Despite the somewhat serious way it presents itself, the Ace Combat series has always been more about arcade action-packed dog fighting that true flight simulation. The result has been a consistently fun and well-received franchise spanning many generations of consoles, handhelds, and now, mobile phones and MP3 players. Ace Combat Xi upholds the series’ reputation, despite the technical problems that affect the game on some older devices.
Ace Combat puts the player in the cockpits of fictional and real-world aircraft while moving through a story straight out of the mind of the craziest anime writer. The fiction is long and elaborate and Xi does little to ease you into the plot. Making matters more confusing is that Xi is actually a midquel, taking place within Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception, the PSP game that Xi seems mostly based on. Fortunately, the story is relegated to short, text-based mission briefings and occasional banter between nearby fighters. Seasoned fans will appreciate the careful attention to continuity while new fans will not even notice or care. It does nothing to lessen the awesome flight and fight gameplay that makes this title such a success.
You gotta pull up tough.
Tilting the iPhone to steer your plane and pressing on-screen buttons for various actions is as intuitive as it sounds. Granted, there is a learning curve, but it’s offset by the generous auto-aim and your missiles’ uncanny ability to lock on and home in on their targets, almost negating the need for guns. There are also easy and expert control types, with expert giving you sharper turning and more precise control over the throttle and braking.
In addition to the buttons, there are several onscreen maps, arrows and gauges showing enemy position, altitude levels and even an auto-pilot to help you stay stable while protecting your allies and gunning down hostiles in the air or on the ground. It all adds up to a game whose controls push the already incredibly enjoyable concept of free-roaming air combat over the top.
You can choose to play the game in a first-person perspective, but know that if you do you will be missing out on the great-looking ships you pilot through equally stunning environments. Engines glow red when you speed up, parts shift around in response to your movement, and if you ever find yourself rapidly plummeting towards the ground or ocean, the resulting explosion will look appropriately terrifying. The in-game graphics are nicely complemented by a slick opening movie and stylish interface reflecting the publisher’s affinity for higher production values.
Hope you can swim.
This eye candy comes at a high price, however. Audio stuttering along with some big crashes on our iPhone 3G appear to be frame rate issues similar to the ones that plagued one of Namco Bandai’s other major iPhone games, i Love Katamari, at its launch. However, the game ran beautifully on several iPod Touches. Until these devastating 3G glitches are patched, though, we can’t give Ace Combat our highest recommendation.
Gameplay-wise, Ace Combat Xi’s big flaw is the tragically short length of the single player campaign. There are only five levels, each with time limits of five to ten minutes, and the ability to replay them on three different difficulty levels in free mission mode. Initially, there are only three planes available, but you can extend your playtime by unlocking and even purchasing new ones, each with new stats. However, you can speed your way through the first playthrough in under an hour and probably see and try all the game has to offer in a day. It’s an excellent experience, but for some it may not soar to the lofty standards of a five dollar purchase. Multiplayer, usually a staple of the Ace Combat series, would have been immensely appreciated here.
Even if it is a little light on content, Ace Combat Xi Skies of Incursion is a fantastic game that is worth playing whenever there is time, provided it’s running well on your device. Thousands of feet from the ground, blasting down the evil forces of Leasath from Southern Cross XFA-27A on your iPhone can be great fun, even if you have no idea what that means.