Very few retro flight combat sims are worth revisiting in this day and age. Does Aces of the Air deserve to be a member of this select few? Let's don our flight suits and take this simulator to the skies to see if it can withstand the heat of battle.
There is absolutely no story to be found in Aces of the Air. I think the second mission's title sums it up well by saying, "Destroy Enemies". Visually, there isn't much to offer. You'll mainly look at the back of your plane while being surrounded by a blue backdrop and a generically textured surface that pops in as it passes underneath. Although you'll combat in environments such as over sea, desert, and plains, they are sufficiently underwhelming for you to not even notice a difference. A significant problem comes in the form of not enough on-screen information. Apparently, you get a game over when your plane is crushed or shot down, but you can get shot a lot before you actually crash. There is no health bar or anything of the sort, so it's always a surprise whenever you get a game over. Also, knowing where your targets are is difficult with only arrows indicating which direction they're in as you may be constantly flying in circles without ever realising that you're doing so in tandem with them. The only solution is to pause in order to view the mission map. On a positive note, the orchestral soundtrack actually makes the game more enjoyable as it adds a cinematic quality to your otherwise bland flying adventure.
Aces of the Air is played by piloting a plane to shoot and bomb targets across a variety of missions. You can control your plane in either easy or expert mode. Easy mode allows you to steer in four directions while expert mode adds the complexity of being able to roll. Keep in mind that it's called expert mode for a reason since it makes controlling your plane incredibly difficult. It seems to go all over the place and as you try to get your bearings, your stomach will twist and turn along with your plane. Anyway, you shoot enemies with rapidly firing guns while another button launches rockets and bombs. By holding triangle, you enter bombing mode which is an overhead view that allows you to drop bombs on ground targets. You'll probably find this to be the most fun part of the game. A few seconds after you unleash a bomb, the camera pans to where the bomb landed and it's super-satisfying to see that it blew up what you were aiming for.
Now that you know the basics, let's discuss some gameplay problems. You'll be annoyed right off the bat by how sluggish your plane moves. Making quick turns is not an option. Instead, you're forced to gradually turn as your targets tauntingly move out of range. Next, aiming is a nightmare for two reasons. The first is that, although you have an aiming reticle, every bullet seems to pass way above what you're aiming at. This may just be a graphical error, but it'll surely make you feel like your aim is completely off. Secondly, being able to aim requires you to constantly tap where you want to shoot because if you push in a direction too much, your plane will rotate significantly. Also, the reticle automatically snaps back to the center so you can only tap in the direction of your target and hope that some shots hit it while the reticle moves back and forth. Finally, there is a lock-on button but I can't figure out how it works. You can hold it or tap it while a target is centered and nothing happens. The reticle just flashes. It could be doing something, but whatever it's doing is a mystery.
The entirety of Aces of the Air is comprised of ten short missions. You can finish them in one sitting if you have the patience to overcome the aggravating controls, although you may have a hard time battling the last boss. As you progress, you'll unlock nine planes that each appear distinct and have their own attributes. You can also select two colours to paint them if you want. After completing the game, you unlock free mission mode where you can select missions and earn high scores. What else can I say? That's all there is to it.
Aces of the Air will turn gamers' faces to despair with its awful controls and brief pointless campaign. However, if the idea of dropping bombs while listening to orchestral music intrigues you, you may get a few kicks out of this retro flight combat sim.
- + Orchestral soundtrack adds some enjoyment
- + Bombing ground targets is satisfying
- - Planes maneuver sluggishly and aiming is extremely awkward
- - Not enough on-screen information
- - Only consists of 10 short missions