Of course, this upsets those smaller, weaker corporations. So what do they do? That's right, they band together and create their own army: the United Air Defense. As the newest, unnamed pilot in the UAD, it is your job to defend against the ruthless Air Strike Force, at all costs.
The gameplay is rather simple. You choose from a set of airplanes and equip yourself with one type of a variety of different missiles. Then, select your mission, read the briefing, and you're off. Most of the objectives are rather clichéd. You either have to destroy a set number of ground targets, or fuel supplies, or you have to defend your home base against an onslaught. This isn't always a bad thing, but Ace Combat Advance just doesn't seem to convey these ideas too well. For instance, while trying to attack a ground target of some sort, you'll get raped from the sky by only two different kinds of enemy aircraft. That's right, expect to see a lot of both red and blue.
Not only are your enemies limited, but so are you. While you do get a good number of airplanes you can choose from, only one or two of them really look any different from each other. The only way to tell the difference between the craft are by their stats. Some are better in the air, some are better on the ground, etc. Surprisingly, this does matter quite a bit in the game. The best planes are at least twice as fast as the few you can control at the beginning of the game, which will help you through all the secondary missions that each level has to offer. The opposite seems to happen to missiles. Unlike the planes, each missile does have a somewhat different look, but they don't seem to be a whole lot different from each other in the game. Sure, there's a slight gap between your most common heat-seeking missile and an advanced precision guided bomb, but not much.
The graphics in Ace Combat Advance are substandard. You'll be flying over the same terrain (whether it be land or sea) for miles on end. This can get quite boring, as often times you'll have to travel long distances to get to your next target, and there usually won't be any planes in the way. If there are, they'll turn tail and run as soon as you point your weapon at them. As mentioned before, you'll also be firing on the same kind of enemies over and over again. The machine gun fire of planes and ships looks rather weak (a straight line of alternating white and black), and sadly, the missiles don't look much better. The only time you might be complimenting the graphics of Ace Combat Advance is at the end of missions, when a small still graphic shows a man giving the peace sign, which looks quite photorealistic.
Just like much of everything in Ace Combat, the controls are simple. The right trigger button is your accelerator, while the left is brake. The A button is used for your generic machine gun, and the B button is used to shoot missiles. Be careful though, some of the faster aircraft will have a harder time slowing down, so it would be wise to pay attention to your radar. Speaking of which, the radar is somewhat useful, if you use it correctly. The radar will tell you where all enemies and allies are at any given time, which is a good thing because otherwise you'll have no clue and crash head-on into another plane. The radar is also helpful in destroying targets. The yellow boxes are secondary ground targets, while the red boxes are your primary targets. If you're good enough, you'll only need the arrow pointing in the direction of the target to destroy it.
If you get too close to the yellow targets, not only will you have to contend with the ground-to-air missiles being launched at you, but you'll have to be wary of any planes in your vicinity. Even on the novice setting, your health can be depleted very quickly. Another little complaint is that when ground missiles are directed toward you, you'll hear a little warning beep. This isn't telling you that you've been hit, it's telling you that a missile is on its way. This wouldn't be a problem if you could hear explosions over the sound of your gun firing, to signal when you've been hit, but you can't. So, the only way to really tell when you've been hit is to keep an eye on the top right corner of your screen, which displays how much damage your aircraft has taken. It can be confusing at first, but in the end you'll learn to get the hang of ducking and dodging missiles.
This game will only last you few for a few hours, if you're lucky. Regardless of the fact that there is no training/tutorial mode and your energy can be easily zapped away, Ace Combat Advance is still a relatively easy game. There were some parts I had to go back through because of dying, but it was a rare occurence. After you've beaten the game once through, all you have left to do is complete the secondary objectives for each level to obtain an "S" ranking. After that you won't find much use for the game, except possibly to play it again on a rainy summer day.