Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation is essentially presented as a flight simulator, but as we found in our extensive preview time it's really an arcade game at heart.
Inside the campaign you are Talisman, a member of Garuda team for the Emerian Air Force. Your homeland of Emeria is under invasion by the Estovakian military. Throughout the missions you will have a series of objectives to complete and while there could be anywhere from three to 10 objectives available, you only have to complete any three to complete your current mission. You will be required to eliminate enemy fighter squadrons, ground structures and units, and even off shore oil rigs and naval fleets. Each mission can become quiet long -- some in excess of 30 minutes -- but you are given a substantial amount of time to finish them. However, each completed objective creates a checkpoint to load from if you are unfortunate enough to go down in flames, so there is no need to repeat it all if you die in the final stages. Accompanying you between missions are side story cut-scenes of your wife and her journey fleeing the city. There are also other small stories involving soldiers and even a general of the Estovakian military.
You first start off with the F-16C fighter jet, a quick and robust jet to get you through the first few missions. Throughout the campaign you unlock various new aircrafts -- both fighters and bombers, or a combination of the two -- and new weapon systems. Planes to unlock include the Russian-made Su-33 and the extremely quick F-14D. All can be equipped with a small array of weapons. Firstly, you have your basic machine-gun which is deadly in close range dogfights, basic missiles which are always in good supply to take out air or ground units, and additional special weapons which can take out multiple targets at once. Choosing and equipping a good aircraft for each mission is vital, as some missions will be more ground orientated than others.
There are two aircraft controls schemes, a normal control set-up and one for novices to flight-simulators. The real difference between the two is the novice doesn't have yaw buttons as the normal set-up does. You control your speed with LT and RT respectively in both configurations. Aircraft are easy and responsive to control and there isn't a high level of adaptability needed. While on your mission potential targets are displayed on your radar and screen. Enemies are marked with green boxes on your HUD and objective related targets have a red TGT mark on top.
Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation has some great aircraft visuals and it seems that serious effort has gone into making them look the same as their real-life equivalents. Not the same can be said for ground textures though. Up high they look realistic, but when flying low you see them for what they really are -- flat and blurry where buildings have no detail whatsoever. Everything in the sky looks great though -- clouds and the water are well detailed and the lighting effects look fantastic. The sound from a missile whisking past you as you try to evade it adds good effect, though aircraft noises seem a bit dull and damp.
Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation is shaping up to be a solid combat flight-simulator while keeping an arcade feel intact. Check CNET.com.au soon for the full review.