For its first outing on the PSP and its second on a handheld (the first being a disaster on the Game Boy Advance), Ace Combat brings its general high standard of arcade flight combat intact to new hardware. Finely translating the controls with extras pertaining to customization, Skies of Deception is one of the best in the franchise. Its only problem is dealing with the consoles mess of an analog stick.
Harkening back to Ace Combat 4, the PSP effort is filled with gorgeous and stylized comic book images for its cinematics. While the writing isn't spectacular, it's a nicely woven tale around the now standard warring nations that seem to put a lot behind their air troops. In-air chatter rarely does anything to advance the narrative, and it's about time Namco began putting faces behind the voices. As it stands, the pilots have little character.
Still, placing a face to a voice is hardly your concern when in a conflict. Ace Combat is fast, and you'd have to try pretty hard to screw up a game that lets you have 75 missiles to play with. Deception will hardly win an award for realism, but it's a contender in the area of intensity.
Missions are nicely varied between straight destruction, escort and timed events. Boss fights are spectacular, and an early one against the opposing sides new warship takes two stages to defeat. Even on the small screen, the epic feel of the battle is felt and appreciated.
The triggers handle the speed of your aircraft, a critical operation that makes these a perfect choice. Face buttons change targets and deal out explosive damage while the select button brings up different views of the map. Movement is the games critical flaw.
Missions requiring a low flight path are the trouble spots. The analog stick simply doesn't react as it would on a home console. The delayed response makes quick strafing runs deadly if you're hit not with a missile, but the with the sticks second or so delay time.
Aside from those few awkward and frustrating deaths, improvements are being made elsewhere. Instead of only upgrading weapons and buying new planes, you can now tweak individual parts. Armor, wings, and other improvements can increase mobility or speed when using earned funds from completing missions. This is a huge step in taking this series to another level while keeping the arcade roots intact.
Finally, there's multiplayer. This is the first round for Ace Combat in the multiplayer arena, and while it's sadly four-player Ad Hoc only, this is a wonderful test run for future online play. Wildly fun diversions include a capture the flag variant, a competitive escort mission run, standard deathmatch and a mode where staying in the air longer than your opponents will net you a win.
While standard fare for fans, this series continues because it was done right back on the Playstation where this franchise was first given life, and nothing has changed that. The familiar formula still holds its intensity, and the brief signs of potential online multiplayer in future editions adds an extra layer of excitement to this entry. Skies of Deception will be an unnoticed PSP sleeper this year.
Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Alcohol Reference, Mild Language, Violence.