Namco has been flying through some very blue skies lately. Like King Midas himself, because whatever they touch on the PSP (eventually) turns to gold. Most of the must-have PSP productions are creations of Namco Bandai: Tales of Eternia, Taiko no Tsujin 1&2 Portable, Ridge Racer, Portable Resort, Chuugen no Hasha Shouseiden, and of course, Me & My Katamari. It's a solid track record, and their latest, Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception, makes a great addition to that list.
The irony of the title is yours to discover, as there is a bit of deception, beginning with the visuals that might make you think this is a PS2 game. But don't be fooled; Skies of Deception is simply a fantastic looking PSP title. The terrain and aircraft models are incredibly detailed. Expect to double take just admiring how close they've kept this game to its PlayStation 2 counterparts. Though, unlike the other Ace Combat titles, the story takes more of an anime-style approach, deviating from the grandiose storylines of past games and focusing on a fresh new story. It's appropriate and actually a very good fit, and at no point did I find myself wishing for the stlye of of the past games.
Deception's campaign mode unravels the events between the Leasath and the Aurelians, two societies divided by war, one with a fear of being wiped out, the other ploy for domination. As an Aurelian fighter, your tasks consist of common tactical missions such as destroying an enemy base, taking down opposing cargo before they reach a port, ensuring that your teammates survive the remainder of the mission, etc. Unlike past Ace Combat games where you would likely be found tapping X to get out of the mission briefing, Deception manages to be quick and to the point.
The best part about Deception is that you don't have to be a veteran to have fun with it, as long as you can enjoy shooting a bunch of fighter pilots out of the sky.
The presentation really stands out, with very simple yet elegant menus, beeping and blipping on and off screen while toggling the options. Loading times aren't too long and Deception doesn't suffer from any technical drawbacks, which is a refreshing change for a PSP owner accustomed to great games marred by a few nasty drawbacks due to porting or hardware limitations.
The series has always been special for its unique ability to marry simulation flight and the arcade experience, and their latest title is no exception. Controls are fluid, despite the lack of a second analog. Namco managed to make a handheld game with restricting controls actually feel right. The analog and d-pad serve as sight and panning controls respectively, shoulder buttons as brakes and turbo, and diamond buttons each serving as some form of weapon management. It's actually perfect and not once did it feel as if the limitations were crippling the controls.
Ace Combat X is limited to just a campaign, free mission and multiplayer mode, with no online play whatsoever, but it doesn't seem to suffer for its absence. It lives up to the rest of the series quite well for a portable game, if not teaching the former some new tricks on how to be much more seamless and a whole less boring. The best part about Deception is that you don't have to be a veteran to have fun with it, as long as you can enjoy shooting a bunch of fighter pilots out of the sky. I tried flying my pilot over the stratosphere and into space, but that didn't work at all. I did see Cloud Nine though, which I guess would be the next best thing.