Jeremy Jastrzab
02 May, 2007

After Burner: Black Falcon Review

PSP Review | Burn baby, burn!
If you weren’t around the gaming scene in 1987, you’d be forgiven if you thought that After Burner: Black Falcon was just another recent flight game for the PSP. However, this game is a revitalisation of a franchise that was started by famed Sega developer, Yu Suzuki. Over the best part of the decade following the game’s release, it saw a sequel and a version for just about every platform of the time. In a move that would have otherwise confined it to the annals of gaming, Sega has gone about reviving the franchise for a new generation.

So, what was the story with After Burner? It was a twist on your basic top-down shooter of the time where, instead of shooting from the bottom of the screen up, you were placed in a third-person perspective, behind your fighter craft. The playing area was displayed in very limited 3D, and you were confined to "rails". When played in the arcades, the game had you sitting in one of those booths that felt like you were in the cockpit of a plane. In order to revive this game for 2007 and scale it down for the PSP, Sega commissioned the enigmatic fellows at Planet Moon Studios.

Just feel that youth coming back.

Just feel that youth coming back.
As far as we’re concerned, this was a good move. After all, Planet Moon’s last game for the PSP, Infected, was a good one. Known for their outlandish humour, they’ve actually scaled back from weird, to light-hearted for this game. It’s got a bit more subtle wit, but also the odd moment of insanity. The story goes, that a group of rogues have stolen 13 top secret military jets and you play as one of three pilots, aiming to defeat these rogues. Each of the three pilots has a different back-story, and motivations for going through the game’s 24 missions.

Regardless of whom you pick, each of the characters will end up playing the same way, bar a few minor differences throughout the story. First and foremost, the game sticks to its traditional roots. Basically, you’ll be playing from the exact same perspective as the game was originally played. That is, it is pretty much a “straight-ahead” arcade shooter. However, the game has been rebuilt for the PSP. The 3D is actually 3D and the presentation has been modernised.

You start off the game with a choice of only two different kinds of jets to take on your missions and a basic set of weapons. However, the game manages to show off a bit of depth, as you will gain access to more aircraft (over twenty – all licensed real-life craft actually), the opportunity to beef up your arsenal with much stronger weaponry and even give yourself a new coat of paint. You can take advantage of these upgrades as you complete missions. During the mission, you’ll fly for a few minutes on end and you’ll generally have one main objective – eliminate the boss, protect this structure – and several optional objective – eliminate X amount of enemies/structures.

True to old school gameplay, completing the objectives and completing them well will earn you points and in turn, money. This money can be then used to purchase more aircraft and better weaponry. Further adding to the old school feel, the game is actually a good blend of strategy, skill, reflex and patience. You’ll need all four of these traits if you want any hope of getting through the game. You’ll have three lives in each level, and chances are, you’re going to need each one of them.

That's one flamin' pile.

That's one flamin' pile.
The gameplay is simple at its core but quite challenging to completely master. The action is unrelenting and very astutely paced. At its core, you have three basic modes of attack. You have a machine gun (but it’s borderline useless), missiles and bombs. The missiles are used for taking down any aerial enemies while the bombs are used for taking any enemies or objective structures on the ground. Furthermore, you can try and speed up to get away or slowdown to be more accurate by using either the R or L buttons and you’ve also got a roll maneuver at your disposal.

On screen, you have a reticule for aiming. Whenever this reticule is passed over an enemy, that enemy will then be subject to your lock-on. This allows you to fire off your missiles and bombs for direct hits. Enemies often come in clusters, so if you can eliminate all of them without being hit, then you’ll get a bonus. Bonus items include health refills, ammo refills, a time augmenter and so forth. The effective enemy elimination, combined with avoiding their attacks is the key to succeeding in this game.

For anyone who is after this kind of game, you’re not likely to be disappointed. For what seems like a simple and at times, unvaried shooter, there is actually a fair bit to the game. Not to mention, it rewards you for being skillful and quick. Thankfully, there is enough intensity and sheer action to keep the game going. In terms of the actual gameplay, apart from the fact that the lack of variety may eventually turn a player off, it seems that precision with the analog nub is hard to come by. Thanks to the lock-on, most of the time this isn’t an issue. However, when you’re out of bombs and need to rely on your guns, it can be a bit of a pain.

For the time that the single player lasts, it’s a great deal of fun. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to keep most players occupied for that long. There are co-op and competitive multiplayer modes that can be played over LAN. The co-op works well because you can jump in and out of any level that you’ve already unlocked. However, the competitive multiplayer borrows from Planet Moon’s last title, even down to the name, “mad cow”. It’s just too bad that it was unable to recreate any of the compelling feeling that came with the multiplayer in Infeceted.

The more targets, the more explosions.

The more targets, the more explosions.
Graphically, the game does quite well, both from style and technical standpoint. In the few cut-scenes, the game takes on a cartoon style and delivers everything like a comic book. It doesn’t intrude on the action and has something of a 80’s style to it. Technically, the game is clean and vibrant, not to mention that it sports some of the most bearable load times on the PSP. All the aircraft in the game are nicely detailed and the visuals are able to deliver on the intensity. In fact, we’re willing to look past some of the discrepancies, such as low level of details and short draw distance after such a decent execution.

Sound-wise, the on-screen action is complimented by some rather catchy and upbeat tunes. Again, there seems to be a bit of inspiration from the 80’s, but for the purposes and intents of the game, it fits in well. There aren’t many voices in the game, as all the cut-scenes are driven by text. Still, there isn’t that much need for them. The sound effects get the job done but not much else.

Overall, After Burner: Black Falcon could definitely be called a successful revival of an almost remnant franchise. It succeeds in delivering a challenging and intense old school experience. It has a surprising amount of upgrades, but outside of that the game will be considered by some to be simple and shallow. However, it’s the class in the simplicity that gets the job done and done well. Not to mention, the game is good light-hearted, not-too-serious fun that can be played on the go and with no need to worry about excessive load times.
The Score
After Burner: Black Falcon is a fun, challenging and intense recreation of a classic franchise that's good in short bursts. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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6 years ago
I thought Afterburner was one word icon_eek.gif (Google agrees!)

This another game I wouldn't mind owning a PSP for...

Gotta love the realism...

Now this is what you call stealth.

SR-71, a spy plane with missiles!

I know it's not meant to be real, but geez this is just taking the piss.
6 years ago
Good old SR-71. Makes u feel like you're flying the X-Jet.
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