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Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies
PS2 Staff Review by Mike Weatherup

Namco's Ace Combat series has had a faithful following over the years due to the developer's ability to make each outing feel just right. Now in its fourth iteration, the Ace Combat franchise has never really focussed on the simulation side of things but rather on fast arcade action. It is how Namco continues to heighten this action that makes the series continue to be a viable product in a rather crowded market place. The latest version, Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies continues to tweak the action while delivering a nice humanistic plot. The result is what we have come to expect from Namco. However, there is still room for further improvement if Namco decides to continue the franchise.

This the best visual outing for the franchise yet. This comes as no surprise thanks to the power of the Playstation 2. The graphics are sharp and extremely detailed in the high resolution mode. Ground features are easily distinguished while in-air effects such as clouds and changing weather conditions have been represented in a very natural and believable fashion. There are three excellent camera options to choose from: first person view, third person view and Heads Up Display view. Each has been carefully tweaked. We preferred the third-person view as it was easier to maneuver the aircraft. However, flight fans will surely enjoy the very simulated feel of the first-person perspective. A very nice replay option is available at the end of each mission. The replay is fully controllable with various camera angles and perspectives. It has a very director related approach that is becoming the norm in flight combat games. Another nice feature is the ability to use a first person view when secondary weapons are fired. It is reminiscent of the laser guided missiles used in Desert Storm. Hold the secondary weapon button and the camera will change right to the nose of the warhead as it approaches its target. This feature is very helpful in learning how to judge trajectories when using various missiles and bombs. In addition, it just looks great. Our only complaint with the visuals comes in the area of destruction of targets and sense of speed. The air-to-air explosions are on par with most other flight combat games while the surface explosions leave a lot to be desired. The PS2 can handle an immense amount of fractals and polygon tricks in order to convey some very nice explosions. Zone of the Enders is a good example of what can be done. In Ace Combat 04, these advanced tricks have not been used. We wanted to see buildings and other targets explode into little pieces with flashy lighting effects. Unfortunately this was not done. Instead the explosions are average and this can bore as you get deeper into the game. An apparent lack of VRAM in the PS2 results in mixed visual representations. High in the sky ground detail looks good but when you swoop down for a closer look, things appear blurry. The sense of speed is also not clearly conveyed. This is painfully evident when you throw on the afterburners and nothing seems to be moving much faster.

The addition of detailed cockpit voices adds to the tension and intensity of each mission. Wingmen give constant updates and outline objectives and advise of immediate areas that need attention. In addition, cut scenes tell a story of a young man who lost his father to a mysterious fighter pilot. The story is compelling and adds some drama to compliment the actual missions. As the story progresses, your character, known as Mobius One, starts to gain legendary status. The story is so well told that you actually start to feel proud of the praise and attention your character garners throughout the game. As a result, the voice acting is top notch. On the sound side of things, the developers at Namco recorded actual take-offs, landings and in air sounds. Therefore, the sounds are very believable and really jump at you if you are fortunate enough to have your PS2 hooked up to a 5.1 speaker set-up.

As in past Ace Combat games, the controls here are fantastic. You have a number of control options in order to choose the right one for you. Each one allows you to maneuver each fighter with precise motion and extreme ease. Set against a world conflict in 2004, the missions range from standard dog fights to the destruction of key military installations. New aircraft and weapons can be purchased with money earned for completing missions, hit bonuses and time bonuses. The incentive to gain access to stealth fighters and high tech weapons increases the replay value of the game. Targeting in the game is made easy by an automatic targeting system. You can switch between targets at the touch of a button. This becomes quite useful as the game progresses as it allows you to choose among many different strategic options. Weak A.I. was a common complaint with past Ace Combat titles. Rest assured that Namco has tweaked the A.I. in Ace Combat 04 to provide more realistic enemy movement and strategy. The game offers 18 jet-fighters to choose from and 18 missions to engage those fighters in. While many of the missions are exciting and somewhat intuitive, later stages become repetitive and boring.

In the end, Ace Combat 04 is a pretty solid flight-combat simulation that is just short of a must buy. Fans of the series will not be disappointed and those looking for a better than average flight game will be attracted to the nice visuals and engaging storyline.

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