Monday, January 25, 2010

Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces

Developer: Namco
Release Date:
Jan. 12, 2010
ESRB Rating:
Official Web site

In a nutshell:
Ace Combat Lite – less filling, half the gameplay.

0:00 The box says this is by the same people that made the Ace Combat series, which I like quite a bit on the Ps2. Wikipedia says this game is based on a 2008 anime movie which I've never heard of. Hopefully that won't get in my way.

0:01 I love the manic xylophone music on the preview screen. Sounds like an Electroplankton level run amok.

0:02 After a few long seconds creating data, the title comes up over eerily silent clouds. I dig out a Nunchuk, plug it in, and move on.

0:03 When I open the options menu, the game pauses to give me tutorial on how to navigate the options menu. Are there a lot of people playing flight sims that don't know how to manage a menu screen?

0:04 After a quick trip round the options, it's off to the first tutorial, “Fly with Grace.” What a delicious pun! Up and atom!

0:05 “I'm now going to explain basic controls” says an eerily robotic male voice. The tutorial expects me to hold the Remote in my left hand and the Nunchuk in my right. This feels pretty weird, but who am I to argue. I raise the Remote to speed up, level it out to go back to cruising speed. It's pretty hard to keep it perfectly level... I keep accidentally speeding up slightly. Tilting the Nunchuk controls the plane's angle. Pretty simple.

0:08 A large white cone points to the nearest targeted enemy. The heads-up display then frames the enemy with a green box indicator. I fire my guns with the Z button on the Nunchuk and get a very smoky explosion. The graphics look like a mid-generation PS2 game... kind of muddy. Also, it's pretty hard to get precise control and aim with this Nunchuk tilting. What's wrong with the analog stick, eh?

0:09 “This concludes the attacking enemies tutorial.” The message takes a few seconds. Then it takes 15 seconds to bring up the “quit tutorial,” menu. Then five seconds more to load the main menu. Then 10 more to load next tutorial. GET ON WITH IT!

0:10 The third tutorial simply explains that an enemy with a red “TGT” above it is a "target" that will trigger a “Mission Accomplished.” Why it took them a full minute to explain this simple fact, I have no idea.

0:12 Did you know that a radar shows you where other planes are in relation to you? You did? Well then you're smarter than the people this tutorial is aimed at.

0:13 Tactical Manuever Commands, or TMCs, are special commands that automatically place you behind an enemy plane. When you get close to an enemy, a gauge fills up. Press A when it's full, and it auto-magically does some fancy flying shit from a fancy camera angle and puts the enemy right in your crosshairs. Neat.

0:15 Trying out TMCs for myself. It seems like I could have shot this guy before the gauge filled up, since I was already in so close. Also, the TMC seems like a bit of a cop out, like they're dumbing down the dogfights so anyone can get that perfect shot.

0:16 The analog stick is used to choose manual maneuvers like barrel rolls and hard bank turns and such. It's hard to remember which one goes with which analog direction, but I bet I'll get it. Seems a waste of the analog stick, though.

0:18 The game spends two minutes or so telling me that different enemy types have different shaped green boxes around them on the HUD. OH MY GOD PLEASE SPEED THIS TUTORIAL UP!

0:20 Learning about bombs, now. When equipped, a nice white circle shows up where the bomb will fall on the ground. Maybe my depth perception is off, but I find I have to dive really low to get the bomb to hit where I want.

0:22 Quote of the moment, describing the mission gauge: “Fullness indicates safety while emptiness indicates danger.” That's some natural sounding English, right there.

0:23 And the tutorial is blessedly over! Time for the Story mode, Normal difficulty. “Rudakai, Misson 01.” Celtic strings play in the background. “Pilots, this is your mission,” says an unnamed balding commander in a low monotone. Radio jamming planes have been seen off the coast. “Your mission is simple: stop them by any means.” They have air support, “but I have faith our Cougar Squad will be able to neutralize them … That'll be all pilots. Happy hunting."

0:24 Looks like its five of our guys vs. 11 of theirs. Seems fair!

0:25 In the hangar I can choose from a wide array of planes, including the Suiga and... um... that's it. Luckily it's “Rostock's primary fighter” and “trusted by all Rostock pilots.” That's great. What's a Rostock?

0:26 Some friendly banter over the radio as we fly into our first mission. Captain Yamasaki tells me he'll be covering me as I take out the targets.

0:28 “Look at you go. Not bad for a newbie” says a grainy voice on the radio as I quickly take out my first two targets.

0:29 As my next target flies past me, I notice the TMC gauge starting to fill up, since he came in so close. I hit it as soon as it hits the minimum “level 1” and end up looping back to right behind him for a waaay too easy kill. Where's the skill and the thrill of manual aerial acrobatics?

0:30 Mission accomplished, with 18:30 left of my 20:00 time limit. “Guess the new generation is taking over,” someone says of my amazing rookie performance. “The life of a pilot is short as is,” replies another, morbidly.

0:31 I can view the replays of my kills from a variety of angles, including the enemy POV. They're all... pretty boring, actually. The skies are way too empty and the fights have barely any aerial acrobatics to them. I do like the wispy clouds, though.

0:32 “Lynx, fine job today. A lot of people looking forward to seeing what your true potential is.” Um, I think that sentence is missing a main verb there, boss. A stylized view shows our dogfights as blue and red lines dancing around the sky. It's not as impressive as the similar replays in Ace Combat 4.

0:33 I get a grade of B because I only had one TMC kill. So let me get this straight... the game is actively discouraging using manual skill in favor of the “auto-kill” TMC button? Man...

0:34 “Suiga Color 2 is now available.” Ohboyohboyohboy!

0:36 Over-the-top anime cut scene time. “Blue and white stretches out me forever,” says a light female voice. “I am bathed in light. In the sky I am alone forever. That is all I know. That is why I'm in this war. There are those who need war and those who supply it. As for me, the only reason that I can fly is that I'm part of that system.” Um...

0:37 In a pub now, the captain and two pilots watch 200 anti-war protesters on the news. “A bunch of idealists aren't they,” my character asks. But it's free advertising for the war sponsors, my partner argues. “A war between rival companies,” says the disembodied female voice. “A battle between hired hands. When they see us, people always think, 'good thing it's peaceful here.' The war has no cost, so we make one. Add a lot of extra baggage will only weigh us down.” I think this lost something in the translation...

0:38 The captain is over at the phone. He has to head back early, but won't tell us why. Then it's the female voice again: “But I'm afraid that cause will one day disappear. The sky is just too big for that. We fly because...” Because what? BECAUSE WHAT?

0:39 Ubasama, Mission 02 “Starting today, some new pilots have been assigned to our base.” They're en route as we speak, but in danger from an enemy that's “seeking a confrontation with them.” They may be rookies, but “assume they're defenseless.” The interception point is above a city... I'm told to keep civilian damage minimal.

0:40 Into the hangar, I'd like to spend the 8110 points I earned last mission, but there's nothing available to buy... only that new paint color I unlocked. Come on... these points are burning a hole in my digital pocket.

0:42 Some more friendly banter as we approach the interception point. Two of my fellow pilots make a bet on what type of planes we'll be facing when we get there, Vices or Fissions. Turns out their Fissions. Take THAT, guy who bet on Vices!

0:48 I end up abusing the TMC feature this time, using it on 14 of 18 kills. It makes the whole thing way too easy – all I have to do is get close and they don't stand a chance to my fancy auto-flying. During the firefight, there was a lot of radio chatter from a reporter on the ground. First she was talking worriedly about downed planes crashing into the city, but then she found out who as fighting up above and got very enthusiastic about “our boys.... As expected they flew with such finesse.” Jingoism run amok! Hooray!

0:51 I'm transfixed as I watch the stylized replay of my 18 kills. The colored arrows are like gnats hovering around a bug zapper. I earned an A for kills and an S for TMC use, meaning an A grade overall. 13780 more points, and even better, I can use them to buy stuff like engines and armor now!

0:52 Anime time again. A dirty plane lands and a repair clerk gets to work. The clerk seems worried about the new recruits: “But what are they?” “Pilots of course,” I say flippantly. We meet them down the runway, and the veterans stare with their mouths agape, for some reason. Really, I can't figure out why they're so flabbergasted. I mean, one of the pilots is a girl, I guess, but is that so gobsmackingly surprising? They're acting like these guys are aliens or something. I don't get it.

0:53 “Maimahara, Mission 03.” It's the primary farmland for this area, and the enemy is planning a major supply drop near the center. We have to intercept the transport planes. Our new pilots will join us this time.

0:56 My new Seiei plane has better speed but worse mobility, stability, defense, etc. Might be worth it, actually, as I had trouble getting close to the enemies quickly enough before.

0:57 I upgrade the engine and armor on my new plane, but I don't actually have to spend any of my points. I guess the points just unlock these upgrades instead?

0:58 Not enough time for another full mission, so I'll just end it here.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? No.
Between the TMCs and the touchy motion-sensing controls, this seems like a pale echo of Ace Combat 4, which I still need to finish. Why waste time on the shadow when you have the real object?

This review based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.



James Fudge said...

Man, every time you do a GFL I wonder why you are such a masochist..

This game sounds horrific.

Kyle said...

I've definitely played worse.

And really, even playing the worst game is better than, I dunno, construction work =P