October 25, 2004 - Namco started an aerial phenomenon with Air Combat on the PSX somewhere around eight years ago. Since then we've seen the long running flight action series move through a few subsequent iterations and onto the more powerful PlayStation 2 hardware. This is where Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies was born in 2001. There's no denying that title's quality just as there is no denying Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War is a darn good videogame. But then that's probably because they're both so similar to one another.
If it looks like a duck.
Unsung War is a ridiculously attractive PS2 game, which is odd considering that during 99% of flight time, the player will never be able to tell an enemy fighter from a flying black line simply because they're all so far away and so small. Nevertheless, it just looks right.
Ace Combat 5 features a remarkably polished, solid, smooth, and flicker free graphics engine that renders vast, detailed landscapes with foliage that naturally blends in and out of the terrain. The environmental texture detail has also been upped considerably. While it still lacks the quality seen in the latest PC and Xbox titles, Namco is definitely pushing the little PS2 way beyond its previously perceived limitations.
It's not just a kind of advanced polygonal and texture detail that impress. Ace Combat also features a robust effects engine that creates some dazzling dynamic weather and lighting effects such as a setting sun and an industrial brown haze that's thick, thin, and nonexistent depending on where you are in relation to the swirls of smoke. There are also clouds that hover and drift over the land and sea, dropping sprinkles, showers, and heavy rains. It makes the world believable and invigorating. Depending on the level, the game could look fuzzy, dark, clean, crisp, bright, or just normal.
If it walks like a duck.
That last bit focuses rather heavily on the cockpit mode, but that's only because playing in the cockpit is arguably the most enjoyable way to experience Ace Combat 5. First-person with HUD but no cockpit is definitely the easiest way to play, but that creates one problem. The game's target lock function (when you hold triangle to focus on a specific enemy), not only swings the camera over to that enemy, but also zooms in on their position, depending on how hard triangle is depressed. This pressure sensitive target lock only malfunctions in the cockpit free first-person mode and it's a real nuisance because it makes it nearly impossible to effectively track any enemy in a snap.
The only other real problem with gameplay is the ineffectiveness of specific wingman commands. The biggest addition to AC5 are the wingman commands, but ordering a buddy to toggle his special weapon on and off is totally ineffective and the only way to properly command troops in any fashion with this very limited setup is to repeatedly order them to do the same things over and over again. While it's not the most intuitive way to handle wingmates, it isn't terribly broken. Atop the squad control, Unsung War also offers some aircraft carrier landing and takeoffs as well as mid-flight refueling. These little side games come between missions, but never take the place of them, nor do they appear all that often, so...meh.
Other than the aforementioned additions, the rest of the gameplay is strikingly similar to Ace Combat 4 and, honestly, just about any other Ace Combat -- the game still walks that fine line between overtly arcadey rubbish and inaccessible hardcore simulation, anyway. That is to say it's smooth and offers novice and normal control (normal using bank, yaw, and pitch), but isn't anything super advanced or super dumb.
Even though we're more than happy with the familiar fundamentals, we'd have liked some more varied missions. Throughout the game there are still escort runs, search and destroy ops, and massive vehicle takedowns that resemble boss fights. Though the general "fly inside of this big thing because it's hard and cool and reminds us of the Death Star" gameplay mechanics remain unchanged, Unsung War does make these similar types of missions substantially more enjoyable than ever before.
Popular games in this genre:
1. Star Wars Jedi Starfighter (PS2)
2. Star Wars: Battle for Naboo (PC)
3. Star Wars (Atari) (Arcade)
4. Star Wars: Battle for Naboo (N64)
5. Star Wars Jedi Starfighter (Xbox)
Popular games on this platform:
1. WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain (PS2)
2. WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth (PS2)
3. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (PS2)
4. WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 (PS2)
5. TNA iMPACT! (PS2)
ESRB Content Descriptors: Mild Language, Violence
Features: Dolby Pro Logic II, Online, Memory Card, DualShock Support, Vibration
Media Size: 1 DVD