It takes a special kind of mentality to want to travel at mach speed, risking death at every turn like a new-age, technological form of dueling. It also takes a special kind of creative team to put the intensity and adrenaline of being a fighter pilot into a game for the home console. Bandai Namco have been doing just that since the PlayStation One era, but will a switch to a free-to-play model ruin all they’ve achieved with the Ace Combat series?
Last September during the Tokyo Game Show I had the opportunity to play the demo of Ace Combat: Infinity for the PlayStation 3 at Sony’s booth, as they were showcasing lots of non-Sony made games. Immediately playing it I could feel it was an Ace Combat game, with controls, manoeuvring, music, and even the story. I gave it our TGS award for best action game but my main concern was will it hold up on release? Will it live up to the hype of TGS? The answer to that question is mostly yes, but not perfectly.
Due to it going free-to-play there had to be some basic design differences needed for the game. Out goes the infinite amount of replaying stages to your heart’s content, and in comes buying fuel at no maximum limit or waiting four hours per fuel tank, up to a max of three. What this does is give a more realistic feel as in the real world it takes time to fuel up a jet, but in the realm of fantasy it becomes a bit of a killjoy when on a good run of form, or when you just want to spend the afternoon being a top gun.
Although the fuel buying is an annoyance, there are opportunities to win free fuel, as well as mercenary contracts, research perks, decals and cash from either completing challenges or through random drops at the end of a mission. All the gear and planes in the game need to be unlocked through research, with a few special ones for time-specific challenges. Essentially, paying for stuff in the game is more for speeding up progress rather than locking a person out of a super sweet plane or gear. The elite mercenary contracts, for example, simply double your cash at the end of a mission. You can buy them, win them, or not use them, and it doesn’t affect anything other than speeding up your cash flow.
Combat is the jewel of the game. I’ve never been a big online FPS kind of guy cause I’ve always sucked at aiming, and well, when you suck at aiming then they are no fun. Add to it when you always see your name at the bottom of the rankings it is disheartening. Infinity is built differently than typical online games. As of this review, the only online mode is two-team co-op. Two teams of four work together to complete the mission by getting as many points as possible from kills. The team who scores the most is the winning team, and both scores are combined to give you a mission ranking. This idea of cooperative competition allows those gamers who feel like they are of a lower quality on a competitive level to still have fun and contribute to the success of the mission, even when other players are getting higher scores all the time.
Although there are a limited number of stages currently, they are still fun and varied for a person’s play style. Some focus on air-to-air, air-to-ground, and other are well balanced, thus allowing people to get the most out of their planes. Switching targets on the fly can be a bit frustrating at times, but that is nothing new to the series as with so many units flying around the chaos of it all gives a more authentic feel for real-life battle. But with that said, the game is by no means hard. Except for me taking too long to use the machine gun on a ground target, I never died. When I did die, most of the damage was essentially self-inflicted due to the previous reason. The challenge of the game comes from getting the highest score within the time limit, rather than playing on insanity mode and coming out alive.
There is a campaign mode with a story in the game, and sadly that is where the hype from TGS fell short. Unless you buy a $20 pass, you must use your daily fuel to play campaign mode. They don’t offer the same amount of rewards as online co-op, so the only reason is to play for the story and a few story-based challenges. Not only is your limited fuel needed, but also your limited cash flow. It takes 200K or more to unlock future story missions, and currently with only getting 20K at best with a mercenary contract doubling your cash, it is a long grind when finances are needed for planes and parts.
Most games I’ve reviewed tend to have music at the extremes, meaning love it or hate it. Infinity doesn’t have that one song that will stand out a la Duel of Fates, but instead strikes a balance of complimenting each other. Never did I want to turn off the music to play something else. Nothing had me wanting to sign-up for flight school either, like Ace Combat 5 did, but neither did I turn the volume down.
Graphically the game makes use of the PS3 hardware and looks like a PS3 game. The planes look slick, and the backgrounds from afar look realistic. The clouds really do look like clouds, and the billows of smoke cut a stunning scene before a bomber is about to explode and drop out of the sky. Getting paint scrappingly close to the ground or buildings will disappoint those who hold graphics in the highest regard as there is some pixilation but to be fair this is a game where your eyes should be more focused on the target than the scenery.
The transition from a standard game to free-to-play was a risky move for the series but it paid off. It is a fun, challenging game that veterans of the series and rookies can enjoy. The fact that it is free means the consumer has nothing to lose for trying it out, especially if never having played an Ace Combat game before. It is a sequel that does the franchise proud.