Platform: Xbox 360
It's safe to say that combat flight games are no longer the big deal they once were over here. When I first got into PC gaming circa 1993, the likes of Falcon 3, Strike Commander, Comanche, Aces over Europe and TFX were as big as today's blockbuster shooters. Now, they're a bit of a niche taste. There hasn't been a major PC combat flight game released for years, and while a few gamers still enjoy online dogfighting or maintain an interest in the likes of the ageing IL-2 Sturmovik series, they are in the minority. Oddly, it's been left to a handful of more action-oriented console games - most notably Namco's Ace Combat series - to keep the genre alive.
Well, whether - like me - you have a hankering for that older, golden era or you just want a slice of Top Gun action, Ace Combat 6 is a great opportunity to get reacquainted with the joys of the Split S or the Hammerhead Turn. You couldn't by any stretch of the imagination call it a flight sim, but it's a fantastic game of air-to-air and air-to-ground combat.
In fact, as anyone who is familiar with the series can tell you, gritty realism isn't Ace Combat's thing at all. While it incorporates real aircraft - the F-16 Falcon, the Mirage 2000-5 and so on - Ace Combat 6 focuses on a war between two fictional, vaguely Eastern European countries. Following a military takeover, the Republic of Estovakia invades the peaceful Republic of Emmeria with a sneaky surprise attack. As a pilot in the beleagured Emmerian forces, you play a key role in the fight back against the Estovakians. Frankly, you can safely skip the rather mawkish cut-scenes between each battle if you'd rather not get too involved in the lives of grief-stricken mothers and injured veterans, but at least it avoids some of the more distasteful aspects of the old-school ‘Let's bomb Russia/Iraq/South America and save the world in the name of freedom' plots we used to get in US military sims.
And the reason you needn't worry too much about the storyline is that, while the use of radio chatter and dialogue certainly adds to the in-game atmosphere, Ace Combat 6 doesn't really need a strong plot to dish out the thrills. Each mission sees you and your wingman, with support from assorted air and ground forces, blowing huge quantities of fighters, bombers, tanks, helicopters, heavy artillery and enemy facilities to kingdom come using really rather silly amounts of ordinance. As much of this involves flying low over difficult terrain and the aforementioned targets are trying to do exactly the same to you and your comrades, there really isn't much time to worry about motivation in the heat of battle.