One of the best flight sim games ever made - but you have to qualify as part of the target audience to truly appreciate this offering.

Aero Elite Combat Academy is a great game - for the right gamer. It's not for everyone. The gamers that it will appeal to most of all are those beginning or dabbling in flight sims and/or for those looking for a game that presents a very realistic challenge. Arcade fanatics looking for a shooter need not apply. Although there is a decent arcade mode included, it's not wild enough to appeal to the imagination of such gamers. The missions in this game might be considered conservative but married with the complexities of operating a craft with such strict parameters this title can be a nerds' nirvana.

The training mode is excellent. You will learn to pilot a variety of crafts (some 60 in all) which include fighter jets, bombers, harrier jets and choppers. The learning curve is somewhat steep but the training mode helps to flatten it out over time with an balanced approach of theory and practical. All aspects of flight such as altitude, pitch, yaw and G-force have to be incorporated into your mastery of the controls. Nothing is forgiving in this game. If you're looking for a no-nonsense challenge, and a great introduction to sim flying, look no further.

Aero Elite could not work without near-perfect controls. Thankfully everything is responsive and smooth. If there's a problem, it's going to be your lack of skill. Once you graduate from the academy you're sent out on numerous real-life missions. There are no space aliens or unrealistic swarms of enemy aircraft on any of these missions. You might have to shoot down a bomber one mission, while you will have to destroy ground targets on another. Each of these missions can take a long time as you might run into problems such as zero visibility and confusing coordinates. Just remaining in the sky is an accomplishment in itself. Keep in mind that commercial pilots must accumulate thousands of hours of flight time to control a craft in which the objective is just to get from point A to point B safely. Not to say this game is overly difficult - it's not if you dig into it - but some of the missions can push you to your limit. Remember that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

An arcade mode makes short work of the learning curve and in my opinion shouldn't have even been included. It takes most of the challenge out of the game as the aircraft are much too easy to control. Carrying out the various missions in arcade mode is under whelming and many gamers will get bored. You really have to invest the time at the academy to reap the rewards of this game. You need to experience the feeling where every little move you make can mean the difference between life and death.

Playing against another human is much more satisfying than playing against the AI which seems surprisingly lame. As long as you spot the enemy first, you are virtually assured of a hit. Of course you have to find a formidable opponent that has graduated from the academy if you want any kind of a challenge. For that reason this game would have been perfectly suited for online play since it may be difficult to locate another like-minded gamer in your 'hood.

One thing that will keep you going is the unlockables. There are all kinds of goodies, including aircrafts to unlock. The crafts not only handle well but they look great as they soar solidly through the air like ships on a calm sea. These crafts are highly detailed and the onscreen gauges respond perfectly to the commands from the controller. Buildings, lakes, mountains, oceans and clouds add some visual excitement outside of the craft but these graphics are just a tad better than average. The cutscenes are well produced and the acting is professionally restrained. If there's any complaint, it may be that the entire presentation is a bit on the dry side. A few jokes or character flaws here and there would make things a lot more realistic.

If you've ever wanted to find out what it would be like to be master of the skies you can see if you've got what it takes with Aero Elite. Sure there is some Top Gun overtones to the game, especially in the generic hard rock soundtrack, but when you're flying a few million dollars worth of high tech machinery at three times the speed of sound there's bound to be some testosterone overload.

System: PS2
Dev: AM2
Pub: Sega
Released: March 2003
Players: 2
Review by Fenix