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Ace Combat: The Belkan War PlayStation 2

Published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developed by Namco Bandai
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £29.99

When it comes to air combat games on the PlayStation 2 they don’t get any better than the Ace Combat series. We reviewed Ace Combat: Squadron Leader (known in the US as Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War) early last year and it’s fair to say we were very impressed with the game awarding it 9/10. The Ace Combat series may be arcade-like in nature but it’s always had the look of a simulation by using real world aircraft and having realistic looking terrain, etc. The series has always benefited from having solid stories to back up the intense action and Ace Combat: The Belkan War is no exception.

The story in Ace Combat: The Belkan War focuses on a war between the fictional states of Osea and Belka. The game’s story is actually set 15 years before the events of Ace Combat: Squadron Leader and explains the events that led up to the Belkan War. You’ll take on the role of a mercenary who is hired to fly to Ustio, a small country that lies on the border with Belka. The game gives you the chance to fly real world aircraft (such as the F-5E Tiger II, F-15 Eagle and the F/A -18 Hornet). You’ll get to take on rival pilots, who have their own individual flying styles, over the game’s 18 missions. In addition to the single-player campaign, there is also a VS mode for two players to dogfight it out.

One of the things I liked about Squadron Leader which still holds true for The Belkan War is that the game has a wide range of difficulty settings, which allows you to make the game as easy or as challenging as you want. The game has four difficulty settings and two controller options (Normal and Novice) along with various control configurations. Even on its easiest setting it provides an intense experience that newcomers to the series can enjoy whilst they’re getting used to how the game plays. The campaign missions are very enjoyable and always manage to keep you on your toes.

Whilst The Belkan War is still a great game it's disappointing that it doesn’t add anything different to the Ace Combat formula. Online play is still, sadly, absent and that inclusion alone would have made it a must own title. The AI could do with being a bit sharper at times. There are times when you would expect your AI opponents to use evasive manoeuvres and this doesn’t always happen, which is kind of disappointing, although if the AI was too responsive it would really increase the difficulty of the game and maybe veer a little too much toward being a simulation rather than an accessible experience.

As I write this review the PlayStation 3 is about to be released in the US, meaning that in two out of the three regions the PlayStation 2 isn’t the top Sony console anymore. The PlayStation 2, whilst not being the most powerful console for years now, has performed wonders with certain games and Ace Combat: The Belkan War, like previous Ace Combat games, is one of them. As in Squadron Leader, the aircraft models look great and this is highlighted very nicely in the action replays you have after a mission. The terrain graphics are also impressive. The frame rate is rock solid throughout, which is excellent when you consider the amount of detail the game is displaying.

Ace Combat: Squadron Leader was fine for deaf gamers and Ace Combat: The Belkan War is also pretty deaf gamer friendly. On starting a new campaign you’re given several options one of which is to enable subtitles. Cutscenes are shown in a letterbox format with the subtitles, displayed in white text, being displayed in the lower border. There are no character names or portraits displayed alongside the text though. During flights you’ll notice that all of the radio communications are shown in text and these are colour-coded and have the name of the person speaking placed just above the text. Whilst it’s great the radio chatter is subtitled, I have to admit it’s not all that easy to keep track of everything whilst you’re involved in a dogfight. You are visually notified when a missile is heading for your aircraft, so you’ll never be destroyed without having had the chance to manoeuvre out of danger. Mission briefings and objectives are shown in text, as are other important details in the game.

The Ace Combat series is highly regarded and Ace Combat: The Belkan War does nothing to tarnish this reputation. The single-player campaign is very enjoyable and suitable for both newcomers and seasoned Ace Combat enthusiasts. It’s rather disappointing that the game doesn’t particularly do many things differently from other recent Ace Combat titles. It’s also a shame that once again there is no online mode and that’s surely going to have to be something that must be rectified in any Ace Combat game that arrives on the PlayStation 3.

Overall Game Rating: 8.0/10

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Another great Ace Combat game. Sadly it doesn't include much to change the winning formula though. It's also a shame that an online mode hasn't been included.