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Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Developer: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1; 2 - 16 (Online)
Genre: Flight/ Simulation/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation brings the long-running series to the current generation of consoles in a big way. Not only does it give the Xbox 360 its second modern flight combat sim, but it also gives the system another great playing, spectacular looking game.

It would be really hard to say anything about Ace Combat 6 without first mentioning how stunning the game looks. I've always been a "Graphics Over Gameplay" type person, but holy... the game looks absolutely incredible! Jets are crafted with the same meticulous attention to detail that cars are in most racing games. Plumes of exhaust bellow from the backs of planes and missiles. Even small elements, like the inhale/ exhale of the engines when you throttle up and down, are included.

Cityscapes - something that is usually just a flat mess of textures in most flying games - are the most realistic I've every seen in a flight game. Environments are huge and present a nice sense of scale. You'll even run into touches like cloud cover that you, or enemy jets, can hide in. If you're still looking for a graphical showpiece, this is it.

Though visuals tend to get most of the attention, audio is another strong point. Some of the dialogue sounds overdramatic and a bit weird thanks to awkward lip-syncing, but the orchestrated soundtrack could easily match up against most motion picture soundtracks. This is especially true about the melody of the main theme, which pops up in the oddest of places and always manages to seem right at home. It is easily one of the more stirring themes to come from a videogame in the last few years.

However, the soundtrack isn't even half the overall experience. As you play through missions, your radio is constantly bombarded with chatter from your squadron. Mission updates and attack warnings come in on the fly and are delivered with a sense of urgency, setting just the right tone for the game. Even "slower" moments have a rushed exciting feel thanks to the dialogue. Some of it manages to pull you in so well that you'll actually get a little disappointed or angry with commander's orders.


Plot-wise, Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation can sometimes be a little hard to follow. There are a number of stories that go on during the game, which can lead to some confusion since you're constantly jumping around. One focuses on an enemy pilot while another follows a woman who thinks she has lost everything. There is little relation between what you are doing in missions and the story sequences. Instead they try to develop a human interest angle for the overall conflict, which involves the military run country of Estovakia (which is basically the old Soviet Union) invading the country of Emmeria (an analog of the US). In some regards the narrative approach is successful; although there is disconnection from the gameplay (not to mention that few of the stories overlap), the broad narrative and a few underlying real-world connections give the conflict a bigger feel.

Missions are generally pretty good, although it takes a while before they really begin to pick up. The first few missions are mostly there for training purposes, though they do give you a good idea about what to expect. In the first few missions, you'll simply move from target to target in a focused pattern. Later missions present you with a much larger battlefield and multiple mission objectives. There's no set pattern to how you take on these objectives, though there are drawbacks for choosing one over the other. At the start of every mission, you are briefed about each objective and even given multiple starting points.

Ace Combat 6 features several real-life aircraft. Each plane uses the same control setup, though there are noticeable differences in handling. Some are faster while others can carry more weapons. The set of objectives you choose to focus on will help determine which plane you fly and its weapon payload. So, if you know you'll face a number of enemy planes, you'll want too focus on speed rather than payload capacity. On the other hand, a slower, more powerful plane might be better if you're up against ground targets.

Although the single-player campaign is a bit on the short side, Ace Combat 6 also features an online mode which allows you to take your skills online and play with others in both co-op and competitive modes.


Given the size and scope of some missions, Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation can feel a little overwhelming -- especially for a first time player. At the same time, the gameplay is presented in a way that it isn't overly frustrating. Sure, there are times where you'll get a little upset, but it never gets to the point where you feel cheated. Instead it makes you want to go back and retool your strategy or switch to another plane (provided you're unlocked them).

Surprisingly, the tutorials were one of the game's more frustrating elements. I couldn't tell you if it was their slow pace or rigid structure, but I had a really hard time completing them. Thankfully, tutorials are optional and the early missions do a good enough job of teaching you the basics. Another, slightly awkward, aspect is the radar. You are given multiple radar types, although it can be difficult to follow what is going on - especially during larger missions where it becomes really cluttered. Most of the time it is better to just follow the arrow on your HUD to your next objective and use the radar as simple guidance.

Game Mechanics:

Gameplay is a balance of sim and arcade elements, which combine to create fast-paced, fun battles. Even if you are a novice to flight games, the controls are fairly easy to pick up. Speed is controlled by the two triggers, while the left stick steers. The only element that will probably throw off newcomers are the yaw controls, which are mapped to the bumpers. If you hold left or right on the left stick, your plane will roll; in order to point the plane's nose is a certain direction, you'll instead have to use the left and right bumpers. It doesn't take long to learn, though it will take a few missions before you think to use the bumpers in tense combat situations.

If the default scheme is too intimidating, a novice option is available as well. The main difference between it and the default setup are the yaw and roll controls. Although it is still a playable setup, it is worth your time to learn the default scheme since it gives you a few more maneuvering options. Hardcore flight fans can take things a little further by purchasing a special flight stick, which is available with the game. The setup gives you a more cock-pit like setup, though the total package does come with a price tag.

Flight combat sims are rare on consoles, and Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation does a more than stellar job at filling that void.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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