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Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War (PlayStation 2)

Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War (PlayStation 2) review


"Diving back into a standard Ace Combat game after coming off the high Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War was riding on was tough. This was made more difficult when I realized Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War wasn't really up to par in certain aspects. The most obvious being the plot. Now, I wasn't expecting it to be as great as the one featured in AC5 (would have been a definite plus, though), but considering this game took place during the Belkan War, which, in AC5, was basically talked about a..."



Diving back into a standard Ace Combat game after coming off the high Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War was riding on was tough. This was made more difficult when I realized Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War wasn't really up to par in certain aspects. The most obvious being the plot. Now, I wasn't expecting it to be as great as the one featured in AC5 (would have been a definite plus, though), but considering this game took place during the Belkan War, which, in AC5, was basically talked about as being THE war, I hoped for something.

Unfortunately, there's barely any story being told throughout the game, which hasn't been this minimal since AC2. The plot that is present is usually told through the perspective of a journalist looking back on the war through a tv documentary, who either says few lines or interviews pilots that came in contact with your character, named Cipher. This could have been executed very well, but they're so sparse, acting more like intermissions after going through five or so missions. I was especially upset when "the moment", which was viewed in AC5 as the most tragic incident in human history, was underplayed in Zero. Shoot, the overall plot feels so unbalanced to the point that you'll be totally caught off guard realizing you're at the end of the game. There's really no build up, you're just there.

Another disappointing aspect is how generic, and at times lazy, some of the mission objectives seem to be. Granted, the Ace Combat series is ultimately just about chasing planes and hitting ground targets, but they at least spiced it up in past titles. In Zero, I've counted at least three missions, which were pretty close to one another, where the main objective was simply to destroy ground targets. What's so annoying about this is that all the targets are placed in the middle of the maps, lined up from north to south. I'll go as far as saying that this is the most basic an AC title has felt since Air Combat for the original PlayStation. There's really only two instances in Zero where it goes beyond that, the first is having to constantly dodge a giant laser of death trying to hit your plane in two mid-missions, and the second is something that happens at the end of the game. Let's compare this to some of the stuff you do in past games: fly through a tight ravine to avoid detection, go into the stratosphere in pursuit of planes, navigate through space to shoot down satellites under a strict time limit, escape annihilation by diving below 2000 feet, and chase after more than a dozen missiles on their way to a base. I find it hard to believe the developers had a difficult time coming up with a variety of mission objectives after being creative for five games.

However, one particular area, the area that matters the most in a game like this, saves Zero from becoming another Air Combat or Ace Combat 3: combat*. Despite my disappointment with other sections of this release, I was actually surprised by the ruthless dogfights, on the normal difficulty setting, no less. I don't ever recall being shot down this many times since dealing with the pesky SAMs on Air Combat's hard difficulty setting. Doing battle with enemy aircraft, especially the "boss" encounters, is almost like fighting Dopplegangers, since the AI rivals your piloting skills, even surpassing them occasionally. Well, to be fair, they surpass you due to four fighters ganging up on you at the same time. They have no qualms with firing missiles the moment they lock on, and will successfully hit your plane if you don't dodge immediately. Hell, the final boss is shockingly frustrating, easily crushing any difficult situation dealt with in previous games. I'll just say that it took me an hour to beat him, and at that point, my left hand was ready to implode because of all the maneuvering I had to perform.

*Combat! Combat! Combat!

I should also mention Zero has a gimmick separating it from its aunts and uncles, a morality system. This system is based on how you react on the battlefield, whether you want to be a Mercenary by destroying every target on the map, even the yellow targets that pose no threat, or a Knight that spares the lives of retreating aircraft and such. Don't get too excited about it, though, because it's not a huge, game-changing deal. You'll get more money as a Merc (for plane and weapon purchases), and have slightly different encounters depending on who you decide to be, but that's it. Soldiers rarely comment on your actions, and even when you're acting extremely merciful, you'll still be referred to as a demon lord by both enemies and allies. That means the difficult dogfights are the only things to look forward to in this third and final PlayStation 2 installment. But, try as it might, it can't hide the other glaring issues that prevent Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War from being a must play. It's not a fall from grace for the series, and if you can find it really, really cheap, give it a shot, but I'd strongly recommend playing the other PlayStation 2 titles, instead.

Rating: 7/10

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (April 20, 2010)

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