While it might be lacking the imposing and immersive arcade machine most commonly associated with the After Burner name, After Burner: Black Falcon delivers a spiritually faithful arcade action experience on the PlayStation Portable. This is not an ambitious game. The gameplay is stripped-down and single-minded; the single-player mode is short; and the competitive multiplayer is disposable. But what it lacks in high-minded aspiration, it makes up for with a zeal for explosive, high-speed action.
Fly fast, blow stuff up. What's not to like?
The game's story concerns 13 prototype jets that have been stolen by a rogue mercenary group from a secret research facility in Nevada. As a member of the Joint Task Force Scramble Team, it's up to you to stop the mercs and recover or destroy the prototype jets. You'll get to choose from three humorously archetypal pilots; their differences are limited to which opening cinematic sequence you'll see, the types of bonus objectives you'll have on each mission, and the nature of the occasional bonus mission. The missions are short, usually clocking in at about seven minutes, but the action is nonstop and often challenging, even on the normal difficulty level. Though each mission has a specific objective, such as taking down a psychotic enemy pilot or defending a hospital ship filled with fluffy baby bunnies, the action remains consistent throughout the course of the game.
Like the original After Burner, as well as such Sega classics as Space Harrier and Panzer Dragoon, After Burner: Black Falcon is an on-rails shooter. This means that you have no control over your jet's flight path, though you do retain a certain level of mobility within the confines of the screen. There are occasional onscreen obstacles you'll want to dodge, but you'll be focusing on blowing up your plentiful enemies while dodging incoming fire. You'll gain access to 15 different real-world military jets from such aerospace biggies as Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin during the course of the game's 24 missions, though beyond the makes and models of the jets, After Burner is fast and loose with the realism. For example, in the first mission, you'll find yourself flying through the molten core of a volcano. There's usually at least one of these ridiculous but cinematic moments in each mission, which helps propel the game right over the top.
Each jet comes with unique and upgradable top speed, maneuverability, and payload ratings that affect how the jets handle, but all of them have the same weapons. These weapons include missiles for ground targets, rockets for air targets, and unlimited machine guns for any close-range targets or for when you simply run out of missiles or rockets, which can happen more often than you'd like. In addition to being able to purchase functional upgrades for your jets, there are some outrageous paint jobs and accessories for sale, which can be combined with ridiculous results.