"Given that its developer is Paradigm, the company responsible for Pilotwings 64, it would be reasonable to expect Aero Fighters: Assault to do things like be competent and not suck. We're just trading a hang glider for an F14; how different can these games possibly be? It's still a flight sim, and Paradigm has proven that they have the skill for such a thing, so what could possibly go wrong? "
Given that its developer is Paradigm, the company responsible for Pilotwings 64, it would be reasonable to expect Aero Fighters: Assault to do things like be competent and not suck. We're just trading a hang glider for an F14; how different can these games possibly be? It's still a flight sim, and Paradigm has proven that they have the skill for such a thing, so what could possibly go wrong?
Well, apparently everything. The quirky characters are gone and replaced with borderline offensive caricatures, the swanky porno-esque music has been replaced by what appears to be MIDI files sequences in an early beta of Cakewalk using Windows 3.1, the framerate shuffles between not good and the equivalent of a flip book with the pages being turned by an elderly man with Parkinson's disease, and the core game is just flat-out not fun to play.
So it's the future (I assume) and an organization called the Phutta Morgana is trying to take over the world, probably to enforce Engrlish as the lingua franca. At first I assumed this villain was a fictitious country, since they were using submarines and airplanes to attack (we'll just ignore the giant robotic spider for now), but by the end of the game my mission objectives were turning into a garbled mess that seemed to involve aliens and the destruction of humanity. So anyway, this Phutta Morgana, which may or may not be a race of aliens, has you flying over indistinct textures in Japan, the Arizona desert, South America, and Antarctica in order to thwart their... well, I'm sure they have a plan.
The face-to-palm poor story could perhaps be over looked if the game itself was fun, but alas there is no such saving grace. With the exception of the last level, every stage is a boss rush. Most of these bosses are things like a slow moving tank that rains death upon you if you get too close, or a slow moving octoped that rains death upon you if you get too close, or a slow moving plane that rains death upon you if you get too close, or a stationary base that (weather permitting) will rain death upon you if you dare to fly near it. These encounters are generally handled like this:
Step One: Fly away from the enemy. Seriously.
Step Two: Turn towards the enemy.
Step Three: Hit the brakes and fly slowly.
Step Four: Fire at your from a safe distance.
Step Five: Turn around before you get too close.
Step Six: Repeat.
Not only is that really boring, there is no skill involved, which is problematic considering that the player's only motivation to continue Aero Fighters is to get a better score. There are two exceptions this this rule: one level has you dog fighting with four other planes and another has you flying Star Fox style through an icy cave. These are such welcome changes to the other levels that Aero Fighters could potentially be fun were they the entire game. (Then again, one could just play Star Fox instead.)
Manipulating your aircraft is fairly straight forward. You have a gun, you have missiles, and you have a special weapon, with the later only allowing for two discharges per level. Your missiles will lock on to nearby targets automatically, which is wonderful when they lock on to something that isn't the enemy flying right in front of you. Other than that, there really isn't anything wrong with this setup until a couple of enemies are on the screen. At such moments the framerate will turn to mush, and simple acts like turning become laborious. You'll end up flying like you're drunk.
Another problem is the way Aero Fighters inconsistently implements credits to continue when the player dies. Sometimes after a death the player will respawn (with their special weapon replenished) and continue the level; sometimes they will restart the stage from the beginning. It's different for different levels, but bugger me if I know why it's different in the first place. On one occasion I was killed, and then respawned just a few feet in front of a solid wall, which, when I proceeded to fly straight into it, killed me again for obvious reasons.
The only interesting feature the game offers is the ability to deploy defensive measures like chaff to foil incoming missiles. This is pretty much useless for all but one single player stage and the multiplayer mode, and it doesn't add any new or interesting dimensions to the experience. You could just avoid missiles by turning sharply anyway.
There are four pilots to play as initially, and the three that you do not chose will accompany you as wingmen. Irritating and mildly racist representations of Russians, Asians, and white dudes from the 80's are all present here. Question: what would be an appropriate thing for the white guy to scream when he is shot down and killed in action? Apparently “bummer dude!” in the most surfer-like tone that he can muster. And what type of ammunition does the Asian pilot use? Why, ninja stars of course! I'm especially fond of his special weapon: a hadouken-like laser accompanied by a well accented “NINJA BEAM!!”
There are some other modes besides the boss rush-like campaign, such as boss rush mode, practice boss rush mode, and multiplayer. The multiplayer is comparable to playing hide-n-go seek in an area the size of Idaho. My personal favorite mode is flight practice, which has you flying through rings in a desert. That might not sound exciting, but without enemy aircraft this is the only time that the framerate, which usually stutters like a virgin in a women's locker room, normalizes into something playable.
Ace Combat 2, which was released about the same time as Assault, runs circles around this game. Flight games have only improved exponentially since Aero Fighters was released, and it had no outstanding features to justify itself in the first place. There are better flight games out there, and just better games in general. If you already own Star Fox 64 and Pilotwings 64, you can happily leave your N64 collection just the way it is.
Featured community review by dagoss (July 30, 2008)
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