Despite the Paramount license, Top Gun: Combat Zones from Titus Software bears little resemblance to the 1986 blockbuster film Top Gun. Although Maverick apparently owns the default Top Gun: Combat Zones high scores, don't expect to hear "I feel the need...the need for speed!" or "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" during gameplay. Like the movie's flight sequences, Top Gun: Combat Zones is pure air-to-air and air-to-ground action. But it's a shame that more wasn't done with the movie's license. Top Gun: Combat Zones delivers occasionally nail-biting target practice gameplay but lacks the storyline and character details that make Namco's Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies a much more engrossing game.
Top Gun: Combat Zones' linear mission structure unfolds as a series of loosely connected skirmishes that have more in common with the randomness of an instant action mode than the movie's storyline--or any other storyline for that matter. A faceless commander presents each mission briefing along with the nondescript mission topography. Apart from minor carryover, like similar objectives used across consecutive missions, there's no sign of an underlying story to patch each mission together. A scoring table serves as the only bridge connecting missions, and unlocking new aircraft and instant action gameplay modes becomes your sole goal (unless you're gunning for Maverick's high score record).
More than 30 missions are offered through three different eras and four locations, including Southeast Asia, the Persian Gulf, the Arctic, and the United States--though a hefty chunk of the playable missions are mandatory academy--otherwise known as training--missions. Objectives generally fall into one of four categories: blow up air units, blow up ground units, blow up sea units, or blow up air, ground, and sea units. The number and type of equipped weapons--including air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, dumb fire rockets, and bombs--are predetermined before each mission. Success in most missions relies heavily on weapon management. Waste too many air-to-ground missiles on stationary targets that are easily eliminated with your infinitely stocked autocannon, and the mission's difficulty increases substantially.
You begin the game with a single available aircraft, the F-14 Tomcat. The game's remaining playable craft remain stashed away in symbolic crates waiting to be cracked open once you reach the next era or accomplish a particular goal. The F-18 Hornet and F-22 Raptor are unlocked at the start of the second and third era respectively, and five additional bonus craft--the F-4 Phantom, JSF, YF-23, Osprey, and Harrier-- remain locked until you've completed the game or reached certain scoring goals.
Other than differences in terrain height, color, and time of day, there's very little to differentiate one mission from the next, and the lack of a cohesive storyline hinders any urge to press relentlessly through the game. Each mission offers dozens of air or ground targets to destroy, and some missions add friendly craft to escort or protect. Sorties take place within a confined area, and neglecting to remain in that area ends the mission in failure. In fact, some objectives are placed near a mission's outer boundaries. Misjudge the turn or approach the objective from the wrong angle, and you may maneuver precariously close to the mission's edge or cross the line entirely prematurely, ending the mission.