Whether you go up against the Valahia alone or alongside others, progressing through the campaign does have its rewards. As in other Ace Combat games, you earn money after each successful mission, which can then be spent on new planes. You can also spend money on weapons and parts that improve the power, armor, handling, or combat capabilities of your aircraft. Choosing the right plane for a mission is very important because some are far more effective at dealing with ground forces or air forces, while others are more versatile. (Thankfully, you get a polite warning before launch if the plane you've chosen isn't suited for the current mission.) Your first plane, the F-4E Phantom II, is a fine place to start, but you eventually gain access to planes that make that first one feel downright sluggish. There are more than 40 planes in all, and the variety of aircraft on offer, as well as the way the game gradually doles them out as you progress, helps keep the flying enjoyable throughout and provides a compelling motivation to advance from one mission to the next.
Blowing your enemies out of the sky feels even better than it looks.
Flying solo, the campaign will take most players somewhere in the vicinity of eight hours, though cooperative play can cut that number down significantly because you can wipe out the enemy much faster as four than as one. There are also a number of competitive modes that allow for up to eight players via either ad hoc or infrastructure. Human opponents certainly pose more of a challenge than the typical enemy pilot the game throws at you, so those looking to really test their skills will enjoy the opportunity to raid an enemy base, escort friendly aircraft through dangerous skies, or just have a straight-up dogfight with other players.
Joint Assault's visuals do a great job of pulling you into the action. The planes are richly detailed and soar through the air with remarkable grace and a convincing sense of speed. The vapor trails of your missiles tearing across the sky, as well as the explosions when they hit their targets, look excellent and make the act of locking on and firing at your enemies that much more satisfying. As you might expect, the environments reveal themselves to be ugly textures repeating over and over again when you get close and take a good look, but this hardly matters when you're focused on shaking that bandit off your six. When the action looks this good, the opportunity to save replays of your missions and view your virtuoso flying from numerous dramatic angles is a welcome one. The sound design is similarly excellent. Constant voice chatter from allies or enemies keeps things lively, an eclectic and often stirring soundtrack imbues the action with emotion, and the sweet sound of missile lock will be music to your ears.
Despite a somewhat uninspired campaign and a story that isn't terribly compelling, Joint Assault still provides more of the high-quality flying action we've come to associate with Ace Combat. Those willing to join forces with other pilots will find taking to these skies particularly enjoyable. But even solo flyers will find that even when the campaign seems to be sputtering, the combat remains mostly enjoyable, thanks to the strong fundamentals the Ace Combat name implies. Joint Assault may not be the most impressive plane in the hangar, but she's got it where it matters most.