Another helpful tool is your wingman, who will provide support or attack an enemy target if you want him to. He's a pretty smart cookie, and he manages to draw enemy fire when necessary (way to take one for the team, Shamrock!), and shows a good amount of prowess in bringing down the foes you specify. And when you have shot down enough bad guys, you can even order an allied attack or allied cover, which brings every friendly jet to your aid. Allied attacks are awesome to watch because your computer-controlled buddies will zoom to your side, setting the landscape on fire and bringing with them a barrage of radio chatter.
XMA4 missiles help make short work of your opponents.
The chatter does a good job of setting just the right tone for the game. The radio is constantly abuzz with status updates, shouts of encouragement, warnings of incoming missiles, and the occasional humorous aside. Most of the lines are delivered with the kind of excitement and urgency you would expect from men fighting for the future of their country, though some dialogue--particularly that of your commanding officer--is flat and uninspiring in its delivery. It's all accompanied by a rousing symphonic soundtrack that would be perfectly at home in a stirring war epic. Of particular note is the main theme, first played by a lone French horn, and then expanded in full orchestral splendor. And to round it out are some truly incredible sound effects that fill your ears with constant explosions, machine-gun fire, and the whooshes of air rushing past your aircraft.
The great sound design is accompanied by equally fantastic visual effects. The explosions are some of the best we've seen, particularly when there are cruise missiles in play. They are accompanied by soft billows of white and gray smoke that spread realistically through the sky. You'll play in a variety of environments, above cities and mountains, and through canyons and above the sea. They all look amazing, at least from afar. Of particular note is the unbelievable draw distance, which displays distant objects in more detail than you might expect. The one drab notch on an otherwise pristine visual presentation are the ground-texture maps, which look fine from afar, but are blurry and a little unsightly if you get too close. But you'll rarely have the time to notice because you'll be constantly in motion. And it all runs great, at a consistently smooth frame rate that never falters, even when there are a ton of enemies and explosions onscreen.
Of course, much of this is standard for the series, so if you've played any of the previous games, you know some of what to expect. In fact, you may be disappointed that the single-player campaign isn't as lengthy as the one in Ace Combat 5. However, the addition of some great multiplayer features makes it easy to forgive, especially because the online experience is a good deal of fun. The online menus sort of stink, particularly because unlike in the single-player mode, you can't view the available aircraft when making a selection. However, there are a number of great ways to play online. You can participate in free-for-all and team battles for up to 16 players, both ranked and unranked, and choose from a variety of aircraft without having to unlock them in the campaign. These battles are as fun and exciting as you would expect, given that the game is at its best when you have to be on the defensive.
Replays are a great ego boost, thanks to the awesome cinematic camera views.
You and three others can also take part in stand-alone co-op missions, and as with most action games, it's even more fun to attack your goals with gusto when a friend is along for the ride. However, our favorite online mode is siege battle. In this mode, two teams take turns attacking and defending an entire region of targets, and the team that scores the most points is the winner. Dealing with both your real-life opponents and a bunch of antiair weaponry (those flak guns are nuisances indeed) at the same time is nerve-wracking and exciting, and there's really nothing quite like it.
Aside from online play, Ace Combat 6 doesn't break any real new ground for the series. In fact, some cool past features, such as AC5's radioed yes/no questions, are nowhere to be found. Yet Ace Combat 6 makes up for it by providing the most immersive experience yet in an arcade flight combat game, thanks to smooth, gorgeous visuals and polished gameplay. And you'll want to play again and again: There are medals to earn, aircraft and special weapons to purchase with the points you receive during missions, and a good selection of Xbox Live achievement points to earn that are spread out evenly among the campaign and multiplayer modes. You can also save replays of your matches, and the cinematic camera views make them a pleasure to watch. Whether you're an Ace Combat veteran or a series newcomer, you won't be disappointed.