Every seat's a window seat in Iron Aces - Review By zerothreat
Dreamcast fans have waited a long time to see decent coverage of some critical genres. For example, consider how long RPG enthusiasts suffered through mediocre offerings before Skies of Arcadia and Grandia II came along. Such has been the case with Dreamcast air combat titles: a few semi-okay offerings with no real standouts. What have we had, Areowings, Air Force Delta; yeah, um, okay, but no Ace Combat equivalent. Letís see if Xicatís offering, Iron Aces, can swoop in and heroically fill the void.
Baker is far too trusting to teach trigger happy gamers how to fly.
Iron Aces is set in a fictional, umm... "non-World War II" world, circa 1942. Players can choose from over 20 WWII fighter craft, and combat Axis powers over 17 levels. Clearly, weíre dealing with World War II here, just without the messy constraints of historical accuracy. Four islands (controlled by the Americans, British, Germans and Japanese, respectively) are at odds, and itís up to the player to defend the interests of the Allies.
Mission briefings are conducted by flight leader James Baker, whose sole purpose, I suppose, is to prepare pilots for an altogether different form of gun control. Prior to each mission, players spend a little time in Bakerís briefing room, roaming from one location to another and zooming in on individual menu items. Zoom in on Bakerís typewriter, and you can save your game. Zoom in on Baker himself, and heíll offer up mission details and strategies. From other locations, players can check their overall performance, receive detailed mission briefings, or simply begin a particular mission.
By pressing the start button, players can ditch the briefing room in favor of a traditional static menu, but I prefer to wander around in the briefing room anyway. Really, itís one of the spiffiest little interfaces Iíve ever seen in a console title. Cleanly and simply executed, and fun.
I should mention the menu systems as a whole are well presented, and very neatly executed. Menu designs are extremely ergonomic, although sometimes a menu option can lead players to unexpected or illogical places. For example, after a failed mission, selecting the "Retry Mission" option sends players back to the briefing room, and not immediately back into the mission. This is a minor complaint though, because, as I mentioned, the menus are tight and clean for the most part.
The aircraft models are pretty cool too, relatively simple in their construction, but effective, nicely textured and authentic-looking. The simple act of selecting from among the various craft is fun, as it underscores the fact that Iron Aces is meant to be a rusty and gritty World War II fighter -- a throwback to times when air battles were perhaps more of an art form than they are today. Which leads me, sadly, into a discussion on Iron Acesí gameplay experience.
The top-down view really shows off all the geometric shapes used to make the planes.
Despite claims to the contrary, Iron Aces simply isnít a title meant for the casual console gamer. While the craft are relatively fun to fly, as the player has a lot of freedom to climb, dive and roll, and zero in on targets via the yaw triggers, Iron Acesí difficulty curve takes a steep climb between levels 2 and 3. The difficulty curve from level 1 to level 3 goes something like this: Insultingly Easy; Appropriately Easy; So Hard That I Want To Bust My Controller In Half. Although Iím sure players can get the hang of Iron Aces over a pretty long stretch, the game is made un-fun by an unending series of oh-my-god-why-did-they-do-it-this-way, piss poor design decisions.
First off, Iím a firm believer in the notion that console gamers should never need to RTFM (for those who donít know, RTFM means ďRead The Fíing ManualĒ). From the get-go, the console gaming experience should be purely plug and play. Players should be able to jump right into a game, and receive vital training information as they go, but this isnít case with Iron Aces. The gameís tutorial section is just as frustrating as the main game (more on this later), because it presents only a series of mini missions with no real guidance whatsoever, no explanation of aircraft controls, or, for that matter, viable combat tactics. Sure, one can find all this stuff in the manual, but thatís also what a gameís tutorial section is for. If the tutorial section isnít going to teach me all I need to know to play the main game, then thereís no point whatsoever in its existence.
Another gripe: Iron Acesí radar system displays mission-critical targets as red blips, non-mission-critical targets as white blips, and friendlies as green, but nowhere does it display mission-critical static (military or civilian) landmarks. Earlier I mentioned level 3, where the player needs to protect a couple of British Spitfire factories from Axis bombing runs. As itís easy to be led astray by Axis fighters, or by bombers themselves, players have no way of knowing how to return to the critical field of play.
Next: More Bad and The Final Word