T (Teen)Release Date:
April 25, 2006 Written By:
The sixth entry in Namco's series of consistently solid fighter pilot games, Ace Combat Zero the Belkan War as a sequel may be considered by many to be only a small upgrade from the last couple of games, but it's few improvements over the previous titles just may make the game worth it for fans of the series as well as newcomers.
Instead of going ahead with Ace Combat 6, Namco decided to have Zero take place 15 years prior to the events of Ace Combat 5 and have the game surround the Belkan war, an event often mentioned in Ace 5. The game follows the story of a legendary mercenary pilot who fought against the nation of Belka during that war. To further emphasize the feeling of a prequel, the storyline is told sort of like a documentary, depicting live action interviews with some of the pilots you fight over the course of the game.
However, the problem with the story in this game is that it doesn't have nearly the same presence as the story in Ace 5 had. In Ace Combat 5 the storyline, which progressed both in-between and during missions through cutscenes and lots of dialogue during the midst's of battle, was involving to the point where it actually helped give some variety to what otherwise would probably have been a pretty repetitive mission structure.
In Belkan War this isn't the case, and as a result of it you're left with the same repetitive mission structure that you had in the previous games. There are a few novel missions that can be pretty interesting, but for the most part it's usually just either destroy all the targets or defend something. The similarities don't end their either.
In fact, Ace Combat Zero feels so similar to 5 that just coming out of that game, I was able to notice even the smallest changes in the game's structure, such as how the menu interface has been retooled somewhat, how there's a bigger emphasis on yellow rather than blue, and just other little things like that. I will give Namco credit for improving the game's graphics and adding in the ability to switch out special weapons for each craft, as well as expanding the squad command system a little bit to offer players some more possibilities strategy-wise, but Ace Combat Zero by and large feels like the same game as Ace Combat 5. But can you really blame Namco for sticking with a winning formula?
As far as the Playstation goes, the Ace Combat series is pretty much unrivaled when it comes to flight games, and this is mostly because of its tight control scheme which feels intuitive and deep at the same time. Flying a plane in Ace Combat is definitely more complex than flying one in Star Fox or Afterburner, but doesn't quite get up to the level of complexity seen in a PC flight sim. Because of this the series is able to maintain gameplay that feels realistic yet is also relatively easy to learn. Ace Combat Zero keeps this up just fine which makes the game as good an entry point as any other for newcomers to the series. The biggest improvement in Ace Combat Zero however and one that alone could very well make the game worth purchasing for many people is the improved AI.
In Ace Combat Zero, enemy fighters and even ground units are much more aggressive than in the previous titles and enemy planes are much harder to chase and shoot down - at the same time requiring both precision with a less forgiving targeting system and caution in your maneuvers in trying not to get shot down. This makes the dogfights in Ace Combat Zero far more intense than before and for the most part more fun.
Sometimes once you've dispatched an enemy, instead of being totally destroyed they'll be neutralized, which gives you the option to either finish them off or allow them to escape or eject. Your decision will affect your Ace ranking, which grades you on your actions in battle and measures them in three levels, which in turn affect which enemy Aces you fight in battle.
The enemy Aces are expert pilots who sometimes show up in the middle of battle as sort of mini bosses. The battles you'll engage in with these Aces are probably the most difficult dogfights in the entire Ace Combat series. Chasing down a single Ace and shooting them out of the sky can literally take several minutes, and it's also very easy to get shot down when fighting against these Aces. Some looking to get a little more replay value out of the game may want to try to find and hunt down all the Aces as a sort of collection aspect to the game.
The only other new content added in this edition of Ace Combat is the 2 player splitscreen versus mode, which will be seen by many as a disappointing substitute for an online mode in a series where one would be most appreciated.Closing Comments
Because it keeps up to the standards of the absolutely solid Ace Combat series, Belkan War is probably as good an entry point as any into the series for newcomers. But with a less involving storyline and essentially the same mission structure, many fans of the series might not see Ace Zero as enough of an improvement over 4 and 5, both of which now cost a fraction of what Zero does. Personally however I found the improved AI and the new Ace Battles as reason enough to purchase Ace Combat Zero soon after having played 5.8/
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