Ace Combat: Joint Assault Review

AC Title

Title: Ace Combat: Joint Assault
Developer: Access Games, Namco Bandai (Publisher)
Game Type: PlayStation Portable
Download: 1.3 GB
NA Availability: Digital Download | Direct Download
EU Availability: Digital Download | Direct Download

Air Simulation games have been around for quite some time.  However, have you ever thought about how many of those have turned into ongoing franchises?  You could probably name a couple, but not many.  In recent days, there aren’t that many plane-based franchises that have lasted more than a couple games.  There has been Warhawk before, from Sony, but how many games has it really had?  Not that many.

Among all of the hit-and-miss aerial combat games that this reviewer has seen, there has only been a single series that has lasted a decent amount of time.  This series is actually still going, having seen more than a dozen game since the PlayStation era.  Having spanned the world of Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and even the portable console world, the top dog of the air simulation and combat genre is none other than Ace Combat.

Ace Combat has been progressing and expanding since the first PlayStation console, and has had several games in the handheld scene, spanning the PlayStation Portable, Nintendo 3DS, and iOS alike.  Having gotten two games on the PSP, the Ace Combat series is playable on the PlayStation Vita.  Having originally released back in 2010, here is our official review of the PSP combat flight game, Ace Combat: Joint Assault!

Story

AC Story

The story of Joint Assault differentiates itself from the rest of the series.  In past games, there has been an ongoing world of countries that the series takes place in.  Joint Assault tried something new by being set in the real world.  Joint Assault features many locations like London, Tokyo, Egypt, and more in a more modern setting.

Taking place sometime in the late 2000s, Joint Assault puts you in the role of a pilot by the call-sign “Antares”.  You join the Martinez Security group during an exercise to show off your skills with the rest of Martinez Security.  However, as the exercise completes, you are taken off-guard when pilots from a terrorist organization known as the “Valahia” interrupt and a plot to bomb Tokyo with a gigantic airborne fortress sends you off on a mission.  As you defend the capital of Japan, your own wingmen defect to the terrorists and you’re forced to join a World-Wide Peace-Keeping organization to try to rid the world of the terrorist threat.

The overall storyline of Joint Assault isn’t incredibly interesting, unless you’re really into military what-if scenarios.  Even the climax of the game and the build-up between your group and the defectors, while tense, doesn’t show too much.  There’s enough story to set the stage for the intense missions you encounter, but not much on top of that.  The political plot behind the game is interesting, but nothing extraordinary.

Gameplay

AC Game 1

The gameplay is the meat of the game.  Ace Combat: Joint Assault is an aerial combat game.  When you go into the missions, you will be taking to the skies with your desired aircraft to perform a multitude of objectives.  Though, at its very basics, Joint Assault will send you through the skies in dogfights with other planes, ships, and more.  More than anything else, you will be flying and shooting down enemy planes.

The game is a mission-based game, but has a few different ways to play.  The game has a campaign mode as well as a Free Mission mode.  Apart from that, there are also Multiplayer Modes to take part in, which offer both local and online multiplayer battles against other players.  The majority of the game, though, will be taking part in the Campaign Missions in both Campaign and Free Mission Modes.

The Campaign will have you going through the story of the game.  The story plays out in a variety of ways, but there are 21 missions to take part in.  You play through the story and keep going the further you progress.  However, there are a few ways to do this.  You will have some situations where you can choose different orders or can choose one mission over another.  You may have the option of taking out a jamming facility or taking out an enemy base, and the mission afterwards will be different, depending on what you choose.  Some of these missions have A and B versions, resulting in there actually being more than 21 different missions to take part in.

Free Mission is like campaign, but less linear with following the story.  When you choose Free Mission, you will have the option of repeating any mission you have played in Campaign, be it an A or B version.  This gives you many more options than only participating in the mission at hand in the story.  This mode is mostly useful for repeating missions you enjoy or doing so to earn credits to be able to buy something you’ve earned in one of the Campaign Missions.

Each Mission has three difficulty settings, and you may choose what you want, be it Easy or Normal or Hard.  These missions will have you taking down targets, defending ground troops, escorting rescue helicopters and more.  Many of the missions have a variety, but in most of them, you will take down targets, even in the escort missions.  Although the environments are different, the game can seem repetitive if you can’t get into how the game plays.

Taking part in these missions requires you to choose a plane you’ve bought and perform the mission with that plane.  Each plane you can buy and use has its own set of combat.  Every plane has a machine gun and standard missiles (though how many you have depends on the plane).  There are also Special Weapons for each plane that you can buy and equip.  Some can be air-to-ground missiles or Air-to-Air missiles.  They also have parts you can buy to increase their mobility, speed, endurance, and more.  There’s a fair amount of customization allowed in the game.  More parts and planes can be unlocked by completing missions.

AC Game 2

During each mission, you will be flying through 3D environments to find your targets and finish your missions and mission phases.  Most of these environments are quite huge.  Whether you’re flying through a mountain range or above the skies of San Francisco, there is a lot to be seen in the game.  Many of the missions require you to go through a lot of the areas to find your targets, which are always shown on your map.  There is also a secret vehicle in every mission that will unlock extra content if you can find and destroy it.

The missions also work in phases.  You will have objectives in each phases and the transitions between them serve as Checkpoints.  So, if you get through Phases 1 and 2 of a mission and get blown out of the sky during Phase 3, you only have to repeat Phase 3.  While not all missions have 3 phases, each one has at least two for you to finish, some longer than others.  Completing a mission will earn you credits to use to buy planes, parts, and weapons, as well as unlocking content that you can buy with the credits.

The last part of the game is Multiplayer.  In this mode, you can fly through the skies in dogfights with other players.  The unique part about the game when it first came out was that it had online multiplayer.  The servers for Joint Assault are still up, but they are very quiet, rarely ever having 2 people online at the same time.  You can play online, but it’s best to have a buddy to do it with you.

With the 21 missions to complete, Ace Combat: Joint Assault has a fair amount of length to it.  Completing the Campaign once will likely take you between 5 and 8 hours, depending on the difficulty setting and whether or not you use Free Mission to earn credits for the more expensive planes.  Combining the difficulty settings and unlocking everything will multiply that several times.

Controls

The controls for Joint Assault use the majority of the buttons on the PSP.  Thankfully, the camera automatically adjusts itself, so there’s no need to redirect any buttons to the Right Analog Stick of the Vita.  While you can, the scheme works fine on its own.  The same goes for the touch controls.  I would advise that, given the intense action of the game, that you don’t put anything on the touch screen.

With the default control setup, you will be moving your plane with the Left Analog Stick.  This is for ascending, descending, as well as turning to evade enemy missiles.  Getting to moving is done with the L and R buttons, though.  The R button is the throttle to increase your speed, and the L button is used to brake and slow down your speed.  As far as maneuvering, those are all of the controls.

The combat controls are done with the face buttons.  The Machine Gun for your plane will be controlled with the X Button.  The other weapons will be the Circle button.  By default, the standard missiles will be using Circle.  However, you can launch your Special Weapons by pressing the Square Button to switch and equip that instead of the missiles.  Finally, the Triangle Button will change which target you’re locked onto.  You can also pause the game with Start and change the Map view with Select.

The control scheme sounds a little complex, but once you play the game for a bit of time, it is pretty easy to use.  The hardest thing is learning that turning requires you to turn and move up or down at the same time.

Presentation

AC Pres

The presentation has high points and has some low points.  First and foremost, the planes did receive a hit when the game is stretched on the screen of the PS Vita.  When you’re looking at planes in the hangar, you will see a fair amount of jagged edges on them.  They’re still very detailed, but it is noticeable.  However, this is only the case in the hangar.  When you’re flying, it’s pretty easy to miss.  The environments also look fairly detailed, other than cities.  Those, in the original game, only had a few buildings and then a blurry landscape around them.

The part of the presentation that really shines is the soundtrack.  Joint Assault is a game that you should not be playing unless you have headphones in.  Every single mission is filled with intense symphonic, rock, and more.  Each track is recorded and there are a lot of memorable tracks from the voiced “In the Zone” to the symphonic music that plays during the fights against the airborne fortress.  It’s a soundtrack that you will remember days after finishing the game.

As far as how the game plays, it does well.  Load Times are very short, only taking 3-4 seconds to load a mission.  Given how large each mission’s map is, this is pretty impressive for a PSP game.  The game also never lags or slows down.  The game was optimized well for both the PSP and the Vita.

Summary

Ace Combat: Joint Assault is a game full of intense aerial combat.  On the downside, the game doesn’t have much to offer past the initial 5-6 hours of its campaign.  Apart from that, the game features a lot of intense action, 50 planes to choose from, online multiplayer and a soundtrack that is well worth remembering. 

9/10

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