'Ace Combat: Air Assault'

The "Ace Combat" series has always been synonymous with delivering a strong arcade experience, and "Joint Assault" is no exception

There's something always thrilling about playing a flight combat game, an activity enjoyed by the very few while the rest of us enjoy dog fights through virtual spaces and repeat viewings of "Top Gun."

From "Star Fox" to "Crimson Skies," the "Ace Combat" series holds a special place in the flight action subgenre in its usually consistent approach to flying combat; the joy in playing is found by flying around in fighter jets that we would never get a chance in real life.

That's why precise controls are incredibly important to flight games; without smooth controls, you're flying to your doom. The biggest question facing "Joint Assault," the latest game in the "Ace Combat" series, was how the controls would play on the PSP; would the complex controls of flying a fighter jet work on the rather limited handheld system?

For the most part, the game tries admirably to provide a stellar control scheme for the game, but the PSP's debilitating limitations make the game extremely frustrating to play. Due to the system's limit of having only one analog nub, you're forced to choose between either piloting your plane or rotating the camera view; if you want to look around your plane, you have to hold down one of the shoulder buttons while the plane goes into autopilot. When in a dogfight amidst other planes, I found this to be highly annoying, as I often lost track of my target while amidst a mutlipronged dogfight. I also got stuck on certain parts when fighting a large rail gun; as I flew low to attack local missile systems attached to the rail gun, I couldn't tell that the gun was shifting itself and, on many occasions, flew straight into the damn thing.

One of the main selling points of "Joint Assault," and new to the "Ace Combat" series as a whole, is the inclusion of real-world environments such as Tokyo, San Francisco and London. Although these cities don't really add much to the gameplay, it is kind of cool to, say, fly over San Francisco and dogfight through the Golden Gate Bridge. But the view isn't always so hot. From a high altitude, the cities look extremely detailed and realistic, but as you fly lower, appear extremely flat and brown.

The game's single-player campaign is bland yet serviceable; you control a free-range pilot who works for a military-for-hire defense squad sent out to defeat the terrorist squad Valahia. The "Ace Combat" series is certainly one where you don't expect any real surprises in the story, although the game has your usual host of military intrigue and insurance fraud. The single-player campaign missions don't offer much in terms of variety; usually your missions consist of tracking a certain plane or land target, destroying that target, and then fighting off other hostiles. Even within the missions, things can get repetitive after awhile; when trying to take down a massive airship, for example, I had to destroy a series of anti-aircraft guns, yet once those were all taken out, another group of anti-aircraft guns re-emerged. There were some cool missions, like one in which I had to transport a snotty business executive in a helicopter over enemy territory. For the most part, however, these missions were few and far between.

After each mission you complete, you're awarded cash that you can use to unlock new planes, weapons and parts. I like the variety of planes you can purchase and how the choice affects your strategy in the mission. When fighting a lot of ground units, for example, you'd certainly want to rely on a strong air-to-ground attacker like the F-117A Nighthawk and not a plane better known for its strong air-to-air combat like the Rafale M. You can also gain additional money through brief mini-games in-between certain missions, although the mini-games themselves aren't all that interesting.

If there's one thing "Joint Assault" has going for it, however, it's the game's multiplayer options. Up to four players can participate in campaign missions while a total of eight players can go head-to-head in a competitive mode. In fact, the multiplayer campaign offers various branches that can be tackled simultaneously by multiple players. Even better, the outcome of one player's objective can later affect another player later in the mission.

I found playing the campaign in multiplayer far more enjoyable than playing. I'd definitely rather lead a squadron of my friends into battle over flying in solo.

Despite a shallow and brief solo campaign, "Ace Combat: Joint Assault" offers a solid multiplayer outing for those seeking a good portable flying action game. The "Ace Combat" series has always been synonymous with delivering a strong arcade experience, and "Joint Assault" is no exception.

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Video Games: 'Ace Combat: Air Assault'

Article: Copyright © Tribune Media Services