Ace Combat 2 was one of those rare early home console 3-D efforts to maintain the simplicity of the classics while mixing in the styles of modern game. Flight is simple, yet no less exciting than a full-fledged simulation. Its arcade roots with its predecessor are firmly in place before the series would take turn towards becoming slight more complex in 2000 with Electrosphere.
Ace Combat 2 is fast. Exceedingly fast. Pulling too close to the ground is exhilarating as the simple polygonal environments go by. Likewise, pursuing enemy jets is equally thrilling. It’s an improvement over Air Combat from two years earlier by a landslide.
The formula for the base of this series is perfectly intact here. The only thing missing are cinematics in a unique style, presented here as nothing more than briefings before heading into battle. The story is more background filler than anything to keep the pacing up as missions are presented with brief loading times.
Upon its release, Ace Combat 2 had most of the market to itself. There was little competition, and to this day, not much tries to challenge this crown. It’s a blend of the classic SHMUP with the right dash of simulation to appease fans of both camps.
The obvious hurdle in tackling this game today is the graphics. Early 3-D typically falls into one category: Disastrous. The landscape is clouded with fog, though any impact to the gameplay is nominal. Enemy planes are always in view, while missiles and bullets obviously reach their target.
Those trained on newer entries will have to adjust to the simpler flight mechanics as well. There's no need to tilt the plane to turn. Simply hitting left or right is enough to make any moves. There was no possible way to recreate realistic flight on a standard pad before the Dual Shock arrived, and this simplified method makes this the best way to get a feel for this franchise. Ace Combat 2 remains relevant to this day.
Facts and Notables
- The thrill of Ace Combat 2 comes when using the PlayStation's analog joystick. No, not the Dual Shock, but the massive dual joystick released early in the life of the hardware. Few games would use it, and none really sell the expensive item better than Namco's classic.
- Part number of the analog joystick is SCPH-1110.
- Odd choices to use the joystick with include a light gun shooter (Elemental Gearbolt), a fighter (Rise 2), and an adventure (Nightmare Creatures).
- Seven of the Ace Combat team would produce Soul Blade the same year.
- The game features three different endings depending on your actions.
Prior to Ace Combat, it's hard to remember a flight game that grabbed me. The technological limitations produced laughable results in every era prior. Even those games that tried to be serious like F-22 Interceptor on the Genesis from EA would kill this genre for me.
Ace Combat 2 began my appreciation for the arcade style flight game. Granted, it couldn't save those earlier attempts, but it opened up an entirely new avenue. Games like Air Force Delta probably wouldn't even exist, and likely would have been ignored if I had not randomly decided to give Namco's flight a shot on a rental.
The game further opened my eyes to peripherals when I luckily found the analog joystick for a ridiculously low price. Plowing through the game in a day or two is now a regular occurrence, made all the more enjoyable by the controller. I can now look forward to every entry in this series with appreciation, but none of them could have the impact 2 did.
Images and review courtesy of Digital Press.