A lot of the game's structure will be instantly familiar to longtime Ace Combat fans. Players earn money for each successful mission which in turn is used to buy new jets, upgrade parts and invest in new weaponry. The game offers a nice collection of real licensed jets to choose from; including a few welcome surprises (I was excited to pilot a Boeing 747 jumbo jet). Fans of collecting and customizing will find a lot of replay here, since earning enough money means replaying levels over and over again. But like Peace Walker, the grinding should be less repetitive if you're not flying solo.
The graphics take an understandable hit when coming to the small screen. I found that most of the landscapes are flat and boring, with only a few tall buildings sticking up. Sometimes it felt like I was simply flying over a multi-colored rug. On the other hand, there are a few levels that are exquisitely detailed. Speeding through tunnels and a mountain range is exhilarating, even on a handheld game system. Even if it's a mixed bag, the graphics get the job done and sometimes that's about all you can ask for.
My concern going in was how easy it would be to see the enemies in the distance. So much of this kind of game relies on the player being able to see far away details. I was relieved to find that Namco has found a number of elegant solutions to these problems. As you approach an enemy (even one way off in the distance), the game highlights the foe and alerts you on the radar. Speaking of radar, you can zoom in and out of the radar screen at any time, so it's fairly easy to keep track of where everybody is.
On top of the lengthy campaign, the game supports full-on air wars with up to eight players. Best of all, online multiplayer is supported right out of the box, no need for Ad Hoc Party or any other routing tools. I was only able to get this to work a couple of times (due to lack of people on the service), but I had a reasonably good time shooting down human targets. The instruction manual hints at a lot of fun modes, hopefully enough people buy the game to make these additions worthwhile. As is the case with so many niche titles, if you have a friend who is into the Ace Combat franchise, then you're going to get a lot of more out of the content in Joint Assault. There's enough stuff to keep a solo player busy for several hours, but this is clearly designed with social gaming in mind.
As luck would have it, Ace Combat: Joint Assault is being released at a surprisingly competitive time. Not only has Ubisoft shipped H.A.W.X. 2, but Paramount Digital Entertainment unloaded a new version of Top Gun. Air combat is definitely hot right now. Of the three, Joint Assault has the most exciting content and modes. It emphasizes ease of play and brings a level of polish you normally don't see in this style of game. It's not perfect, but Namco has managed to shoot down the competition with Ace Combat: Joint Assault.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Namco knows how to make fighter jets interesting, as is proven by Ace Combat: Joint Assault. Although it's marred by some slow parts in the story telling, the missions are diverse and there's enough multiplayer content to keep players (and their friends) busy for months to come.
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