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Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War (PlayStation 2) artwork

Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War (PlayStation 2) review


"After playing through the first few missions of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, I was dead set on putting it on equal footing with Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies. For those that don't know, AC4 is a simple, solid title with good enemy AI, guaranteed to give players a fun time. In those beginning levels, AC5 was shaping up to be a similar journey, with some differences to separate it from its close predecessor. At this point in time, the Ace Combat series hasn't made any huge leaps in any par..."



After playing through the first few missions of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, I was dead set on putting it on equal footing with Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies. For those that don't know, AC4 is a simple, solid title with good enemy AI, guaranteed to give players a fun time. In those beginning levels, AC5 was shaping up to be a similar journey, with some differences to separate it from its close predecessor. At this point in time, the Ace Combat series hasn't made any huge leaps in any particular area, except for graphics, obviously, so I guess it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise that I would quickly make a judgement call. Though, really, all AC5 had to do was be another AC4 with a different set of missions, and I probably would have been fine with that.

But then I continued playing, and soon realized AC5 was more than what I was giving it credit for.

Now, I should tell you that, if all you want is Action! Action! Action!, you'll probably want to give AC4 a try, where, while there's a plot, it's easily ignorable. That, or an After Burner that doesn't end with the Roman numeral III. Even if you try to skip all the cutscenes in AC5, the plot will still progress within the actual stages, embedding itself into most of the objectives. To be honest, I didn't get into the story that much when I started, since it came off pretty cliched: An alternative Earth is at peace in the year 2010, until your character, Blaze, and his three squad members, all inexperienced, are thrown headfirst into a war that came out of nowhere.

However, what helped me get into the story was how down to earth a lot of the characters in the game were, especially my squadron. The one that's sure to make the biggest impression on players, in either a good or bad way, is Chopper, who makes his presence pretty clear from the get-go. Within that small introductory phase, he tells the original squad leader that he only responds to being called Chopper, nervously instructs a suspicious plane to follow his lead, and moans about how it seems all the enemy fighters are targeting only him, which the leader then replies by saying it's due to his big mouth. The other squadron members aren't as eccentric, like the calm and tough Nagase, who acts like a missile-wielding pacifist from time to time, and the very green Grimm, who made it into the team under forced circumstances, but they definitely make the squadron dynamic with their differing personalities. This level of interactivity and banter with the characters hasn't been present in the last installments, at least in the US versions, and it makes you feel more involved and invested. For once, you don't come off as some distant god of destruction, but a mortal with friends to keep an eye on and people to protect. This is especially true in the later missions, when you know these characters much better, more of the plot gets revealed, and things start getting out of hand.

That's not to say the combat takes a back seat. In fact, everything works pretty well together to create immersed situations. While I had a sense of this in previous missions, the first time I truly took notice was in the sixth mission, called White Bird (Part 1). In the stage that came before, the opposing forces made a surprising blow to your naval fleet, so while your side is on the verge of collapsing, the higher-ups attempt a plan to gain the upper hand: Attach a laser cannon to a spaceship originally designed for peace. Obviously, the enemy doesn't want this to happen, so they begin their invasion of the base just as the cannon is ready for launch.

To make matters worse, although the base is loaded with pilots, only your squadron is permitted to take off, since the rest are just junior cadets. So you take to the skies, where you battle a combination of jet fighters and tanks moving in for the takeover. If you don't react fast to the tanks, you can bet your ass you'll see the Mission Fail sign plastered on the screen real quick. Chopper suggests shooting the enemy tanks while they're still parachuting, so they can smash into the ground, then apologizes to them seconds later for attacking before they can even fight. And with the amount of chaos going on, you order your squadron to disperse with a left press of the d-pad. You may think you can do everything yourself, thanks to past Ace Combat titles making you feel like a one-man army, but in this sequel, they make damn sure you rely on help. The enemy AI is at its most aggressive, impressively dodging missiles and constantly getting behind your plane for the kill at an alarming rate. What contributes to the tension is how easy it is to deplete your missiles and special weapons, and since you don't have the ability to restock during a mission this time, you're usually reduced to firing your machine guns and ordering your team to chase after the same targets you're hitting.

It certainly adds a new level of toughness not seen in previous games.

So, while you're handling the crisis from the skies, you'll constantly hear panic down below, as the base crew desperately tries for a relaunch while taking damage and barricading sections. As all this is occurring, an orchestral soundtrack heightens the drama, conveying both a sense of hope and dread. Minutes later, just as you clear the base of the last tank, assuming all immediate threats have been subdued, a new danger arises: The enemy starts firing a crap load of cruise missiles towards the base. It's nearly impossible to destroy each one, which Grimm clearly expresses over the radio by freaking out. But the people below are putting their faith in you, so you try your damnedest to minimize the damage. A few more minutes later, what seems like an eternity, and the cannon finally prepares to launch as missiles continue to slip past your defense. You continue to do your best, and just when you think you're going to fail, it all eventually pays off as the cannon safely rockets into space.

For me, this was the turning point of AC5.

Except for an extremely stupid mission that forced me to sit by and watch a high-speed car chase happen, Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War continued to be engrossing after that sixth mission. I was forced to battle expert fighter pilots with sharp maneuvering skills in a canyon, fought a giant submarine pimped with AA guns, SAMs, and ballistic missiles that annihilate anything below 5000 feet, and helped escort a damaged aircraft through a maze with anti-aircraft weaponry only visible on radar. It would be an understatement to say that I was pleasantly surprised at how polished the overall product was, since this is the seventh installment (the series started life in the arcades with two releases, if you didn't know). Normally, when a series gets this far, the quality begins to slip, so it's nice to know that the developers are still trying to make a great game through a combination of nicely executed storytelling, polished AI, fine-tuned play mechanics, and a wonderful soundtrack.

I know for sure I can't say that for many other series still going.

Rating: 9/10

pickhut's avatar
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randxian posted April 15, 2010:

I was a bit disoriented early, because you suddenly start talking about how AC4 is all action and go on to discuss its plot. It's hard to tell when you are done talking about AC4 and when exactly you pick up with AC5.

However, this review for some reason is making me want to try this series. Perhaps it's because you do such a great job of incorporating charcter descriptions and how they enhance the overall experience. I also enjoyed reading about some of the hair-raising missions you embark on later on in the review.

This review certainly provides a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the game, as well as the series.

I just think you could do by cutting the part about AC4 completely out. The review would work just fine without it.
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pickhut posted April 16, 2010:

Huh, that does sound confusing now that I look at it that way. I made a minor adjustment somewhere there, so hopefully readers won't be lost now.

Anyway, thanks for the comments on the review! Nice that the character interaction got through the most in the review for you. And if you are going to check out the series, I'd recommend just starting with AC4. The stories, except for AC5 and Zero, aren't really connected, even though it's been implied that the entire series takes place in the same alternative Earth.
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aschultz posted April 21, 2010:

Hi pickhut--I guess even winners of the RotW get tip topics, especially with relatively few writers.

I've followed your AC saga with interest. You seem to have improved with each one. That's what sequels should do.

After playing through the first few missions of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, I was dead set on putting it on equal footing with Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies. For those that don't know,

This gets into self-conscious reviewer mode too much, too early. I mean, when you're playing an action game, you shouldn't start Evaluating How Good It Is. Did AC5 continue AC4's fun? If so, you could just say "AC5 seemed just like AC4, with better graphics. AC sequels do that. AC5 could've been just AC4 with different missions and been fine.

obviously, so I guess

This is a complete 180 in confidence. I dislike "I guess" in reviews.

Now, I should tell you that, if/To be honest

Well...reviews are about what you should tell people. Yes to this being conversational, but it brings my confusion over the After Burner comment up a notch--could be me missing it, but small mistakes can compound quickly. I like the sense of AC5 giving you the plot even if you skip the cut scenes. I'd like more games like that.

I'm also interested in if characters played a big part in Ac4. The impression I got from your earlier AC reviews was that character development was not a priority. If their confusion is tied into the sudden war starting, that's a good thing to tie in.

missile-wielding pacifist this contrast seems too contradictory

green as hell too conversational

small bad things.

For once, you don't come off as some distant god of destruction, but a mortal with friends to keep an eye on and people to protect. This is especially true in the later missions, when you know these characters much better, more of the plot gets revealed, and things start getting out of hand.

Big good thing. Reviews of games in a series should be about how it improved. More good below, then...

a new danger arises: The enemy starts firing a crap load of cruise missiles towards the base. It's nearly impossible to destroy each one, which Grimm clearly expresses over the radio by freaking out. But the people below are putting their faith in you, so you try your damnedest to minimize the damage.

Oh no...this is way too colloquial! I figure on one swear word per paragraph, max, including "soft" swears. Unless I'm writing about a particularly bad or edgy game. I like the general idea of damage reduction.

For me, this was the turning point of AC5. Here I'd tack on that you quickly put watching a stupid high-speed car chase aside.

It would be an understatement to say that I was pleasantly surprised at how polished the overall product was, since this is the seventh installment (the series started life in the arcades with two releases, if you didn't know).

This comes off hoity toity--perhaps "After seven installments, including two arcade games before the PlayStation games, it's easy to expect a huge regression, or even that the designers would coast. AC [continues the expected progress/does better than expected] in [one area/many areas.]"

a combination of nicely executed storytelling, polished AI, fine-tuned play mechanics, and a wonderful soundtrack.

This seems good, but I would guess "meeting and organizing several interesting characters, fighting increasingly more clever enemies with controls that allow it, and damage reduction thrown in with scatter-shooting" may be less over-general. YMMV.
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pickhut posted April 21, 2010:

Thanks for the in-depth feedback, aschultz. I'll take into consideration some of them when or if I ever do Ace Combat 6.

As for character development in AC4, there was one or two character development, but it was more of a sideline thing, nothing that came into real consideration as you were playing the missions. The pilot you control is mentioned by an enemy pilot one or two small times during a cutscene, but that was it.

As for calling Nagase a missile-weilding pacifist, that was completely intentional. She keeps bringing up wanting peace and people getting along together, but she does this as she shoots down planes, like it's nothing.

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