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Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies (PlayStation 2) artwork

Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies (PlayStation 2) review


"After the gimmick-fest that was Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere, which also featured weak enemy AI, I thought it would've been crazy for Namco to repeat this mess on the follow-up, at least without some big enhancements. Mercifully, they instead decided to play it safe with the series' debut on the PlayStation 2, Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies. How so? Well, they took the best AC game on the first PlayStation, Ace Combat 2, and expanded on its design and play mechanics. Why they didn't origin..."



After the gimmick-fest that was Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere, which also featured weak enemy AI, I thought it would've been crazy for Namco to repeat this mess on the follow-up, at least without some big enhancements. Mercifully, they instead decided to play it safe with the series' debut on the PlayStation 2, Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies. How so? Well, they took the best AC game on the first PlayStation, Ace Combat 2, and expanded on its design and play mechanics. Why they didn't originally do this with AC3 is anyone's guess...

The funny thing is that AC2 wasn't a complex game; all the developers did was create a simple air combat title with good enemy AI, ensuring players would be kept entertained with dogfights for the entire game. AC04 provides the same service, engaging gamers in heated battles against skilled pilots, turrets, stubborn SAMs, and tanks, over grassy fields, snowy mountains, oceans, and large cities. However, the biggest aspect that separates this from AC2, as well as the other AC games that came before it, is that most of the stages are lengthy. In the past, you would normally receive one objective per mission, which could be completed in five to ten minutes.

AC04 does things a bit different, giving you a new objective to work with once the original is completed. Take for example the seventh mission, titled Deep Strike, that instructs players to destroy solar power generator plants as a diversion tactic. If this mission was included in a previous game, it would have just ended the second you finished the objective. But here, seconds after completing it, you'll be informed that the enemy fired their weapon of mass destruction, Stonehenge (originally used to annihilate asteroids), at your location. The only thing you can do at this point is fly at an altitude lower than 2000, to avoid getting knocked out of the sky. Coincidentally, a ravine nearby gives you this ability, and you'll have to navigate safely through some of its sharp corners, to make it out in one piece. You'll get plenty of these two-objective missions in the game, which usually totals around 20/25 minutes each in length.

Also, you'll usually deplete all the weapons on your jet fighter within each stage, prompting you to return to base for reload, a first for the series. You can't do this whenever you feel like it, however, since each mission places you under a time limit, making you put some thought into your decisions. This is especially vital during missions where targets are positioned at different corners of the map. You'll be making some lengthy trips, back and forth, if you pick the wrong first location to travel towards. Now, you're probably thinking that these long stages may make AC04 needlessly repetitive, but, like AC2, the developers give you an extra incentive for trying your best. This incentive is the new grading system. Unlike AC3's confusing speedrun system that doesn't bother specifically telling you what needs to be accomplished, AC04's system is based on how many targets you can take out under the time limit. In other words, this system is more about how good your fighting skills are, rather than blowing through a level quickly. This motivates you to take out as many targets as you can in one location on a first fly through, instead of hitting one or two targets, then making second and third passes for the remaining.

You'll definitely get some solid action out of AC04, but one possible negative that certain gamers may find is the fact that it really does feel like a remixed version of AC2. It actually even reuse two gimmicks from AC2 that were really short, and turn them into full-length AC04 missions. But, for me, considering it's modeled after the best AC PlayStation 1 title, and improves aspects of it, I don't even see it as a bad thing. Besides, there's enough in this title to prevent it from being looked at as just an expansion pack. As well as the changes I've mentioned, there's also a fleshed-out story... for an AC game, told through a combination of briefings, chatter from friendly, enemy, and civilian radios during missions, and the perspective of a young kid staying in a city occupied by forces you're fighting. The developers even threw in a time attack mode, as well as a vs. mode, which hasn't been seen since Air Combat, for kicks.

Hopefully, Namco continued down the path Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies took, improving on its play mechanics. I'd hate to start a session with Ace Combat 5, only to find out it's Electrosphere Boogaloo.

Rating: 8/10

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (April 06, 2010)

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