The Ace Combat series is long overdue for a continuation, and starting today, February 4, gamers around the world will be able to participate in the online beta for Ace Combat: Infinity, which consists of two missions that can be played both in single player as well as co-op.
For Ace Combat fans like myself, this is excellent news, but I also feel that there is still much about the full game we have yet to find out. Upon the game’s announcement, developer Project Aces was intentionally vague regarding the scope of the content, and as more details begin to emerge, I am left with questions as to exactly what kind of Ace Combat experience we should expect in the long run.
The depth of the campaign
As of the writing of this article, we know that the Ace Combat: Infinity campaign will closely mirror the experience available in the outstanding Ace Combat 4 campaign, and will revisit the Ulysses meteor event and the construction of the Stonehenge superweapon built to shoot down the incoming space debris. In Ace Combat 4, the player had to engage in a series of missions comprised of numerous tense dogfights that led up to large-scale battles with ground-based weapon platforms. It was certainly exciting stuff, and the lengthy campaign presented some of the most exciting missions found in the genre.
Though the game is based upon Ace Combat 4’s 18-mission campaign, it is perhaps a safe assumption that we won’t see a game of the same size, which in turn makes me wonder how much game we can expect. Seeing as Infinity is free-to-play, I anticipate the single player campaign being a “greatest hits” of missions from prior entries. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this model, but what has made the Ace Combat series so memorable to date are the excellent and peerless single player campaigns that task the player with flying cutting-edge combat aircraft against seemingly impossible odds. Taking on missions with a friend will most likely be a blast, but a campaign worth revisiting will be even better.
Ace Combat: Infinity has been advertised as a “co-operative competitive” game, meaning that players will work together against enemies simultaneously while also competing for the highest scores and the most kills. With the recent popularity of co-operative play and “horde modes” made famous by the likes of Gears of War, I feel this is a fantastic direction to take the series in regarding online play. The Tom Clancy HAWX games featured a similar idea, and Ace Combat 6 for the Xbox 360 featured a more adversarial (and unfortunately more boring) take on multiplayer.
Still, while taking on missions with a buddy often makes for a better experience, little has been divulged as to how multiplayer-focused the game will be upon its full release. For instance, are we going to see any adversarial game modes at all? Many other multiplayer games can serve as inspiration for various things to do online. These could include adversarial teams of players, time objectives, asynchronous ghost data like that in Dark Souls, or, and perhaps a more radical suggestion, two players in one jet, with one playing as the pilot while the other controls the weapons.
Pay-to-win vs. unlocks
Probably the biggest question of all is just how much game we will be getting for free from the outset. While we’ve been promised a full single player campaign as well as multiplayer, there are caveats. For instance, Project Aces stated that players could play the game for free, but with time limits. This has been titled the Sortie Fuel System, which will limit play time with the option to buy more. For example, for the beta, the missions can be played every four hours, or gamers unwilling to wait to get back into the action can purchase more “fuel” with real-world money.
Initially, many fans were quite upset with this model, but considering that the game is free makes the fuel system easier to tolerate, assuming it remains entirely optional. Of course, it does instill the unsettling “you don’t really own the game” feeling that gamers have grown to recognize and abhor. While the game appears to be pay-to-play to some degree, I would hope that we don’t run into the less enjoyable pay-to-win model, where developers offer a game for free that’s essentially a glorified demo without in-game purchases. Allowing players to unlock more content, such as new planes, through playing would be preferred over paying to unlock most of them. It can be expected that some specialty or promotional aircraft may be off limits to those unwilling to pony up the extra cash, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that they don’t cordon off the basics, like the F-22 or the Su-33.
The series moving forward
Gamers can be a fickle bunch, in that we want innovation and for developers to try something new while preserving what makes a series great by changing as little as possible. That being the case, I commend Project Aces for taking a risk. As gaming increasingly moves online and become more competitive, creating an immediately accessible and multiplayer-focused Ace Combat game seems appropriate and logical. It’s a new direction for the series that will most likely please fans and, given the price of admission, be impossible for newcomers to pass up.
However, as I mentioned above, what made Ace Combat great were the larger than life collection of single player missions that fans have come to know, love, and play over and over. We can hope that the developers use Infinity as a sort of side step rather than a new standard, opting for free-to-play online games over the bigger and more timeless retail offerings. Nonetheless, Ace Combat: Infinity has me excited, and hopefully holds fans over until a true sequel comes along.
The Ace Combat: Infinity beta will be available worldwide from February 4-11 on the Playstation Network online store.