ACE COMBAT 5 14th Anniversary Retro Review

ACE COMBAT 5: THE UNSUNG WAR is an arcade flight simulator from Namco, now Bandai Namco, released back in October 2004. So, why bother doing a review on it in 2018? Simple, the game has been announced as an awesome pre-order bonus for the PS4 version of ACE COMBAT 7! And I like reviewing old games to see how they hold up today! Though, I have to admit to you all now, that when it comes to Ace Combat 5 I am exceptionally biased. Playing through Ace Combat 5 was for me a literal life-altering experience. Upon completion of the game I began a journey that would eventually lead to my enlistment in the United States Air Force. Since then Ace Combat 5 has easily maintained a place in my top 10 games of all time for numerous reasons.

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Story

Ace Combat 5 takes place in the fictional world of Strangereal, a world with numerous continents and countries. In 1995 the smaller nation of Belka began a war to gain back territory they had previously lost during a financial crisis. Belka’s quick invasion into the neighboring countries causes the formation of an alliance between the nations of Ustio, Sapin, Osea and Yuktobania with the purpose of ending the Belkan threat. As the tide of the war turned, the Belkan government detonates 7 nuclear bombs on its own cities to keep the Allied countries from further advancing into their territory. After this tragic event the Belkan war comes to a close and the southern half of Belka is annexed into Osea. 15 years have passed since that tragic event and the world has been at peace. Until one day, the Osean Air Defence Force 108th Tactical Fighter Squadron operating out of Sand Island comes under attack by an unknown enemy.

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Gameplay

Ace Combat 5 is an arcade flight simulator. Controls can be adjusted, depending on the player, from a more real-world feel to flight with pitch, roll and yaw controlling your movement to an easier left, right, up, and down approach. For those looking for the ultimate simulation experience, Ace Combat 5 even released with a limited edition bundle that included a flight and throttle stick. The limited edition is pretty rare these days so expect to pay a bit of a premium to play the game this way. Though, I can say the experience is second to none!

Once you have your preferred flight mechanics set, controls are easy to grasp. Throttle is mapped to R1 and L1. Machine guns and missiles are handled with the Cross and Circle buttons. Target acquisition is done with a press of the Triangle button. Lastly, pressing Square allows for a handy map zoom feature to keep awareness on what is happening throughout the mission area. New controls making their debut with Ace Combat 5 include the ability to assign your wingmens behavior and answer dialogue options during gameplay with a simple press of the D-pad. Thankfully none of the gimmicks that would come later in the franchise, like Dogfighting Mode, are present in this entry leading to a finely tuned experience.

Ace Combat 5 features an impressive 32 total missions with a few alternate routes based on how you answer the in-game dialogue options mentioned earlier. While these alternate missions don’t change the overall story experience, it was an awesome touch that added to replayability just to see what these paths felt like in the game. As the story progresses, events unfold in cutscenes, pre and post mission briefing/debriefings and through in-game radio chatter. While the overall story is fantastic, it can be presented in a very campy nature that has multiple occasions of cringe worthy dialogue.

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Ace Combat 5 can be played on a variety of difficulties, from easy to the 1 hit death Ace mode which is unlocked by first completing the game’s normal setting. Difficulty also plays a factor into how much primary and secondary weapons ammo you take into each mission. Each mission manages to feel unique and have varied objectives. From air-to-air and air-to-ground combat, numerous missions also task the player to put their flight skill to the test with either recon flights or, my favorite: escaping an enemy squadron in an unarmed training plane! This is Ace Combat so also be prepared to go up against numerous WMD’s like a burst missile equipped submarine or laser equipped space ship! After each mission players are awarded a ranking based on how well they performed.

Of course, the most important part of any mission is the craft you get to fly during it, and Ace Combat 5 has the biggest selection in the franchise! From the iconic F-15 to the F-22, there are over 50 real world aircraft at the players disposal. Aircraft are separated into different roles of fighter, attacker, multirole and jammer with each having an advantage during different types of missions. Certain missions will also restrict the type of aircraft you can fly, depending on if you are doing a base launch or carrier launch. As you progress through the campaign, more aircraft will become available to purchase. This time around, aircraft must also be purchased for your wingmen to use on missions so plan accordingly if you want them to have better craft. To further unlock aircraft you must hit a certain number of kills with the base planes of that family type.

The last planes that will become available to players are the superfighters: the X-02 Wyvern which series fans will recognize from ACE COMBAT 4, and the ADF-01 Falken from ACE COMBAT 2! Both of these superfighters have specific unlock requirements of buying one of each aircraft for the Wyvern and finding hidden parts in different missions for the Falken. Finally, extra skins are available for various aircraft in the game by tracking special named enemies in each mission.

Once you finish the story mode, don’t think Ace Combat 5 is done giving you content: an entire secondary arcade mode is also available! Continuing the story of Mobius 1, from Ace Combat 4, arcade mode pits players against the clock to see how fast they can complete objectives. As objectives are finished, additional time gets added to the timer. Arcade mode features a total of 16 missions, but only 7 missions are playable per session. Numerous branching paths are included which are selected based on a players skill and performance during prior missions.

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Graphics and Sound

Ace Combat 5 5 is a PlayStation 2 game, so in terms of graphic capabilities, expectations should be in line for such. That being said, Ace Combat 5 is still a good looking game today and can even be displayed in 16:9 for modern televisions! Terrain is textured by using satellite images provided by the Japan Space Imaging Corporation and gives players the sense of flying over a real world. One of the only drawbacks is that most terrain is relatively flat and low detailed at close range. To help alleviate this issue, missions feature some modeled buildings or trees and it works out well enough. Aircraft are all wonderfully modeled, albeit with lower res textures compared to newer entries, thanks to the development team at Project Aces working with several aircraft manufacturers to ensure authenticity. Smoke, clouds and missile contrails still manage to look great even when compared to later games in the franchise on next gen Xbox 360 and PS3 hardware. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for fire and explosion effect which feel a little flat and underwhelming in this day and age.

The sound work in Ace Combat 5 is still absolutely incredible to this day, despite the occasional campy dialogue. The soundtrack breaks with the tradition of using a rock soundtrack of previous installments, though still present in arcade mode, to utilizing a full orchestrated score which amplifies the sense of urgency or relief felt as you accomplish your missions. The song Blurry by Puddle of Mudd was also included during one pre-mission cutscene and man it just fits the sound the game goes for! Sound effects are crisp and sound fantastic and the static of radio conversations sound just as you’d expect. To really let the amazing sound design shine, the whole game can be run in surround sound which takes immersion to a whole other level!

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Conclusion

Despite being a blurry old PS2 game, Ace Combat 5 still manages to impress even today. There is a reason most fans of the franchise (myself included) consider this the best entry. With the sheer scale of included content, missions, forward thinking graphics design and next-level sound design, Ace Combat 5 is ready to go toe-to-toe with the best the genre has to offer. If you are a fan of flight games and never got around to Ace Combat 5, you owe it to yourself to give this a try! Who knows, maybe it will change your life too!