|System: X360, PC (TBA)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Artech Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Sierra Online||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: June 4, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2; 2 Online||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
From the pixelated titles of the 8-bit or 16-bit era to the high definition, current-gen entries, space shooters have invaded the various download services. Because the genre has been inundated with such a vast array of them, it was always going to be difficult for Aces of the Galaxy to stand out. Thankfully, the beautiful graphics, challenging difficulty, co-op and online multiplayer, branching level paths, and amusing storyline make this an excellent addition to the XBLA. The game doesn't come without a few minor issues, as the controls will make your hands tire quickly and the rail-shooter aspect feels somewhat confining. Nevertheless, Aces of the Galaxy is a fun arcade title that's definitely worth your $10!
Aces of the Galaxy pits a bellicose alien race against a lone human (or a pair during co-op play) who has hi-jacked one (or two) of their Omega Prototype space fighters. You are the human race's last hope, and not even Brood Master Vrax, The Brotherhood of Evil Aliens, and the rest of the Skrugian Armada can stand in your way! Sounds like a fun challenge? You bet it is. Certainly there's nothing groundbreaking in terms of bucking conventions, but the taunting storyboards between levels are humorous and contain familiar references that do a good job of bringing players into the action.
To aid you in your mission, your ship is outfitted with three upgradeable weapons including a Chain Gun, Cluster Missiles, and Torpedoes. The Chain Gun is a glorified machine gun devoid of any fully or semi-automatic setting (more on that later). Cluster Missiles are ideal for taking out weak, yet pesky enemy formations, as multiple warheads spew forth from your cannon and home in for the kill. The Torpedo is by far the most powerful weapon in your arsenal. It was made for locking on to large and dangerous foes and tearing their hulls asunder. Each weapon system has unlimited ammo, but the reload times for each depends upon the relative strength of the weapon. In other words, the Chain Gun keeps pumping out the lead, while the Torpedo has a much more significant delay between rounds. Picking up the floating weapons icons in space will upgrade the corresponding armament until you eat space dust or advance the story.
Enemies will come at you in waves and formations. You can think of Aces of the Galaxy as if it were Galaga on some kind of illicit HD substance. There are a staggering number of enemies to shoot at, and each has unique characteristics. Some shoot relatively slow moving blasts, some are doomed to kamikaze runs, some leave a trail of bombs in their wake, others will blast you with a charged pulse of plasma, and others are cloaked and require you to use your scanner to reveal them. When all is said and done, it is your job to destroy as many of these baddies as you can, while making it to the next stage in one piece. It's a straightforward mechanic that has worked for decades, and it proves to be very satisfying to players of Aces of the Galaxy. To mix things up just a bit, there are unique commander ships that bop into each level. They're the ones jawing at you over the comms system before the level starts, and it's enjoyable to shoot them down. These mini-bosses can't be considered true boss battles, but they are a fun challenge, especially at higher levels of difficulty.
Level progression involves a branching path. After fighting it out in the initial Asteroid field, players are then allowed to choose a path to glory. You can stay in the Asteroids ala the Millenium Falcon in Empire, head for the Dark Star, or try to lose them through an Ice Nebula. You'll be stuck on this path unless you find the Warp icon. This allows you to hop between the three paths after the stage is completed. This branching system serves gamers well, as each path has a distinct look and characteristics - thus, adding to the replayability of the game. Furthermore, the challenge of getting four and five star ratings on each level will push players to hone their skills by playing the title over and over again.