Ace Combat X
My first introduction to a flight game was Star Fox. An arcade style on the rail shooter for the Super Nintendo, and Star Fox 64, for the Nintendo 64. They were exhilarating, and to me, scratched that itch for the sense of flight. The next game for piloting was After Burner for the Sega Genesis. High octane game where you’re basically zooming through a pseudo 3d environment shooting squares. Futuridium held my attention for a while, then I stumbled upon Ace Combat when looking for another flight game that wasn’t flight simulator for windows, and needing a portable game to take on the go.
Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception for the PSP was released in 2006, and often overlooked over the console versions. Maybe due to how portable consoles at the time were still in their growing pains for delivering console level quality on the go. GBA just finally surpassed the Super Nintendo. The graphics for the PSP are serviceable. Sitting above a PlayStation one, and just below the PlayStation 2 in terms of quality, but it does its job.
Entering here is vastly a different experience to that of Star Fox, or any other on the rails shooter. Its always in all-range-mode(StarFox version of free flying) in all the levels, all the time, except the maps are sprawled out far enough that you will sometimes go in a straight line to your next objective.
Ace Combat X is closer to a real jet fighting game, save for carrying up to 30 to 40 missiles at any given time. A lot of the maneuvers from Star Fox is here, albeit, with less training wheels. Star Fox has scripted moments where you have to hit the breaks, make U-turns, or doing a somersault. Peppy will literally prompt you when its time to do it. Star Fox being more of a shump with a different perspective change, these moments are always there at the scripted time and can be memorized for a more fluid play through to get a high score. Ace Combat doesn’t do this. Namco isn’t a helicopter parent. Obviously. You are given the reigns to your own plane.
You can still perform U-turns and somersaults, hit the breaks and roll out of enemy fire, but its up to you to make that call, as well as set up situation for those maneuvers to work.
You will often be looking at your radar to check and see if an enemy is behind you, closing in, so you can pull off one of those moves. I find Ace Combats approach to the controls and managing the situations more engaging than the scripted moments of Star Fox, but hey, Star Fox is ment to be memorized where this is dealing with more random elements to enemy behavior. You’re going to have to get smart and master setting up situations like this a lot, or else, you’re going to be flying around in circles trying to get behind your enemy. Yes, earlier in the game, a lot of enemies just sit and wait for your missile to hit them. Later dog fights, however, requires a lot more mobility.
Controlling the plane itself is straightforward. Use the d-pad to make small changes in trajectory, use the analog nub to make sharper changes in trajectory. You have your boost and breaks, missiles for lock on, or bomb dropping. You have machine guns for closer fly by’s of enemies. It controls are tight and responsive. The only thing that changes it is your choice in jets.
Through the game, you unlock planes with various different stats. All with their strengths and weaknesses. Some are ideal for bombing land units, while not being able to take on air to air, and visa versa with air to air units not doing so well at taking out land units.
My pro-tip with this game is to use Jets with high maneuverability(mobility). To where turning 180 degrees on a dime is next to nothing.
This becomes a necesity when you start getting into dog fights with other pilots, but its very handy when you want to make a quick turn to get back to bombing ground, or stationary, units.
The high mobility can be a bit slippery at times, but being able to turn towards a target on they fly is a valuable resource. Hold Triangle, and you’ll focus right to an enemy locked on your reticule.
My issue with the missions and different planes is that bombing runs would be easier with planes that specialized in ground combat, but other enemy airplanes show up during these missions, some that require more air to air jets, and if you want to get a high score to unlock more planes and parts, you need to take those planes out along with bombing the ground units. So you have to pick a plane that balances between the two, an air to air and air to ground unit that balances between the two. Leaving planes specializing in air to ground next to useless.
Every Jet has its own sets of special missiles. 3 total. Some jets can’t carry other types of bombs. Be it air-to-air missiles or air-to-ground given the jets flying type. So you have to work with the jet you choose first, to get the right special missile for the mission.
You can also change the stats of your preferred jet fighter by unlocking jet parts, engines, guns, comfy chairs. The works. Even change the color.
Though, I would have liked an option to paint my anime waifu on my jet fighter.
Levels and missions:
Here is where the meat of the game lies in my opinion. Yes the flight delivers, but this game also provides some branching paths and changes to each mission via those paths.
The first 3 stages are linear, setting you up for the general mission styles of the game. The next levels are branching paths that change based on what route you take. You can weaken a boss in one level by taking out some forces in a previous level. They can also make levels harder if you don’t stop back up from reaching certain points on the map. This incentivizes replay value to unlock everything and it gets the most out of the limited space provided by the PSP’s UMDs.
Nearly every mission also has a secret aircraft or object you have to take out. Its labled with a *. take that out, and you’ll unlock planes and parts. To unlock more, try taking out more than just the designated targets to win missions. Blast all that you can to get and you’ll unlock some really kick ass jets.
There is a story and some connection to the console games, but you don’t have to play them to get it. You’re mostly hearing monologues of a reporter documenting the war your caught in and your victories through the game. Exposition over still images. Honestly, very drab.
The year is 2020, You play as an ace pilot, Gryphus 1, The Southern Cross Fighter, fighting back the forces of the Lesath army. Thanks to a monstrous plane called the Gleipnir, they were able to nearly take over your homeland of Aurelia.
As much as the game hypes this bad boy up at the beginning of the game, he’s beat shortly after the first 3 missions. After that, there isn’t really any other bosses like the Gleipnir. Unlike starfox, which has a lot of different boss battles to take out. No, the meat of the game is dog fights with other planes, and a city equipped with a super laser, and a base equipped with a shock cannon.
While the delivery of the story could be better, some of the mission cut scenes, all of the mission cut scenes, with your fellow pilots are very entertaining. It’s so bad its good. Its, its the best.
Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception is a powerhouse of a game for a handheld version. Pick it up if you get the chance, and since its the only portable version of Ace Combat, its not a game to be passed up.