Ace Combat 5: Squadron Leader
God, I love Top Gun. I’ve probably seen the film 10 times already, but everytime it’s on tv, I can’t withstand the urge to watch. The combination of Kelly McGillis’ slick looks, Tom Cruise’s flair, Val Kilmer’s coolness and the utter beauty of the F-14 Tomcat works on me every time. Maybe Ace Combat 5 will do the same.
Games that put you behind the HOTAS (Hands-On-Throttle-And-Stick) of a present day fighter plane are quite rare now, unfortunately. There used to be times when Novalogic and Jane’s (EA) churned out numerous PC-games (remember their F-22, Commanche, F-15 and USAF games), but those days are well behind us. As far as consoles go you have Namco’s Ace Combat games and that’s it. Enthousiast pilots are hungry for (a lot) more!
To feed us (well actually soothe our hunger) Ace Combat 5: Squadron Leader (or AC5: The Unsung War if you’re an American) is finally available. It’s not an actual flight sim. In fact calling it a flight sim would be giving a bit too much credit, but it’s a really great action game that lets you soar high up in the clouds. To me this is the biggest feeling of freedom a man can experience in a videogame. Nothing compares to flying 20.000 ft above the soil while performing loops, Immelmans and other pieces of artistic flying. Life can be bliss.
Of course you won’t have a lot of time to do that freely, because you’ll have a heat-seeking missile up your ass in no time. Most missions comprise of fending off enemy agressors, providing close air support for ground troops, searching and destroying enemy vehicles and structures and other stuff a fighter pilot is supposed to do. Pretty much variation if you ask me.
To complete these missions successfully you have an incredible armada of more than 50 fighter planes at your disposal. From present day aircraft like the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, McDonald Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon and Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker (all with different subtypes), over classic crates like the McDD F-4 Phantom II and Mikoyan MiG-21 Fishbed, to brand-new winged wonders such as the LM F-22 Raptor and McDD F/A-18 Super Hornet. For a full list, check below. Suffice to say that this list of magnificent planes took my breath away!
•F-5E Tiger II
•F-4E Phantom II
•F-4G Phantom II ‘Wild Weasel’
•F-16C Fighting Falcon
•F-16C Block 60 Fighting Falcon
•F-2A Viper Zero
•F/A-18E Super Hornet
•A-10A Thunderbolt II ‘Warthog’
•YA-10B Thunderbolt II ‘Warthog’
•F-14D Super Tomcat
•F-15E Strike Eagle
•Su-35 Super Flanker
•F-117 Nighthawk ‘Stealth Fighter’
•F-35C Joint Strike Fighter
•YF-23 Black Widow II
•MiG model 1.44 ‘MiG-39’
•2 unlockable craft
Each one of these airplanes is wonderfully rendered. They look exactly like their real counterparts. AC5 also has the most beautiful afterburners (can be compared to a nitrous oxide boost for airplanes) I’ve ever seen. When you slowly fly by ships or ground vehicles you can also admire the detail that’s put into them. What’s even more surprising is that the game has no slowdowns whatsoever, even during the most hectic dogfights! When you shoot a plane out of the sky, it turns into a nice great ball of fire. The only remark I can make is that the ground looks a bit like a map, with not too much vegetation. Furthermore the game’s storyline is explained with the use of wonderful cutcenes. In some of them I was even wondering whether I was looking at a real picture or a rendered scene.
Speaking of which, the narrative of AC5 isn’t bad at all. You are part of a four man squadron on Sand Island in the state of Osea. In a surprising move, Yuktobania, a neighbouring country, attacks your homeland. Because of its position, the Sand Island squadron is Osea’s first line of defence. You’re right in the danger zone so to speak. Miraculously, your squadron fends of the numerous attacks, which earns them the name of ‘Demons of Razgriz’. The plot unfolds further, using surprising turns and ending in a climax. Rest assured, this ain’t no Final Fantasy or so, but it does its job well. The story is further backed up by the cool ingame radio chatter.
The biggest flaw of AC5 is its relatively short campaign. I finished the game in Normal difficulty with 5h20min of actual flight time. If you count the numerous cutcenes and retries (there are no checkpoints, if you’re shot down, you can start over), you may reach 8 hours to complete the game, which isn’t a lot. Luckily the game has a lot of replay-value after that, because of the extra unlocked difficulty settings (Expert and Ace) and the mission select menu that lets you replay your favourite missions.
Ace Combat 5: Squadron Leader is simply an amazing game. In the hugely undercrowded action flight sim genre, AC5 flies high above its few competitors in terms of gameplay, sound, graphics,…well pretty much everything really. To use fitting words: enemy locked, fox 1…Direct hit!