The Ace Combat series is known for delivering great-looking, pick-up-and-play flight combat, featuring lots of authentic real-world jet fighters and surprisingly rich storylines. Thanks to an original story and several key new features, you can now experience this on the PSP in Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception, a game that's unmistakably similar to its predecessors yet more than just a hand-me-down from the PlayStation 2. Perhaps best of all, Ace Combat X plays surprisingly well on the PSP. Although its visuals aren't quite as slick as in the PS2 installments, it's a remarkably intense action game that you can take with you on the go.
Ace Combat has long since earned its stripes on the PlayStation 2, and now it's done the same on the PSP.
Although Ace Combat X features a wide variety of recognizable jets, including the sleek F-22 Raptor, the imposing Su-27, the A-10 Warthog, Top Gun's famous F-14, and dozens more, the game takes place in an alternate reality with some science fiction overtones (such as the gigantic, cloaking flying fortress you'll encounter early on). This time, the story is of a war between the dominant country of Leasath and the oppressed resistance fighters of Aurelia. You play as a pilot who is fighting to push Leasath back one territory at a time. Your wing mates refer to you by your call sign, Gryphus-1, but your enemies will come to know you by a different name: Nemesis. It's interesting that the game asks you to consider the other side's perspective as you keep gunning down its forces from one mission to the next. In between some missions, more of the story unfolds from the perspective of a journalist who is investigating the origins of the deadly conflict, and the plot sequences are all fully voiced. Although the storyline touches on the same themes that Ace Combat fans have come to expect by now, it still helps to make the game's missions feel more meaningful.
Even if it lacked a worthy story, Ace Combat X would still be able to fall back on plenty of great flight combat. If you've played Ace Combat lately, then you know you'll be in for a game that incorporates only the basics of jet-fighter control, leaving you to concentrate on the fun part: outmaneuvering your foes and blasting them to kingdom come with lots of heat-seeking missiles. You can view the action from three different viewpoints, including a default heads-up-display perspective, a behind-the-plane perspective, and a cockpit perspective that showcases the unique interiors of all the game's planes. By default, the PSP's shoulder buttons make you speed up or slow down; the face buttons fire your guns, launch missiles, cycle targets, and switch to your special weapons; and the analog stick lets you roll and pitch your plane. And that's just about all there is to the controls, which you can adjust to best fit your preferences. Your radar and heads-up display clearly point to any targets in the vicinity, and near-constant radio chatter will keep you apprised of your mission's objectives. Oftentimes then you're just splashing as many bogeys as possible while avoiding surface-to-air missiles and other dangers. Because you'll usually be outnumbered by about six to one--or more--this isn't always easy.
Your opponents are dangerous in number, but individual enemy fighters aren't much of a threat--at least not on the normal difficulty setting. You can lock onto the typical foe and fire a couple of missiles down his fuselage to blow him up, and most foes don't try too hard to evade. Though you'll single-handedly down dozens of enemies in a given mission, you'll usually have a few wing mates with you to help draw enemy fire. You can't give orders to your wing mates as in previous Ace Combat games, but that's no big loss--it's just one less thing to worry about. The game still delivers a respectable challenge by forcing you to contend with environmental hazards and to tackle many ground targets in addition to air power. Simply not crashing while strafing enemy tanks and barracks can be difficult enough when you're navigating through some of the game's more mountainous mission areas. If anything, Ace Combat X skews a little too heavily in favor of air-to-ground missions because you'll rarely get into a pure, uninterrupted dogfight. But one of the game's highlights is the variety in missions. From one to the next, the missions feel different but also cohesive enough to strike a good balance.