Amidst of the eternal waves of time.
From a change of ripple shall the storm rise
Out of abyss peer the eyes of a demon
Behold the Razgriz, its wings of black sheath
Three years ago Namco produced Shattered Skies which, up until last week, I considered the PS2's paramount game. Perhaps the greatest of this generation until Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War showed up and screwed everything up. Identical to Ace Combat 4 in innumerable ways, AC5 takes everything AC4 did right, pushed the PS2 beyond what most thought visually capable, and expanded upon it in every conceivable way and landed itself the title of my supreme game this generation.
Captain Blaze reporting for duty, sir.
Ready to blow those dirty Yuktobanians right out of the air, sir!
As mission one of Ace Combat 5 commences, the player is immediately thrown into a fictional war between Osea and Yuktobania. Fifteen years prior, the two fought a war against Belka ending in Belka nuking its own cities and destroying themselves. Now, 15 years later in 2010, Yuktobania has launched a surprise attack against Osea and it's your mission as the Sand Island Squadron to protect Osea at all costs. Ace Combat 5 is told from the unique perspective of an Osean cameraman who documents the lives of the Sand Island Squadron. Often cutting to beautiful cutscenes after missions, the vantage point of Genette allows the story to be told gracefully and allows the Sand Island Squadron to remain somewhat opaque, permitting for a much more interesting narrative when true reasons for war gradually come to light. As your squadron takes to the skies, you'll be interacting with both enemy and friend alike. After only a few missions, it's hard to not feel connected with the world--enemies will cower in fear as they refer to you as the demons of Razgriz after stories of your heroic missions are circulated. Later on the story takes a few sharp turns and after the last mission, you'll sit back, exhale, and wonder how the hell things changed so much without any hint of what was to come.
Audio and visual alike, Ace Combat 5 is near perfect. The soundtrack is great and fits the moods of the missions precisely as a backdrop to the constant voice acted dialogue you'll be experiencing. Though constant and engaging, the voice acting is only average and it sometimes gets annoying when members of your squadron talk, considering they rarely have anything worthy to say. The lone female pilot of the group needs to be slapped if she talks about how sad war is and how she wishes there would just be peace one more time. She's the first hippie pilot I've ever encountered, that's for sure. The sound of enemy planes narrowly missing me as they passed by often scared the crap out of me, drowning out any noises that weren't the roaring of an engine.
While in flight, as previously stated, the visuals push the PS2 beyond what has been thought of as the PS2's limits. Only when altitude drops and the ground becomes more visible does the quality drop any. It would be unfair to expect an entire city to be crafted just to fly over, so it's acceptable that the ground isn't all too appealing to look at. Clouds look amazing and missiles have tails of smoke--coupled with the consistent frame rate, they all help add to the appeal.The planes match their lifelike counterparts and look beautiful both in flight and out. I won't even mention the cutscenes, as I'm sure everyone has already been amazed by the media available, and, if not, just check out the attached screen shots.
The demon soars through dark skies
Fear and death trail the shadow beneath
Until men united wield hallowed saber
In final reckoning, the beast is slain
New players to the Ace Combat series might well expect a realistic flight sim when they see the names of dozens of fighter jets they've never heard of before. Then the novices will take to the game and realize that yaw, pitch, and roll are important factors in maneuvering. (Without using the novice controls, at least.) Fear not, the game isn't as realistic as some Microsoft Flight Sim experts are accustomed to. Hell, each plane comes equipped with 40/50+ missiles as well as ~10 secondary weapons. Once you take to the missions, you'll be glued. Each mission comes packed with surprised and story development, and they progressively get harder and harder. As the end nears, the Ace of Aces, Blaze, will be forced to weave in and out of canyons and tunnels and avoid the talented Yuk squadrons set on destroying the Demons of Razgriz; (psst, that's you) The missions vary from destroying battleships in the middle of the ocean to protecting a football stadium from aerial attack in the middle of a city to leading a plane through a radar field without being detected to taking recon photos of a mine. Ace Combat is as diverse as it gets. Though not difficult to defeat enemies in and of itself, (I finished with ~800 kills in 28 missions) the missions are in fact demanding and often time sensitive. Nearly always in combat, the missions are adrenaline pumping and action packed, just as fans of the series have come to expect.
All is not well in Ace Combat land however. Namco implemented the new ability to issue orders to your wingmen but it falls flat on its face in execution. Your wingmen are rarely responsive and telling them to scatter or attack and use special weapons is pointless when they finish with an average of less than one kill per mission. They rarely serve any purpose other than detracting attention from yourself and providing you with dialogue to help you feel as though you're actually piloting a plane in the middle of a war among a squadron. I think all of my wingmen combined finished with 1 ground kill to match my 400, so don't bother equipping your wingmen with anything other than aerial dominant planes, either.
Ace Combat 5's greatest fault comes in the omission of any form of multiplayer. With PS2 network adapters selling like hotcakes, it seemed like as good a time as any for Namco to bring the series online. They didn't. Even worse, Namco didn't even bother to include the multiplayer dogfight mode I made so much use of three years ago with Shattered Skies. Fortunately after completing the game there is still so much to do as you can replay the game or single missions with your previous money and planes as you try to unlock planes and receive medals. Also, the addition of the Arcade mode should keep anyone busy enough with bogies to kill to make them forget about the lack of multiplayer.
When all the dust settles and the plane finally lands, it's obvious Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War is still part of the same series I've grown to love and, quite frankly, that's all right with me. Despite the lack of multiplayer and some few minor nuances, Ace Combat 5 is a superb game. Such a beautiful game that plays so well deserves a spot in anyone's collection and for the lover of flight sims, you may very well have a new favorite game. I know I do.
As the demon sleeps, man turns on man
His own blood and madness soon cover the earth
From depth of despair awaken the Razgriz
Its raven wings ablaze in majestic light