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February 28, 2002
Ace Combat 4: Distant Thunder - Review
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Air and ground detail both impress.
Flight simulators are a very popular genre on the PC, but similar games on consoles have never managed to reach this level of popularity, or sales. This can mostly likely be put down to some wonderful developers such as DID, Jane's and Microprose which created PC games so realistic that they were picked up by Air Forces around the world and used to train pilots. Unfortunately, consoles gamers have usually received less simulator and more arcade styled flight sims resulting in less then stellar overall sales, and a perception of poor games. Namco's Ace Combat 4: Distant Thunder looks set to shake this trend with some stunning visuals and enough grunt from the Playstation 2 to create a realistic physics and flight engine.

Ace Combat 4 takes place in the present day, in a distant planet similar to Earth, although it uses real-world earth airplanes. The game is set in the imaginary continent of "Usea", a troubled place composed of numerous countries in conflict with one great nation. The situation is so delicate it is called "Armed Peace". However, a giant meteorite has ravaged the planet. Thousands of small rocks have scattered all over Usea wrecking havoc with people's lives and leaving craters and destruction in its wake. The impact of the meteorite has left the "Armed Peace" hanging in the balance. The player takes the role of fighter pilot as he prepares to battle to save what is left of humanity.

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Check out the stunning plane detail.
One of the many great things about Ace Combat 4: Distant Thunder is the wide variety of planes and missions available to the player. Namco have included over 20 different missions and just as many planes to master. These planes are actually based on real craft including the F-22, Mirage, Tornado, Rafale and Eurofighter 2000. Each of these planes has different characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. Some of them are better in dogfights with other fighter planes in the air while others are more suited to bombing runs and taking out ground targets. It will be your choice of plane and weapon that could determine your fate. It's a wide variety that should keep every plane enthusiast very happy indeed.

Actually controlling the planes is tremendous fun in this game. Finally, a console developer has captured the speed and responsiveness which you would expect from such as vehicle. The analogue control is used perfectly to bank and turn while the shoulder buttons can be used to have a look to either side of the plane. Each plane also has an after burner to get you into or, as is more often the case, out of trouble. One of the best things about Ace Combat 4 is the scale of the battles taking place. On some levels you will have over 20 enemy aircraft such as fighter planes, bombers, and helicopters while on the ground the enemies include tanks, AA guns, SAM missiles, aircraft carriers, battleships, pillboxes and more. It's a solid mix that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

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Looking down on one of the islands.
As you progress through the game you will earn money depending on your overall performance and how many targets you destroy. In many missions you will be able to destroy much more then just the required amount allowing you to rack up big money. This money can then be used to purchase newer and more advanced planes, as well as better weapons to equip depending on the mission. This adds an element of strategy to the game. There is no point picking a small fighter plane when a larger bomber is better off in a ground target attack. To top it all off the developers have included a very exciting 2-player split screen mode which will have you glued for hours. Oh, how I am looking forward to the day when an online version is released.

As with so many of Namco's games there is very little to complain about with this game. Simulator fans may be a little upset by a very generous supply of ammunition with over 50 missiles on a plane not uncommon. Strangely you plane is limited to a much more restrictive 700 or so rounds of machine gun bullets. With only around 20 missions to complete Ace Combat 4 is a little too short for my liking. It will only take a couple of days to get through the game although you will likely go back for a second play pretty soon after. Beside these few complaints there is very little to fault in what is truly a magnificant console flight simulator.

Graphically, Namco have taken a very risky approach with the cut scenes throughout the game. Instead of trying to attract us with pre-rendered, or real-time, cut scenes the developers opted for something quite different. The cut-scenes are more like pages from a comic book which are displayed as some wonderful 2D artwork. It may sound rather bland and very 16-bit, but it looks so fresh and exciting in today's game climate. The in-game graphics are even better with absolutely stunning texturing on the game world and a great amount of detail on the planes, both friend and foe. The frame rate is absolutely rock solid which, given the detail on screen, is a great achievement by Namco. It's safe to say that this is one of the best looking games to date on Playstation 2.

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The in-cockpit viewpoint is best.
One of the more disappointing aspects of Ace Combat 4 is the sound. The effects such as missiles, planes and radio chatter are generally very good, but the music is a quite wide variety of styles, and quality. At times, like during the 10th mission on the beaches, the music is extremely atmospheric and exciting while in other missions it's rather atrocious and grating. Why is it that Namco never seem to get the music in their flight sims as good as their other games?

Well, when you all get sick of playing Sony's excellent Dropship: United Peace Force there is an easy choice for the next game to splash out on. If, however, you didn't buy Sony's game and you're a flight sim fan then there really is no reason not to go out any buy this. Even if you have a PC the fast paced action, variety os missions, interesting cut scenes and tough opposition will keep you entertained for some time. Ace Combat 4: Distant Thunder is quite easily one of the best flight sims ever seen on a console. Sure, it's not a detailed simulator like those on the PC, nor is it an arcade game. Namco seem to have struck a perfect balance between the two. This is a game that is fast and fun, but requires some degree of skill to perform beyond expectations.

GRAPHICSSolid frame rate and stunning world detail, great cut scene artwork.
SOUNDThe music can be a little average but everything else is top-notch.
GAMEPLAYAC4 is more arcadey then a PC flight sim, but it's is easily more fun.
VALUEThe game won't keep you going for weeks, but you will be back.
OVERALLAC4 is best flight sim seen on a console and a must for PS2 owners.

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