Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War Review

Feb 6, 2008

The Ace Combat series started on the Playstation as Air Combat back in 1995. Since then there have been 9 Ace Combat games finding their way to the Playstation, Playstation 2, Xbox 360, PSP and the GameBoy Advance. These games have managed to maintain a balance between flight simulation and arcade shooter over the years, and they've done it rather well. In Ace Combat, Namco allows gamers to experience the dogfighting and bombing in some of the worlds best aircrafts, but keeps the level of realism down so that gamers dont get lost in complicated control schemes.

Zero takes place fifteen years before the events of Ace Combat 5: Squadron Leader. The setting is a war between several allied countries and the aggressive nation of Belka who are initially winning the war. You play as a mercenary called Cipher (aka the Demon Lord) alongside your wingman/buddy, Solo Wing Pixy and have been hired by the small country of Ustio to tear through the skies and defend them from the might of the Belkan military with your life. The usual wartime themes such as right and wrong, good and bad, betrayal, and survival are all present in Ace combat Zero. Although we've dealt with these particular themes countless times before, it's the way they're presented in Zero that makes this story stand apart from the others. The story is presented by a reporter through narratives and post-war interviews with Pixy as well as the enemy aces you fly against. Live actors are used this time around and helps give a more personal feel to the results of your missions throughout the game.

The gameplay of the Ace Combat series has changed very little over the years, flying your planes this time is the same as the more recent Ace Combat games, You are offered the two control schemes of Novice and Normal. The main difference between the two is that it is easier to control your plane however it hinders the ability to perform more advanced maneuvers. The left analog stick controls your plane's movement while the right analog stick allows you to change your view (3rd-person, thingypit, or HUD) and look over your shoulders. Wingman commands are issued via the D-pad and consist of attack, cover, special weapons release, and disperse. Whether you're an old pro or a newcomer to the series, you should have no problem learning how to handle your aircraft. Shooting down enemies and bombing runs, however, can take a little getting used to. One subtle change you'll find in Zero is the removal of the cheesy survival missions and the sometimes-frustrating escort missions. Instead, the gameplay has been filtered down to its most basic form: Shoot down the planes, blow up stuff on the ground. While this can make the game a bit boring at times, the introduction of enemy ace squadrons as well as the "boss" battles make good additions to the game. As for the enemy ace squadrons, they can vary in difficulty at any given point in the game.

There is a new addition to the Ace Combat formula - Ace Styles.

There are three style classes which are determined by how you perform in your missions.

Knight - This is the goody two-shoes of the game. This means you allow neutralized (heavily damaged) enemy planes to live and avoid destroying any neutral or civilian targets.

Soldier - You play it by ear and fall in the middle category. Sometimes you fire an extra missile after you neutralize an enemy plane or mistakenly drop napalm on a quaint little windmill.

Mercenary - You don't stop shooting until they stop breathing. If an enemy survives, you view it as a personal failure. You are the type of guy that would air fuel bomb a church full of orphans if you thought there was a SAM hiding in there. In fact, you'd probably bomb the church regardless.

These styles are included into the game in two ways. First, your ace style will ultimately determine which enemy aces you'll go against in certain missions. For example, if you fly as a knight, you're gonna be rewarded by being put against a Knight like squadron of aces. Likewise if you're a mercenary, you get to go against the best mercenaries the Belkans have to offer. The second impact your style has links to the first. As said earlier, the story is presented through both narratives and a series of interviews. So, beat an ace, unlock their interview. This adds some replay value to the game because it can be slightly interesting to watch these cutscenes and depending on your style of humor, funny. There's an unlockable scene viewer that will let you replay scenes. You'll also need to face all the different aces if you want to unlock those types of planes for use later on. Speaking of replay value, the SP (Special) Mission mode is available after completing the game the first time. This allows you to replay the game while carrying over your unlocked planes and cash. Ace Combat Zero offers a basic two-player mode, containing a handful of different scenarios ranging from pure dogfighting to an air race. Overall, there's a great variety of real-world planes available, and they look authentic right down to the interiors of their thingypits. Classics like the F-15 and the A-10 are available, along with cutting-edge jets like the YF-23 and many more.

The AI still seems to fall for the same old tricks--for some reason, most enemy planes won't try very hard to avoid your missiles when you fire away from maximum range. To make up for this, as well as the fact that you can absorb more damage than most of your enemies, the numbers are stacked heavily against you. You have unlimited ammo for your main gun, and you don't have to worry about fuel, system malfunctions, or blacking out. You just focus on managing your speed, not crashing, getting missile lock, and choosing the best time to fire. Don't be fooled by the realistic graphics (apart from when close to the ground). This is closer to a pure action game than it is to a flight simulation.

The story mode offers some replay value in the fact that there are multiple difficulty settings, lots of different planes to choose from, and those occasional multiple-choice missions. Also, you can unlock some medals based on certain accomplishments. Ace Combat Zero contains a special feature called the Assault Record. There are named pilots that the player can shoot down; by doing so, the player can unlock aircraft and special paint schemes as well as adding that respective pilot's name and story to the Assault Record. Ace Combat Zero offers a range of mission types: you'll be able to protect ships from rival aircrafts, wipe out ground forces, dogfight with enemy ace pilots, annihilate structures, restock and repair your plane midway through a mission, and even dodge a massive laser beam that slices through planes like they are toys.

As with the gameplay, the graphics have changed very little this time around. However, the Ace Combat series has always provided some of the best graphics the PS2 can muster. That's still the case with Zero. The plane models are beautifully outstanding as are the skies you fly in. At times you may find yourself watching the mission replays over and over to see your plane soar. All the minute plane details are included. Air brakes open, flaps drop, and ailerons and elevators move as they would in real life. As for combat, you can track your missiles as they streak towards your targets and roll your plane as bullets whiz past your thingypit. There's never issues with the frame rate at any point during the game. The only area where the graphics are weak is when you get close to the ground. 2d Buildings, terrain, and installations can be a bit fuzzy, but in an aerial combat game, this doesn't really matter.

There's a great deal of repetition in the radio chatter and not a great deal of variety in the soundtrack. When you're inolved in an intense dog-fight, you'd expect to hear some hardcore tracks, but they're rarely in-your-face enough. The rest is pretty high-quality, though, with plenty of nicely orchestrated classic pieces melding nicely with the thundering missile impacts. The sound in Zero is spot-on. Engine sounds, guns, explosions, and garbled radio messages are done just right (down to the echo). The voice acting is equally well-done, a little clich?d at times. As for music, there's an outstanding blend of synth-work, guitar rock, and orchestral mixes throughout. There's also some nice use of Spanish guitar thrown in and it works. The music playing as you fight the last boss makes you feel as if truly fighting the final battle in a movie rather than a game. Also a music player is unlocked after beating the game.

While Ace Combat Zero is a solid game, it's not enough of an improvement over the last game to make it worth your time, which is a shame since previous versions had enough improvements over their predecessors to make it worth a purchase. It's by no means a terrible game, but it simply isn't any better than its older brethren. It is a fun Arcade/flight Sim, and it has everything you'd expect from the series, but doesn't really offer much in the way of new content. The multiplayer modes do offer a nice change of scenery for the series, but ultimately, it still doesn't add enough innovation to make this game profoundly special. Ace Combat Zero is a perfectly decent game, but it simply offers nothing new that you haven't seen before.

Story: 6
Gameplay: 8
Graphics: 7
Sound: 7
Replay value: 6
Overall: 7/10
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