The quiet serenity of a cloudless day in Gracemeria is suddenly shattered by a thunderous explosion destroying part of the citys landmark, Kings Bridge. Estovakian forces have begun an all-out assault on Emmeria. As leader of Garruda team, along with the entire Emmerian air force, you are charged with defense of your homeland and neutralizing the Estovakian threat.
Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation appears to be loosely based upon the global war on terror, and thereby utilizes a tried and true formulae where Good ultimately triumphs over Evil. Although never specifically identified, the plot (albeit a bit weak) revolves around the Emmerian efforts to repel a homeland invasion by a foreign power. There is no real emotional impact from the game cinematics, but that aside, Bandai Namco have given us a sleek high-tech aerial fighter loaded with some amazingly realistic gameplay.
Basic familiarity with the games control mechanisms will come easily enough, and with due diligence gamers will be aerial aces in no time. It should be well noted that this game is NOT complicated to control whatsoever. Many of the controls are context sensitive depending on what scenario youre working on, but not nearly as confusing as some earlier flight sims. Acceleration and deceleration are achieved with the right and left triggers, yaw is left and right shoulder buttons; roll and pitch are implemented with the left joystick, and alternate camera control on the right. The back button cycles through available missle types and special weapons. The start button pauses the game and the directional pad can issue commands to your wingman like cover and attack, or call in an orchestrated ground or aerial assault on a specifically chosen target area. The Y button changes targets (holding it down will track them), B fires chosen missiles and A is the machine gun.
The Xbox Live experience is a very good one. Gamers may choose from Player or Ranked matches and check progress against an international leaderboard. Players may participate in multiplayer action for up to 16 people in any of the available Team Battles, Battle Royale, Siege Battles or Co-op. A player may join another lobby for quick action, or host their own game based on personal parameters. As is often the case, playing on Live is typically much more challenging than the games enemy AI; although it was quite well done. The pace during live gameplay seemed ramped up significantly, and while gamers will certainly get quite good at dispatching computer controlled enemies, real human players are a great deal more difficult! The unlocked and purchased planes one has will be of particular benefit for Live.
The game primarily follows a linear Campaign mode on any of three difficulty levels: easy, normal or hard. Through successive missions, including mandatory tutorials for all aspects of flight and weapons training, new aircraft and weapons will become available for purchase. The purchase of these new planes with significantly increased weapons payloads becomes increasingly important in later missions, where ground assault is more commonplace and a savvy gamer will want more armour with heavier carrying capacities to be successful. Speed and maneuverability are understandably important in combat aircraft, and jets like the Mirage 2000 become available for purchase after a few successfully completed missions.
Graphics and sound are absolutely the strong points in Ace Combat 6. The spoken English commands may have sub-titles depending on user preference, but are often pretty handy as combat gets rather visually daunting, and it can be easy to miss an audible command in the thick of battle. Textures, reflectivity, vapour trails and the shimmering visual effect from heat, specifically jet turbines, are extremely high quality. The realism is such that its easy to forget youre playing a game and not watching news footage from operation Desert Storm or current world conflict. Sound effects and dialogue were also well done. Mission briefing, flight and weapons tutorials, even radio banter are all entirely believable. Everything from machine gun fire to the distant dull thud of ground warfare are all realistically represented. There is a good deal of replayability built into the game, particularly given the excellent Xbox Live experience. The CG tries to relate the plight of the occupied Emmerians, but lacked any real depth of plot. The aerial combat is easy to learn fairly quickly and really offers a good deal of eye candy. Overall, a great aerial combat game or any action/adventure fan. Gamers would do well to ask Santa for this one!