Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation

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The Ace Combat franchise hits the XBOX 360 with Ace Combat 6: Fire of Liberation. This game was meant to be the title that sold the XBOX 360 to Japan and lift it from the depths of console obscurity that have plagued the only two consoles that Microsoft have released. While it didn’t make the 360 the must-have console in the land of the rising sun that Microsoft had hoped for, it did sell plenty of copies that indicated that the 360 has some life, albeit minimally, in the video-game meca of the world.

Like train and air-sims, their promise is only truly realised by the Japanese. However, the Ace Combat series has somehow broken the trend and developed a core audience around the world and that’s generally because it mixes Japanese cheesiness with motion-sickening intense action that the Western World has come to love in their games. And, with Ace Combat 6: Fire of Liberation, we have another addition to the amazing action series that once again bridges the gap between Japanese and Western gamers.

What really stands out in AC 6 is that, while there are only 15 missions, it’s going to take you anywhere between 8-12 hours to finish it. While you might find the odd, hot shot pilot that can complete it in under 6 hours, it’s not a game that you’re going to breeze through. What the game does perfectly is it develops a sense of realism that has you on the edge of your seat while you play it. You’re not going to want to fail a mission in fear of allowing Gracemeria be destroyed, and when you do fail or die (and you will), you’ll feel disappointed in yourself that you let your team and fellow countrymen die. At this point you’ll realise it’s only a game, but you’ve just developed a strange relationship with your in-air team-mates so you’ll feel obligated to get straight back into it. Yet again you’ve forgotten it’s only a game. The way this realism plays out is through the intense in-air combat. Bundle this together with the fantastic on-screen presentation of your plane dashboard and the constant attacks from enemy planes and you have an experience that is constantly intense and fast.

Another standout is the unlockables and ability to replay through the missions again to upgrade and unlock as much as you can. Ace Combat 6 has a very high replay-ability and chances are that once you finish this deep flight-action title, you’re probably going to want to play through it again, even though the intense and awesome online multiplayer still awaits you.

With AC 6, the mission structure is set out quite well and, as mentioned above, the game does a good job of making you feel like you’re truly part of the war. The action never stops and you’re always on the go, and while all objectives don’t need to be fulfilled to complete a mission, it’s an injustice to the gaming experience this title offers if you choose not to complete everything. The real beauty lies in the fact that you have to replay it anyway considering you won’t be able to complete all of the objectives first-time round. This is where you’ll want to go back and finish everything to enable you to upgrade at will and unlock absolutely everything. You might ask what the big need for going back to unlock everything is, and this has something to do with the fact that each fighter-plane that can become available to you control differently from one another and it’s a real treat to complete certain missions with different planes.

One aspect of the missions that you may find a little frustrating is that there may be a twist objective that wasn’t originally explained to you during the briefing. While this addition to the title is welcomed as it adds a little bit of surprise to the gameplay, you’re often left with a plane that is incapable of doing damage to the new bomber-planes that have suddenly appeared. The only way you can counter these new, unforeseen attacks is by using your team wingman controls that are luckily very easy to use. You can lock onto a target and direct your wingmen to attack that target and every time they have the plane ability to take down the enemy. While the use of your wingmen in this instance is needed, ordering your second Gurada team to cover you or attack an enemy is rather useless and they don’t seem all that intent on protecting you. Whenever you get the warning on screen that a missile is heading your way, you can call for protection, but all you need to do is swerve your plane all over the place to disorientate the missile and send it packing. If you don’t do that, the missile will hit, deeming the protection useless. This does improve throughout the battle though as you can build up a meter during a mission and order an all-out attack, but it seems a little too restrictive especially considering you may need to go all-out at the start of a mission.

The environments through Ace Combat 6 will impress you as the in-air combat, cloud effects and landscape all look fantastic. While the ground landscape could be improved from up-close, it looks its best from up high in the sky and with a title like this you can’t blame the development team if that’s what they were aiming for. You’re not going to care much about the city anyway, but rather about locking onto the blistering enemy plane that is approaching you. The planes all look highly detailed and they’ll get most of your attention.

While there is plenty to brag about, there is one aspect that may have you cringing in your seat. The many cut scenes throughout the game that submit you to the back-story for the game are laughable and could be cut-down. Kudos to Namco Bandai for giving it a go and adding a bit of a plot but the truth is it isn’t needed. The game gives you a detailed and thorough run-through of the mission and what’s happened, so there is no need for abundance of scenes that incorporate horrendous dialogue.

Now that the single-player is out of the way, it would be more than worthwhile to discuss how unbelievably insane and enjoyable the online multiplayer is. So fun in fact, that it would be feasible to skip the single-play campaign altogether and go straight online (but take our work for it – don’t do that!). There’s an attack and defend siege mode, free for all, team battle and co-op play. There are also a large number of maps and downloadable content possibilities. Look out for future content on XBOX Live.

The co-op mode is where the real fun lies and you’ll get the true enjoyment out of this title by playing it with a friend. Unlike the single-player campaign mode that is fantastic in its own right, going through the game with a friend introduces spawning, though you’ll be penalised time every time you die. So, instead of being blown out of the sky and having to restart the mission, you’ll be re-spawned and will be able to continue where you left off.

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