You can always tell when something looks good, but you never know how it’s going to handle until you actually get it home. Luckily, that’s not a problem with Above and Beyond Air Combat, and you can tell a lot of work has gone into making sure the flight controls back up those glitzy screenshots.
Using the accelerometer to guide your craft in and out of turns and loop de loops has never been more fun, and the open world environment gives you plenty of freedom to let loose in the sky. The world here consists of 62 islands, and you’ll largely be free to tackle them in the order of your choice, though a few will be locked until you conquer the adjacent islands.
This freedom is the game’s biggest strength and weakness. The adventure of setting out towards the island of your choice can be exhilarating, and this keeps the game from being frustrating if you find one island too difficult to beat. On the other hand, there’s no story to keep you going– just your own determination and the prospect of earning more credits.
That mountain is going down.
This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the islands were all quite unique in their own way, but this isn’t the case. Most of them consists of a few turrets, some air units and maybe an aircraft carrier. Having dozens upon dozens of islands to conquer is good on paper, but in practice it can get pretty tedious when you realize you’ve done this countless times already.
Upgrading your ship provides a much needed change of pace, and there are quite a few to customize to your liking. You can equip shields, boosters and weapons to your ships, and each ship can hold various types of upgrade. You not only need credits to purchase the parts, but you need to conquer a certain amount of islands before the upgrades are available.
The lock-on missiles, for instance, aren’t unlocked until about a third of the way through the game. This makes the early going especially slow, as you’ll chase down elusive aircraft for minutes at a time, whittling away at their health with machine guns and lasers before they finally die. Often when it came down to us versus one other fighter, the enemy would just turbo boost away from us and make no effort to fight back, adding to the frustration.
Meet the Phantom.
While the single player campaign isn’t as inspired as it could be, the gameplay is still solid, and it’s refreshing to tackle the islands in the order you’d like. OpenFeint integration keeps track of online scores and achievements, and there’s a separate arcade mode that lets you fight endless waves of enemies or test your flying and shooting skills in hoop and target filled obstacle courses.
Despite its beautiful graphics, open world gameplay and awesome flight controls, we can’t give Above and Beyond Air Combat our highest score because of its plain campaign mode. We do recommend you give it a try though, because it’s a game you may want to come back to time and again, just to conquer one more island.