The popularity of flight combat simulators seems to be decreasing despite the potential for action the game genre offers. A number of games revolved around the idea of space ships or fighter planes that would do battle with numerous enemies. These games went from side scrolling and vertical scrolling games to games with three-dimensional combat. Games like Freespace, Starlancer, Freelancer, Rogue Squadron, Ace Combat, Strike Suit Zero, Hawx, and many more are all flight combat simulators. These games do well enough in their own right, but people will generally pick the first person shooter before the flight combat sim. So, I want to just explain the awesomeness that is the flight combat simulator genre, and how they seem to be trying to branch out into new gimmicks to help them stay afloat. I’m going to try to focus on two games for this blog post Ace Combat Assault Horizon, and Strike Suit Zero.
I think most can agree that there is a level of intensity that comes with flight combat simulators. You can be attacked from any angle at high speeds without seeing your enemy coming. There is a special feeling, which cannot be recreated with other games, when someone is playing a flight combat simulator. It’s just such an open area where battle is raging all around you with other jets or ships fighting. Seeing those lines of jet exhaust or propulsion systems just kind of helps show the beautiful ballet that is a flight combat sim. It’s also a ballet in a way because you need to stay on your toes! There are even some aspects of popular first person shooters that are coming into flight combat simulators. Now, to help this blog along I’m going to give you some examples, and I think I will start with Strike Suit Zero.
This is me in the Blade Bomber attacking an enemy Cruiser. It’s kind of like going up against a tank that has more guns and flies and can only be taken down by torpedoes and… Okay I’m done.
The game Strike Suit Zero came out this January at the low price of $20.00. It involves quite a bit of action for a low price, and it also includes something that you do not see in flight combat simulators. A fighter you get has the ability to transform. This fighter is the Strike Suit Zero so it is the main fighter/focus of the game. You are the only one that has it, but to use it you have to wait for this red bar to charge up so you can transform and then use missiles reminiscent of Macross as well as shotgun blaster things. So, instead of the standard space fighter you’re given this advanced transforming mech to help you fight your battles. In a way this is adding something on top of the standard flight combat sim to help make this game cooler. I think it definitely succeeds in doing this without seeming too gimmicky, but it’s unfortunate that flight combat sims feel like they’re straying too far from what they were. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is a prime example of this.
A popular aspect of shooters these days is the red lining of the screen to indicate damage. If you look at the back of the Ace Combat: Assault Horizon box it reads, “Make Metal Bleed.” Indeed you do make metal bleed in a sense. When you destroy an enemy fighter you sometimes see them not just explode but bleeding oil and fuel as they tumble to their doom. Now, you can either observe this by turning your camera to see it, but sometimes they will actually zoom in on your kill to show you how awesome the destruction is. This is different than most flight combat sims because they actually show you a few things that you don’t normally see. First, there’s the “blood” of the aircraft, the oil and fuel. Then, there’s the plane itself ripping apart from too much damage. The player can see the nose break away and the wings come off. Finally, you can actually see the enemy pilot flying out of their cockpit as their jet burns. Is there a parachute along with this enemy pilot? No, not very likely, and I have actually never seen the pilot have a successful chute deployment. Another aspect of dogfighting that has changed for this game is the ability to enter a special mode that makes following the enemy plane easier, or helps the pilot make an effective airstrike against ground targets. Not all planes are capable of these, and here is an example of an A-10 commencing an airstrike on an enemy aircraft carrier.
You will notice the red ring that is presented around the target carrier. This is a system that makes airstrikes much easier by giving the pilot a set course rather than them having to figure out an angle of attack on their own. This actually makes the game easier for those that do not often play flight combat sims, but it also takes away a certain level of difficulty from the dogfighting or airstrikes. There is also a healing system for your plane to recover from damage it has received. In all Ace Combat games previous to this one it has been a damage percentage to scale the life of your aircraft. Once at 100% damage or once at 0% sustainability your aircraft is destroyed. So, this game is becoming kind of like a shooter/flight combat sim combined into one game. They’re taking things from other genres and putting them in others to help make the games more appealing to some. There are things like the jet mission in Battlefield 3, or the AC-130 missions in Modern Warfare. These aspects of games are being brought over and traded for others that somewhat dilutes the experience in a sense.
Ultimately my question is whether or not this cross genre feature picking is good for games, or is it hurting the core genres that people have come to love? What do you think? Talk to me, Goose, talk to me…
Note: Strike Suit Zero pictures were taken by me, but the Ace Combat: Assault Horizon pictures came from Steam.