The Ace Combat series is one of the oldest and most revered franchises still around from the days of Sony’s original console offering, and for good reason. Over the past five iterations Namco has crafted one of the finest and most enjoyable flight games currently available on the market. Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation continues this trend of excellence, but for the first time in franchise history it does so on a completely different console. This brings the amazing single-player mechanics and intense dog fighting into a new arena with the addition of online modes including co-op missions and of course aerial confrontations.
Fires of Liberation spans 15 single-player missions all broken up by a series of cut scenes told from the perspective of people directly affected by the war. The first few missions are standard fare and will likely feel tedious to most gamers, but if you stick with it the game makes a dramatic turn and really delivers a unique and exciting experience more than worth the price of admission. The cut scenes that break up the action are nicely presented, but feel somewhat disconnected from the core game. This is largely due to the fact that these stories are not directly related to what is going on in the sky. Even with this severed storyline these cut scenes still deliver a plausible backdrop to the events going on in the clouds.
Of course the heart and soul of any Ace Combat game is the combat and Fires of Liberation does not hold pull any punches. From the minute you pick up the controller the game feels smooth and responsive. The triggers control speed, the bumpers handle yaw and you use the left analog stick for directional movement. It is worth noting that those of you intimidated by complicated flight games that there is a beginner setting in the options menu, but even without it you should get the hang of controlling your craft with little resistance.
This is easily Fires of Liberation’s strongest attribute. Being able to instantly pick up and enjoy a game, especially of this variety is rare. Namco has crafted a near flawless control scheme, and if you are really into these types of games you can pitch in an extra 90 bucks and pick up the amazingly authentic flight stick bundle. While this is certainly not a necessity as the standard controller will work just fine, it is a nice companion option for those who desire the ultimate experience.
Each mission works just as you would expect with a quick overview before deployment giving you the ability to select aircraft and weaponry best suited for each mission. For the first 5-6 missions the standard layout should work fine, but later in the game you will run across surprise objectives during the mission that really throw a monkey wrench into your plans. This can be frustrating as you will be half-way through a mission only to realize that your layout is useless against a certain type of enemy. Thankfully this is remedied with the aid of your wingmen who you can command to attack and cover you with a simple tap of the d-pad.
One of the cooler aspects of the single-player game is that each mission does have multiple objectives all of which cannot be completed in one play through. This adds a nice layer of replay value especially for completists out there who insist on earning every possible award the game has to offer. The best part about going back is that the missions will actually feel different depending on which objectives you choose to carry out. Couple this with the addition of extreme difficulty upon completion of the game and you have an incredibly robust game without even touching the multi-player.
Multi-player is broken down into two parts and both are equally enjoyable depending on your preference. The co-op missions are basically mirrors of the type of sorties you would perform offline but of course with other players. The biggest differentiator here is that when you die you can actually respawn but it will take time off the clock. Saving precious seconds is crucial which adds to the tension not to mention an overall layer of strategy. The downside is that there are only two co-op missions on the initial disc. I am sure there is a possibility of downloadable content in the pipeline, but as much fun as it is to take to the skies with your friends it makes you wish they had added co-op for all of the single-player missions.
The second half of the online is of course battle mode which can be played either as a team or solo. The lobby system feels a bit dated and confusing at first, but it’s manageable. There is also very little lag to speak of which is of course always a good thing. There are a few different modes to play around with but nothing you haven’t seen before but it is nice to finally see the series in top form in the online category. The possibility of downloadable co-op missions and of course new modes is always exciting, but what is here is more than enough to satisfy any fan of the genre.
If all of this hadn’t already convinced you to go out and pick up this game just stick around because I have more. The visuals in Fires of Liberation are absolutely jaw-dropping. Smoke trails fill the sky, the planes are so intricately detailed and the draw distance is absolutely amazing. However, there is one drawback; ground textures. Sure from a distance they look fine, but get close enough to the ground and you will think you were teleported back to 1996, I mean these things are terrible. Of course 95% of the time you will not even notice them because you are too busy watching everything else, but when you do fly close enough to the ground try not to crash into the four pixel backdrop.
Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation is easily the best flight-sim available on next-gen systems, not to mention the best the series has ever had to offer. Picture perfect controls and lush visuals make this a package that fans of the series will not want to miss. Even with the quirky story and slow pacing through the first few missions Fires of Liberation surpasses all benchmarks set by its predecessors and sets a new bar for the series and the genre. Easy to pick up and play, but hard to put down Ace Combat 6 is the definition of how you keep a franchise going strong for this long.