Chris Sell
26 Feb, 2005

Ace Combat 5 Review

PS2 Review | Namco's latest Ace Combat offering lands on the PS2.
The first Ace Combat game originally appeared years ago in the early life of the PSone. That, and other games in the series, were solid but the gameplay was more focused on an arcade feel rather than simulation, given the power of the machine. Then, two years ago on the PS2, Namco finally proved with Ace Combat 4: Distant Thunder that consoles are fully capable of being home to enjoyable dog-fighting flight sims. Ace Combat 5: Squadron Leader now to take the series further than ever before both in a visual and gameplay sense. So does it actually achieve a new level of realism and immersion, or has the realism sucked all of the fun out?

Well, on the whole, the basic control remains largely untouched from Ace Combat 4. The analog stick controls your up and down movements and also allows you to roll your plane to perform all kinds of twists and turns. The shoulder buttons allow for finer rudder control for precision flight, while the face buttons control your speed, targeting, missiles and machine gun. A new addition you will notice is the wingman control system. By using the directional pad you can easily issue orders to your accompanying wingman. You can tell them to attack the enemy, cover you, disperse into a wider formation, or use their secondary special weapons. This of course, adds some much welcomed strategy to the game. Should you tell your wingman to attack the enemy at will? Or would it be more beneficial for them to cover you while you go in to destroy a target?

Along with the new wingman control system, there are times when you are now asked yes/no questions during battle. Responding to these is as easy as pressing left or right on the d-pad. While your decisions have a negligible effect on what actually happens, the way that your wingman respond with a different comment depending on your answer certainly adds an extra layer of immersion to proceedings.

Ace Combat 5's Campaign mode has been greatly improved on past games and now has a much more epic feel. The story is driven with some superb looking FMV cutscenes that not only deals with the story of the game, but also the happenings of you and your wingmen, making for a much more interesting and involving plot than that of Distant Thunder. Each mission is well crafted with a well judged learning curve that satisfyingly ramps up the difficulty and complexity of the missions a few levels in once you've got to grips with the controls and taking down enemies. For something that is as simple as flying about shooting things, Ace Combat 5 does an excellent job of keeping things varied during its 30 odd missions. The early levels alone see you defending a bridge from tanks and missiles, protecting aircraft carriers and escorting a supply plane through dangerous no-fly zones. Also, objectives can often change mid-way through so it's rare that you're made to do the same thing for long. Enemies are also pleasingly varied and range from many different aircraft types to ships, frigates, hovercrafts, helicopters, tanks, anti-aircraft bunkers, military installations and also some larger boss-like enemies.

Completing missions earns you money in which you can buy new planes with. Purchasing your planes work a little different this time around. You can now purchase up to four of each type of plane that not just you can fly, but also you can choose which planes to provide your wingman with. Different planes have different strengths and weaknesses so further strategic decisions need to be made before even going into battle. Some planes offer more power, which are ideal for fairly stationary targets such as tanks and sea-based enemies, while other planes offer more speed and quicker maneuverability and are more ideal for dogfights in the air. So choosing the right planes that you and your wingmen fly can really help. Do you want to attack with enemy with as much power as possible? Or do you want fast wingman that will control the skies better and fulfill your orders quicker? The choice of how you build your team is yours.

The snow stages are certainly some of the most beautiful.

The snow stages are certainly some of the most beautiful.
Arcade Mode offers a simpler, streamlined way to play. There's very little in the way of mission objectives and you no longer have your wingmen. You can’t change the difficulty or save your progress so you have to play all seven missions all the way through in one sitting which can be a bit of a pain. Like most arcade games, you start the game with only a small amount of time on the clock and as you destroy targets things like your ammo and time are increased. Alternate routes provide a splash of variety as you have to choose from two paths after missions 2 and 5, making a total of 4 slightly different paths that you can take overall. The difficulty is pretty stiff with most targets needing to be hit with at least two missiles so killing quickly and efficiently to gain ammo is key to success.

On the whole, Ace Combat 5 offers slightly more of challenge than its predecessor in terms of difficulty, mission requirements and demands for unlocking extras. Part of this is due to the fact than in Ace Combat 4, the player could fly to the southern edge of the map and have their ammo fully replenished and any damage to the plane fixed. You can no longer do this so it’s more important to keep a close eye on ammo levels and how many hits your plane has taken. Gone are the days of firing off endless missile after missile making the mastery of the guns essential. Whether it’s take down weaker enemies such as hoverboats or helicopters, to strafe ground-based targets, or to lay down dummy fire to force an enemy aircraft into your lock-on for missile use, this change to Ace Combat 5 makes the dogfights far more strategic and tense.

Ace Combat 5 does have a few faults that do hold it back from being an essential purchase. Targeting is its first problem. While Triangle will quite easily switch between targets, there is no way to specify ground targets or air targets which can be awkward on some missions where you need to say, urgently take out ground enemies. Although you can manually switch targets with Triangle, targets are first selected automatically with no prior indication which can lead to alot of unimportant enemies being targeted first. Pressing Triangle also makes a habit of reselecting the same target you’ve already fired on, which is quite frankly useless on stationary ground targets. Another problem is controlling your speed. You can't maintain the same speed, only accelerate or decelerate from your default speed making maneuvers around other aircraft difficult. This is most problematic on escorting missions where you are having to stay along side a much larger and slower aircraft than any of your fighters, it is impossible to reduce your speed enough to fly behind or alongside it since as soon as you let go of the brake your speed returns to its default, whilst holding brake too long stalls the aircraft. Giving you a 'cruise control' option to lock your current speed would have been ideal.

Also, the addition of Wingmen isn't quite as good as it could have been. While they tend to carry out whatever order you give, they're not quite as obedient as they could have been. The 'cover' command doesn't really see you being covered that effectively and they rarely use their secondary special weapon enough when you tell them to. While I expect this is intentional so that they don't kill everything on screen and effectively leave you with little to do, it seems a bit silly adding in wingmen commands when you can't take full control of them. One last thing, and it's less of a complaint and more of something I'd like to see in the next game, is the addition of USB headset capabilities. Imagine flying into battle, listening to your wingman speak right into your ear like a real radio, then issuing them with simple commands through the microphone. Rainbow Six 3 on the Xbox did it rather well, fingers crossed we'll see something like this done in Ace Combat 6.


Graphically the game is pretty damn stunning. As anyone can see from the screenshots, the plane models, the environments, the cityscapes, the water, the explosions, all looks superb. Admittedly it doesn't look quite as good in-game as it does in the screenshots, but it's still certainly one of the best looking PS2 games around, especially given its silky smooth framerate. One thing that it is, unsurprisingly, lacking is on the texture side of things. While the game looks stunning at 10,000 feet, the closer you get to the ground the uglier the textures become which is a shame when you consider that a large majority of the game is spent only a few thousand feet off the ground. Replays are my biggest gripe with the game regarding presentation. You could get a good 10+ minutes of post-mission replay action in Ace Combat 4, with a wide array of different camera angles on hand. The replays in Ace Combat 5 however usually offer the same sort of standard set by the previous game but can occasionally leave you with a replay that lasts no longer than 10 seconds. A bug maybe? I'm not sure, but I've had it happen a fair few times.

The game's soundtrack is of decent quality too. It's a similar style as previous Ace Combat games which is mostly made up of gentle melodies mixed in with some crunchier harder hitting stuff when things get heated. The game even features the song 'Blurry' by the band Puddle of Mudd which somehow fits the game very well for some unexplainable reason. For the most part, the sound effects are average. The engine noises are pretty generic even after kicking in the after burners, the machine gun fire sounds puny and the explosions are disappointingly weak, severely lacking bass. The voice acting is far better than most games though, with both cut scenes and in game chatter sounding convincing.

With over 30 missions to complete and 50 real-world planes to control, Ace Combat 5: Squadron Leader is certainly worth its admission price. The new Wing Command system coupled with the ability to choose their aircraft allows for an increased level of strategy and the in-flight conversations with them really adds a new layer depth and involvement to the series. Despite the narrative being a bit cheesy in places, the story is well presented with some superb FMV sequences and is enjoyable from start to finish. Because of the type of game this is, with gameplay that can never really evolve into anything more than fly, shoot, repeat along with minor control issues with targeting and speed control, it means Ace Combat 5: Squadron Leader isn't quite an essential purchase. But, it's a damn good game and it's the best of its genre. Any flying game fans should pick this up instantly, while others out there who may be on the lookout for something a little different need look no further than here.
The Score
A superb game that does exactly what it says on the tin. With no real major faults I'd happily recommend this to anyone with the slightest interest in it. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Ace Combat: Squadron Leader Content

New Ace Combat 5 screens take off
13 Sep, 2004 22 new shots, and Namco's flight sim is looking anything but plane.
Ace Combat 5 becomes reality
26 Mar, 2004 Such a long wait but it's been finally announced.
E3 2004: Ace Combat 5 information
16 May, 2004 Including the first screenshots and new features.
9 years ago
looks ok. probably better games to be released, and to get in the near future.
9 years ago
Wow this game looks very nice! Shame im not really into flying sims
9 years ago
Eve6 wrote
Wow this game looks very nice! Shame im not really into flying sims
yeah, was gonna say the same thing...

plus, if i were going to play a flight sim, i'd want a proper joystick, not a control pad...
9 years ago
ObsoletE wrote
i'd want a proper joystick, not a control pad...
I was going to say that to icon_razz.gif
9 years ago

Hori Ace Combat flight stick icon_loved.gif
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