Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies promises to put you in the cockpit of a real military jet fighter and sets you loose in the sky in pursuit of bad guys. Did it live up to its hype?

If you've shied away from such aircraft games in the past because of the vertical learning curve you will be pleased to know that you can get your plane up and running in this game in after a few short lessons that are built right into the game. You don't have to customize your cockpit, learn all the gauges and the landings and take-offs are all taken care of for you. So all of us short attention span jockeys out there can rejoice and get on with the show.

Relegating some of the plane's functions to the automatic pilot makes the game more accessible but it's not exactly an arcade game. I should, however, warn some of the PC sim freaks that unless they feel like taking a vacation from virtual flight school and are in the mood for a good shooter with lots of action, then they might just want to rent this one if at all. It's not an incredibly challenging game but it sure is fun and easy to follow. If you've always wanted a realistic, straightforward, flying experience without all the mess then you've come to the right game.

With graphics that look better than satellite surveillance photos, you will really believe you are flying and not pretending to do so in a flight simulator. Even the cockpits glows and flashes with a swarm of gauges and buttons that look so darn pretty you might be tempted to just stare at them while the ground begins to fill your view in the window.

The 24 missions are each prefaced with a solid battle plan that includes ground troops and weapon selection. There are a good many weapons to choose from but you have to pick the right ones for the right job. The same goes for the planes, as you can purchase up to 19 more that range from something the Wright Bros. would have rejected to the stealthy F-117A. Each plane has different flight characteristics and you have to be wary of how it will handle when loaded with certain weapons. A plane full of bombs may be tailor-made for a bombing mission but it may be like asking Louie Anderson to run the hurdles when it come to a dogfight.

Lots of surprises can be expected as few missions ever go as planned. You can expect to encounter a wild card in each level that is typically not in your favor. It keeps you on your toes and helps keep the game from feeling redundant. As I mentioned, this is not a sim and some of the missions are little "out there" but within the context of the storyline these little flights of fantasy don't seem too crazy. Did I mention the storyline? There is one, but it's not going to win any awards, or many fans for that matter. It's as lame as Top Gun but it does absolve you of having to apply your own intellect to the missions. For example, you will be asked to perform maneuvers that will re-enact the famous trench run scene in the first Star Wars movies and on another mission you will have to protect the Earth from falling stars with your anti-asteroid cannon.

Rendered after real aircraft, the planes look fantastic, in fact all the graphics are top notch. The sounds of the different jet engines adds character to each aircraft and although I don't know what these planes sound like in real life, I can't imagine them sounding any different. That's a testament to how much trust I place in the developers judgement just seeing the great job they did with the graphics. Radio contact with your mates is ensconced with crackles, hiss and white noise; and never sounded better. The animation of the planes is smooth and the explosions are a treat to watch and listen to anytime.

If there is a better air combat game that is easier to get the hang of than Ace Combat 4, I've never heard of it.

System: PS2
Dev: Namco
Pub: Namco
Released: Nov 2001
Players: 1 - 2
Review by Fenix