Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception
It took them a while, but with Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception, Namco has finally brought the beloved franchise to a handheld console, more specifically Sony’s PSP. This move wasn’t too surprising, but it’s a welcome one nonetheless. Just like its home console ancestors, ACX delivers a great experience for fans and newcomers alike.
As was to be expected, Ace Combat X doesn’t bring any sizeable changes to the series. While most series wouldn’t get away with sequels that only bring superficial updates to the table, Ace Combat does get away with it, simply because there are no (worthy) alternatives for a new AC game, not on the PS2, let alone the PSP. Hardcore flyboys just want to get their fix, and Namco is practically the only one that can give it to them.
That doesn’t make ACX any less of a game, mind you. It succeeds in bringing the addictive flying/shooting action to the PSP, with only minor compromises. For instance, you won’t be able to control your wingmen (which doesn’t have a big impact anyway) and changing views can only be done from the pause menu (but considering that most players will just stick to the exterior camera, that isn’t a big nuisance either). The controls are very responsive and manoeuvering your plane just feels ‘right’.
Visually, ACX is on par with the best games on the PlayStation Portable. Admittedly, the planes look a little less detailed than on the PS2, but this is still a portable console we’re talking about.
The skies, explosions and weather effects all look very impressive and the framerate is steady throughout. The sound effects are even indistinguishable from Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, and that’s a good thing, if you were wondering. The dialogue in ACX can be a little bit overdone, but that seems to be inherent to the Ace Combat series. The music takes a backseat to all the ruckus of exploding missiles, but it’s still -more than okay overall. Kudos to Namco for doing a fantastic job from a technical point of view.
Even though it’s basically a spin-off of the PS2 games, Skies of Deception also adds some never-before-seen stuff to the franchise. For instance, there’s the 4-player ad hoc multiplayer mode. Though I haven’t tested that one out myself (only a few of my friends have a PSP and none of them own the game), it ought to be a lot of fun, especially if you consider how enjoyable the multiplayer in ACZ is. That being said, though, I think Namco missed a great opportunity to finally introduce true online skirmishes to Ace Combat. Just think of the massive potential a carefully designed infrastructure mode has.
Another novelty is the fact that you can now upgrade your planes between missions. For instance you can install better engines or heavier armour plating.
Beware though, as most upgrades also have a drawback. Heavier armour makes you less vulnerable to enemy fire, but also lowers your chance of evading it. No worries though, as ACX isn’t a particularly challenging game. The enemy AI still isn’t all that good and you should blaze through the game in a mere five hours on the normal difficulty setting, and that’s counting retries. Luckily, the replay value of the game is pretty high. Most missions give you the choice in which order you want to finish them, and the cool thing is this also impacts actual gameplay. For instance, in the beginning of the game you’ll encounter a huge invisible airship armed with a dreadful weapon. You can choose to take out the airship first (that’s pounding the hell out of your ground troops) or rescue your soldiers first, in the meanwhile evading fire from the airship.
It basically comes down to this: if you like the series, Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception surely won’t disappoint you. If you don’t like Ace Combat -or airplanes altogether- then don’t bother with this one. If you’ve been dying for an (action) flight-sim to appear on the PSP, go get this one ASAP. ACX is simply yet another great title in the PSP’s already impressive 2006 line-up.