AeroFighters AssaultAction shooter, flight sim, or a bunch of hot air?
Publisher: Video System USA|
Developer: Paradigm Entertainment
Video System s AeroFighters Assault, the fourth installment in the Japanese Sonic Wings videogame saga, sure looks great in screen-shots. Billed as the N64 s first flight sim shooter, the game features one- and two-player modes, six different pilot characters with their own jets, an armada of enemies, and seven gigantic bosses.
Taking control of a UN peace-keeping jet force, players take on a band of hi-tech terrorists known as Phutta Morgana in seven (plus four bonus) missions. The story: the bad guys have melted the Antarctic Ice Cap and are flooding major cities in their ploy to throw UN military operations into chaos. Their tools of destruction are jets, submarines, frigates, helicopters, an armored walker and even a gigantic flying fortress. Sounds pretty cool, huh? The promise of an action game by the creators of PilotWings was enough to send expectations for AeroFighters Assault sky-high. But unfortunately, Paradigm s second N64 game is a far cry from its debut Nintendo flight sim.
Gameplay: The element that makes or breaks a videogame -- and in this case, it's rather on the "breaks" side. AeroFighters is not a game that finds redemption in its realistic flight engine, nor do its graphics make people forget holes in gameplay the way NFL Quarterback Club did. To put it bluntly, AeroFighters Assault is dull. The one-player mode, the most important feature of each and every videogame, is slow-paced and boring despite its interesting premises and varied missions. This is not to say that AeroFighters is a complete failure -- some levels actually manage to be quite fun for a while, but it's readily apparent that the game's balance as a whole is slightly off (certain missions take forever to finish, while others can be completed in a matter of seconds). There is an apparent lack of tension, some of the enemies take a ridiculous amount of hits until they finally blow up, and it s often impossible to tell whether your attack was successful or whether you just wasted a lot of ammo. It s too slow for an action game and too crowded for a flight sim, yet it tries to be both. This is no Ace Combat, Star Fox, or PilotWings.
Flight Engine: One of the game s few strong points. Paradigm s pedigree of professional flight sims shows when you fly around in the training missions. Not that I ve ever been in the cockpit of a jet fighter, but the way you can bank, roll, dive, and even pull off cobra maneuvers gives the game an air of authenticity. Unfortunately, the flight mechanics don t work hand-in-hand with the rest of the game, making the end result a strange mix between flight sim and action shooter -- and consequently, a master of neither domain.
Graphics: Even if you re not into the manga-esque Sonic Wings design (red jets, anyone?), the nice effects and cool terrain graphics show that Paradigm put a lot of work into making AeroFighters look good. The explosions are top-notch, rockets leave translucent contrails, and fans of submarine flicks (like Hunt for Red October ) will love the way AeroFighters gigantic sub literally jumps out of the water, accompanied by the appropriate bilinear-filtered spray. The graphics are certainly on par with other flying games -- well, at least in the training mode. Once you put the graphics engine to the test in one of the missions, it quickly becomes apparent that what worked for PilotWings, an exploration-based flight sim, doesn t work for an action jet game. In PilotWings, your N64 basically had to worry about the logic, graphics and incoming control data of one vessel -- yours. But AeroFighters features lots of on-screen enemies, including collapsing ground structures and gigantic bosses. Can you guess what happens? I m not a stickler for framerate, but it s imperative in a fast-paced action game that you know what s going on. AeroFighters sluggish graphics drop to abominable framerates, even when there are no enemies on screen. This makes flying close to obstacles a game of chance and obliterates any feeling of speed that may come up from time to time. Imagine trying to track an object in a room only lit by strobe lights, and you get the idea.
Sound: Muzak Attack. The music is comprised of unexciting midi tunes that would work perfectly in a Japanese department store s elevator, but it s nothing you would want in a shooting game. It s far from terrible, but it just isn t quite there. The sound effects are better, but the fshhhhhhhh when you turn your plane gets a little annoying. Voice samples are clear and easy to understand, even though the content of the radio conversations is uninspired, to say the least. Both your allies and your enemies will comment on the action once in a while, with such important messages as Cool, dude! Sure, it adds to the atmosphere, but couldn t the space have been used for something more worthwhile?
Control: The N64 controller is almost perfect for a 3D jet shooting game. Use the analog stick to adjust pitch and yaw and press the buttons to fire your weapons, control your jet s throttle, and bank left or right. If the game s graphics problems wouldn t make it so hard to judge distances, it would probably work like a charm.
Multiplayer: One of the few redeeming factors is the fun two-player dog-fight mode. With more freedom than the Star Fox 64 battles, AeroFighters Assault can actually be quite fun when you try your newly acquired flight skills one a human opponent. Contrary to every other N64 game out there, the two-player game also runs at higher speeds than the one-player mode and the environments look quite nice. Too bad that you can t really interact with anything or fly through a cave -- the backgrounds remain just that: backgrounds.
Overall: The bottom line: AeroFighters Assault is not a two-in-one package. It s not horrible, but it s dreadfully average and lacks the balance of many N64 games. If you re into shooters, get Star Fox 64. If you like flight sims, get PilotWings 64. If you don t have enough money to rent or buy a PSX with Ace Combat 2 and can t live without an action flight sim, AeroFighters may make a decent rental -- but just don t expect too much. It s a fun little two-player flight battle, with an utterly forgettable one-player game that desparately needs a code to unlock the hidden gameplay.