The long and running Ace Combat series has returned with its second appearance on the PS2. Originally debuting on the PSX as Air Combat, Namco's flagship air fighter series has remained the dominant player in the genre. Succeeding the all too awesome Ace Combat 4, Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War arrives during a time when all of the hype revolves around two games I won't mention for the sake of taking nothing away from AC5. Sure those two other enormous games are great, incredible really…but so is Namco's newest Ace Combat.
I rarely get too excited when I play a game, but Ace Combat 5 really gets me going. I destroy a target and I'll yell out an obscenity. If I have a missile approaching me I'll start panicking and swear some more as I'm making a really sharp cut in order to avoid getting hit. And what happens when I do get hit? A howling "f**k!" comes out of my mouth. AC5 is exciting…almost a little too exciting, and that's the best part. The action is awesome. There are planes and targets all around you. There's no feeling like taking down three, or even four, targets in a row. I've always loved the double tap and watching the missiles connect with the enemy…what a great feeling. Really, how many games allow you to shoot down a parachuting tank? Think about that for a second. And let's not forget taking off and landing the planes; those must never be skipped — I always go for them.
The lack of an online mode hurts a bit. But the game's still fairly long with 30 missions in the story mode alone. Then there's the arcade mode where you can play each mission individually. There's also a wholesome amount of airplanes to choose from later on in the game and a good number of unlockable features that only add to the replay factor. Coupled with the fact that even if extras didn't exist in AC5, it'd still be a highly replayable game if only because of its addictive nature.
As far as the story goes, I'll admit that personally I've never been a fan of the series' stories. It's certainly better and more intriguing than AC4, so if you really enjoy the series' stories, then AC5's is even better than AC4's. I don't really think the characters really have any strong development going on, but hey…if you expect a game like AC to have an incredible story, you're playing the wrong game. The story's there and it does its job. It doesn't really matter to me because it doesn't detract from the experience at all; I'm always just waiting for the next mission to start so I can "think Playstation" and well…you know the rest of it.
Visually, Ace Combat 5 is very clean. Unsung War is definitely better looking than the 4th. First off, if you thought AC4 had great looks airplanes, you haven't seen AC5 yet; the level of detail on the planes is really a sight to see. The game displays some fantastic lighting effects; and in a game where you're soaring thousands of feet above ground with the sun beaming off the ground, you'd better make sure the lighting effects are up to snuff. Though, I think despite the nice lighting effects and the smooth details around the planes, the visuals really shine because of two very critical things: the framerate and convincing the gamer that you're actually flying. Ace Combat 5 really creates that feeling…the more you play, the more you get into it. I find myself cringing when I get a little too close to the water or ground and just barely pull myself out.
Still it should be noted that the ground textures remain rather poor looking. With the exception of some fully polygonal structures popping out of an otherwise flat terrain, AC5 continues to feature drab textures for the grounds. The water looks absolutely incredible from a distance on the other hand…though not so hot when you're up close. And lastly, the game has some pretty good-looking replays; they feature a pretty engrossing aspect to them, much like Gran Turismo.
I never once thought that I'd hear a Puddle of Mudd track in a game, much less a Namco game. It really threw me off when I heard it come on during one of the game's cut scenes, so prepare yourselves, folks. On a more important note, the actual soundtrack (during combat) is sweet. Heart pounding stuff, and it sounds especially better when you've got a nice audio system turned up. The sound effects compliment the background music very well — nice sounding gun fire and explosions, mmmm…The voice acting is also pretty decent; definitely better than most. And the translation came out great too.
Namco proves that their Ace Combat franchise is alive and kicking. Ace Combat 5 is a terrific air combat title that's sure to please absolutely every Ace Combat fan out there. If games like Lethal Skies and AirForce Delta didn't do much for you (and we don't blame you, because they didn't do much for many), then Ace Combat 5 will fill you up like no other aerial fighter could. Despite its few visual sore spots, it's one wonderfully sharp looking title with an addictive nature that'll have you pressing for more. You'll be telling yourself that after the next mission you'll go to bed, or walk the dog, or study. And that will continue until you realize your dog is peeing on your wiring and you're forced to stop playing. Yeah, it's that good.