It might not seem like such a long time, but more than a four and half years have passed since the release of the last Ace Combat title, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown and there hasn’t really been a similar offering in the interim to provide wannabe Mavericks with their fix of flight based arcade combat. Hoping to address this is Project Wingman: Frontline 59 from developer Sector D2, a very solid genre effort that does a fine job of largely capturing the airborne thrills and spills of Bandai Namco’s marquee aircraft combat offering.
Project Wingman: Frontline 59 PS5 Review
A Highly Enjoyable Dogfighting Fix For Ace Combat Fans
In it’s PlayStation 5 iteration, Project Wingman: Frontline 59 presents three main modes – a regular story-driven campaign, a tactical skirmish based ‘Conquest’ mode and finally, six missions that are both tailored and exclusive to PlayStation VR2 – something that owners of the PC version aren’t really too thrilled about. Starting with the story driven campaign, it’s perhaps this side of Project Wingman: Frontline 59 that hews closest to the Top Gun-esque shenanigans of Bandai Namco’s Ace Combat series.
Immediately, there are some striking similarities between the two, with each unfurling a narrative about encroaching imperialism, devastated nations and the roles of a small group of combat pilots in attempting to resolve this dire situation. Indeed, as far as the implementation of the story goes, rather than interconnecting its missions with a series of expensive cutscenes, the developers behind Project Wingman: Frontline 59 – who simply don’t have that sort of budget at their disposal – have elected instead to tell its story largely through radio communications that occur over the airwaves whilst your airbourne. It’s fine, honestly, with the various voice actors delivering their performances with conviction and sounding believable into the bargain. Again, it’s fine – nothing ground-breaking, just fine.
Unfortunately, the much lower production values that Project Wingman: Frontline 59 Review has also results in menus that functional and nothing else, together with some odd porting issues that result in the description of controller buttons as ‘keys’, which is a dead giveaway that the user interface specifics of the previously released PC version have been unceremoniously left in the PS5 version. Speaking of the controls, there’s no real tutorial other than some text prompts which tell you to use the various combat ‘keys’, rather than telling you precisely which buttons do what, so naturally, a quick bit of experimentation is needed to work out what everything does. So yeah, not great on the tutorial front.
Once you get into the air however, things begin to fare immeasurability better and it soon becomes clear that rather than trying to match the pizzazz and sheen of the Ace Combat games, Project Wingman: Frontier 59 instead goes for the meat and potatoes of the experience, namely the aircraft bound combat and in that arena, Project Wingman: Frontier 59 is roundly successful in its ambitions.
Whether you’re flying a hulking, Strike Eagle-like craft, or a much more streamlined and sylvite combat fighter, taking to the skies and waging war in Project Wingman: Frontline 59 simply feels tremendous and is supported by a buttery smooth 60 frames per second screen update, which though it occasionally struggles to maintain during especially busy battles, still results in an ultra-responsive arcade flight combat offering where pulling off all manner of manoeuvres around skyscrapers and dogfighting high in the sky becomes tremendously satisfying.
One thing that I do have to draw attention to – and hopefully this is something that gets fixed in a future update – is the banter you hear from the enemy aircraft pilots is often mismatched to what is happening on screen. For example, the enemy will often say things like ‘I’ve got a hole in my wing’ a whole two seconds after you’ve just seen them blown entirely to pieces and so, though a small thing on the surface of things, it can still pull you slightly out of the proceedings somewhat.
Much like the Ace Combat games, Project Wingman: Frontier 59 manages to nail that welcome sensation of final destroying an enemy aircraft, finally downing a massive bomber jet or laying waste to a number of ground targets by using a special type of munitions. It also doesn’t hurt that Project Wingman: Frontier 59 is easy on the eyes too. With detailed volumetric clouds and weather systems that can materially affect your flight combat shenanigans, alongside a generally high level of geometric detail coupled with some of the best explosions I have ever seen in a video game, it all adds up to create an attractive prospect to say the least. Basically, if you love the Ace Combat games, you’ll get a lot from Project Wingman: Frontier 59 for sure.
There are some welcome concessions to difficulty too. With a variety of different difficulty levels available to players, Project Wingman: Frontier 59 allows players of any skill level to get up and going with its dogfighting shenanigans in earnest. For those wondering, you can also land and take your craft off from a runway in Project Wingman: Frontier 59 should you so wish, though thankfully this is entirely optional and cannot make or break any given mission.
What can make or break one of your sorties however, is that the Project Wingman: Frontier 59 has no checkpointing whatsoever (and somewhat helpfully, the game dutifully informs you of this early on). What this means is that each mission, especially on the higher difficulty levels, takes on a level of tension and intensity that wouldn’t normally be there – making completing them that much more satisfying in the process.
In terms of progression, Project Wingman: Frontier 59 is a touch thin on the ground. Though you gain credits for completing missions which can then be used in turn to buy new aircraft, there’s little else to do in the main story campaign other than to progress through it and see the story to its conclusion. Thankfully, that campaign also happens to be of a decent length too, clocking in at around twelve hours or so and even then, Project Wingman: Frontier 59 offers more for wannabe Icemen to get stuck into.
The Conquest game mode which neatly accompanies the narrative campaign of Project Wingman: Frontier 59 is where the bulk of its appeal lies, at least for me anyway. An intriguing tactical metagame that combines flight combat with macro strategy, Conquest lets players choose their starting point in four different territories with the goal being to take over all of the 43 territories that are controlled by the Pacific Federation. Essentially, territories can be taken by flying a mission within its borders and then from there you gain access to additional territories which can then be attacked in turn.
Not only do each of these missions boast a variety of different goals and objectives, but all manner of different enemy types and boss squadrons also appear to keep things spicy. There’s also a neat bit of in-built progression in Conquest mode too, since each time a mission is completed money and materials are dished out which can then be used to purchase fellow AI pilots, airships and more to help you tip the balance in the next encounter.
Where Conquest mode really makes its mark though, is in the Alert system that it has in place. Basically every mission has an Alert gauge that increases the longer you spend in the air and when that gauge tops out, the alert level increments by one, resulting in stronger enemies and eventually triggering the possibility of boss enemies spawning instead of regular foes. It’s a great system that gives each mission a pressure cooker like aspect to it that gets harder and harder the further through Conquest mode you progress. Topping all of this off meanwhile, is the fact that permadeath is very much a thing – meaning that if you die, you’ll have to start Conquest mode afresh, adding yet further tension to the proceedings.
Finally, Project Wingman: Frontier 59 also boasts support for PlayStation VR2 too, though sadly rather than the entire game being playable through Sony’s latest VR headset, just six missions have been tailored for the technology. Somewhat predictably, the results are impressive – with Project Wingman: Frontier 59 bringing the fury of airborne combat to PlayStation VR2 with aplomb, making every turn, every dive and every missile fired and bomb dropped feel appropriately palpable as one would maybe expect from the real-life experience. Again, it’s just a shame that the use of PlayStation VR2 doesn’t extend any further than just those six missions.
Project Wingman: Frontier 59 will certainly slake your thirst for something Ace Combat flavoured, that much is for sure. Developer Sector D2 has absolutely nailed the fundamentals of that formula and has crafted an engaging dogfighting effort as a result. Though it lacks the sheen of its more famous counterpart, Project Wingman: Frontier 59 nonetheless arguably offers more over the longer term, thanks to its neat Conquest mode and limited, though still impressive, implementation of Sony’s PlayStation VR2 technology.
Project Wingman: Frontline 59 is available now on PSVR 2 and PS5.
Review code kindly provided by PR.