Flight Simulators - One of the oldest video games known to man but still only really retaining its niche market, even more so on consoles. The fact is control pads make for quite possibly the worst control system for the genre and thus up until now they really haven't taken off very well, if you'll excuse the pun. Namco have really done their homework and have gone the hard yards with AC5 as quite frankly this is a game that can turn a non-flight sim fan into a fan overnight, that's how polished, how easy to play, how impressive and just how complete the game feels.
The storyline behind the game may come as a little disappointment to flight sim fans and this is because it's completely fictional. So fictional it doesn't even involve earth, rather another world with countries and land mass quite similar. The world is divided into two areas due to a war which raged for a long time. The world has been at peace for fifteen years now and your character is stationed on the closest airbase to the border and after a sudden attack you must find out what happened and ultimately fight yet another war.
The game is divided into two sections; arcade and campaign. It could be argued that campaign is an arcade game with a storyline but there is much more to the game than flying the planes. As the name implies you will be commanding a squadron of fighters eventually and it is this which differentiates it from other titles. The flying model is extremely well done and suits the console style of play well. You're not going to find a need to switch fifty zillion buttons just to start the engines like Flight Simulator. In fact you can even skip take off and landing if you don't feel like doing it. There's no doubt this is for the action fan and not someone wanting a true sim.
In the campaign game mode you progressively work your way through levels taking out enemy bogies and completing missions. Usually you begin with one task, something major happens and before you know it, you're flying for your life. The one annoying thing about this particular feature is that the game does not save checkpoints; crash at anytime and it's back to the start for you. Considering some of the missions are quite long, this can be enough to give up. The arcade mode is more for those who want quicker goals and quick gameplay. You begin and play through various levels with goals given a time limit for completion. This makes it great for quickplay and extends the longevity of the title. It is not however enough to make the game warrant a purchase if you're not into campaign style play.
Another impressive feature of the game is the planes featured. Fully licensed from Lockheed Martin, each represents famous war planes from the present era such as the FA/18 and Russian MIG. As you progress through the game you have the opportunity to buy new planes and can equip your squad with different planes once you become the leader. This can be a tactical advantage as you can have a plane specialised in dog fighting and another one in taking targets out at long range. Paired with the option of commanding your squad, this makes for one of the most in depth combat engines around. The planes are extremely detailed and you can pick the small nuances which differ some of the closer models.
There is one downside to the game depending on your perspective and that is that it may be a little to skewed towards the mainstream. It is a combat simulator and features real weaponry, but there is little you have to do to take planes out. Track them, fire missiles and 99 times out of 100 they will be dead ducks. However it is this pick up and play that makes it the game it is; one of the finest combat sims. You can do some extremely cool stuff in the game such as fly under bridges, perform tricks such as loops and just plain have fun. That's the big word with this game - FUN. Namco has really hit the ground running and rather than have boring tracking etc, the action is fast paced and fully packed.
The visuals are also superb. The game even details the ground to a large degree, something which is all too overlooked by sim developers. As mentioned before detailed planes really add to the game but the sight of seeing rockets hitting a plane, planes left and right to you and the overall feel of the game really adds atmosphere. It's not pushing the PS2 to the limit, but it's not exactly boring to look at either. The voice acting is also really well done, as are the cut scenes. The story may not be featured in the real world, but it pushes the game along well. Probably better than had it been a non-fictional story.
Ace Combat 5: Squadron leader is a game that pairs superb combat gameplay with a mainstream market and as a result comes out as one of the first surprises for 2005 on the PS2. The fact is before we played the game at Sony earlier in the year we weren't into the game, but having played the final code now, we can comment that this is the best flight simulator on the PS2 and probably the entire console market period.