Ace Combat 5 continues to be excellent. While 4 was an excellent game, well worth playing in its own right and featuring an interesting, unconventionally told story, I feel that 5's narrative and storytelling is a cut above.
I've just done the mission where
you have to sink the second submarine that carries the "burst missiles" superweapon.
Although challenging -- I got shot down more times in this mission than I think I did in my entire playthrough of Ace Combat 4 -- it was a particularly good example of Ace Combat doing what I've learned that Ace Combat does well: playing with your expectations, and making you think about what you're doing.
Of particular note was the introduction of the "Razgriz" legend prior to the mission's storyline -- the tale of a demon that lays waste to a war-torn land, whose "existence" (or at least the existence of the myth) is teased right from the very beginning of the game through the poetic quotes on the loading screens. I really enjoyed the gradual build-up of tension in that mission, beginning with
Chopper worrying that you're flying off to meet the Razgriz itself -- you're flying over the Razgriz Straits, after all -- and gradually, as you inflict more and more deadly damage on the enemy submarine, the panicking Yuktobanian forces come to regard you and your wingmen as the demon of legend.
It's a subversion of the treatment of Mobius One -- who is indisputably a hero -- in Ace Combat 4; here, you may be just as much of a badass fighter pilot as Mobius One was, but whether or not you're doing the "right thing" is much more questionable.
Ace Combat 5 is reminding me of two very different games for two very different reasons: firstly, the thought-provoking nature of the conflicts you find yourself embroiled in that I've discussed above reminds me very much of Nier, particularly on a second playthrough and beyond where
you are finally able to understand what the shadowy "enemy" figures are actually saying
, and consequently realise that you might not be quite as heroic as you previously thought you were. Although you can play Ace Combat 5 purely as an experience where you shoot down tons of planes -- there's even an Arcade mode to slake that particular thirst -- it's a lot more rewarding when you take a step back from what you're doing and realise that it's really making you think
about what you're doing.
Secondly, as Mr Connolly hinted above, the experience is actually reminding me somewhat of space sims like Freespace and its ilk. Not only are the mission briefings abstract and the overall story much more about the war itself than the individuals involved in it -- although Ace Combat 5's main narrative is a lot more "personal" than 4 was, the narrator's cutscenes aside -- but the variety of objectives is reminding me very much of flying through the inky blackness of space on patrol, escorting a vessel or attacking a capital ship. Indeed, there are numerous missions where it's a lot more than "fire and forget" when it comes to destroying things; already in Ace Combat 5 I've had to carefully fire missiles down tunnels, destroy submarines a piece at a time and escort damaged transports carefully through anti-aircraft fields. It's good stuff.
About halfway through now, I reckon.