Flight Simulators on console are an interesting topic of conversation. Due to the controls of consoles you would think that most flight simulators from the PC would be completely unusable on a console system. Taito are trying to throw that theory out the window with Energy Airforce, a flight simulator which lets you take control of three top class jets and fly missions around the globe.
In an interesting twist to the flight simulator genre, and something which will no doubt expand the appeal of the game, Taito have included both a simulation game and an arcade version of the game. Obviously in the arcade version of the game the focus is much more on action and getting into the skies rather then trying to simulate the life of a real fighter jet pilot. Thus there are four game modes featured in Energy Airforce; Licence, Dogfight, Mission and Arcade.
Licence is very much like the Gran Turismo licence system. To fly each of the three jets you have to pass the test associated with that jet. In the test you are asked to perform tasks such as taxi for take off, turn left and right, taking off and landing and in general prove that you can handle the aircraft before you're let loose on the missions. There are three licences included with the game and you can't progress to another one until the previous one is completed, so you can't jump straight to the X-35c licence. The licence mode is incredibly in depth and easy to learn. By the end you should be ready to take on all the missions in the game and know a lot more about how a fighter jet works in the real world. It's actually an advantage that you have to complete this before moving on because the options are quite complex, but easy to learn.
Dogfight throws you in the air one vs one against an enemy aircraft in the ultimate battle of wits and survival. There are seven scenarios to complete in the dogfight mode.
The other modes are where the meat of the game is located. Arcade throws you headfirst into the deep end and within no time you're flying through the air taking down enemy aircraft. The controls are somewhat relaxed in this mode and it's not hard to locate and destroy enemies. The mission will end when you have destroyed all the enemies in the sector, or have been shot down yourself. In the simulation game mode you have to take into account a lot more factors during your missions such as fuel level and the controls are much more simulated and it's harder to steer the plane.
One problem people will have in comparison to other flight simulators already on the market is that only three aircraft have been included. Whilst this does limit the game somewhat, having focused on only three models of craft the developers have been able to put an incredible level of detail on the planes and also have been able to focus on making the simulation mode as close to real life as possible. Obviously its not on the level of say a 747 simulator airlines use to train pilots, but this doesn't cost you tens of thousands of dollars either. The three planes included are the F-16C, F-22A and X35C. Each have individual styles and unique huds based around the actual real craft. Lockheed Martin have licensed the game so the planes are indeed as close to real life as the developers chose to make them. However the one big plus this game has is the accessibility. Most flight simulators based on jet aircraft go the whole hog and you have to spend hours and hours learning to perfect the art. Energy Airforce may have a long and detailed Licence (tutorial) system but the pay off is that you won't have to learn anything more about the aircraft again, that is until you go for the next licence for the higher tier aircraft.
There are other planes featured in the game but only these three can be actually flown by the player. The other planes are either enemy fighters, or wingmen. These planes include F-14, F-15, EF2000 and others. It would have been nice to be able to control these planes from a third person mode only in arcade. During missions with a wingman you can give them orders. Pressing select will reveal a menu of commands to give to the wingman such as attack enemies which have been radar locked or freely fly around to attack any enemies they see. If you're wingman is shot down they will not be replaced until the next mission so keep an eye out for them. Before each mission in the simulation mode you are asked to loadout your plane with weapons so keep an eye on the briefing to make sure you select the most useful load out.
You fly missions both over land and sea and have to take targets out on both land and in the air via various means such as missiles or bombs. The environment which is depicted in the game does mention real world places but it is not accurately modeled from those places. From high altitudes it looks quite stunning but as you lose altitude during bombing or missile runs, it does become a bit blocky and the pixels are easily seen. This is a problem with all flight simulator games so to put this as a significant bad mark against the game would be unfair. There is also missions where you will fly through urban areas and the problem is somewhat negated, but the buildings do still seem to stick out like sore thumbs. In the Arcade game mode there is an option Free Flight which allows you to fly across the entire area without any enemies or objectives to complete. This can be useful in getting to grips with the aircraft you're currently piloting.
The graphics of the game are somewhat of a mixed bag. The planes look highly detailed but as mentioned before the actual environment where the game is set can be disappointingly bland to look at. Objects you have to take out stick out like a sore thumb, which makes them easier to spot (although by the time you can see the, you should already have a lock on them). There are some nice graphical effects however. If you're turning at an angle which is deemed to tight, the screen will start to fade to black indicating that the pilot is close to passing out from the G-Forces being pushed upon him. Another great thing about the graphics is the detailed cockpits. Using the right thumbstick you can look left and right outside the aircraft to spot enemies or just admire the scenery, but pushing up will let you look at your pilots legs and all the controls around them. The cockpit is completely dynamic so what is happening in the mission is updated in the cockpit instantaneously. There is also a replay feature which can be shown after arcade missions or is used during debriefings in the simulation area of the game.
Sound effects are quite good and the game features a rock and techno style soundtrack which suits the game quite well. Voice acting during the Licence stage of the game is useful and easy to understand and you can usually tell if a target has been destroyed by whether a large explosion is heard or not. Unfortunately Energy Airforce doesn't support multiplayer either on the same console or online which is a shame because the accessibility of the title would have made it perfect for a few mates to pick up and play once in a while.
Overall Energy Airforce is a game which breaks a mould and allows console gamers (namely PS2 owners) to experience flying a jet simulation without having to spend hours and hours learning the controls or reading a manual. Whilst the graphics aren't the greatest on the console (the cockpit is very impressive however) they do the job and the controls are also easy to use. If you've been looking for a flight simulator for your PS2, this would be a good one to appease that need, but even if you haven't been a traditional simulator fan, try this one out, it may surprise you.