Top Gun: Combat Zones
From Titus Software, a fast-paced arcade air combat game.
One year after the console’s launch, all the Ps2 owners in search of a solid flight simulator for their console are finally getting more than an interesting title. Titus enters the genre with a title developed by their subsidiary Digital Integration. This software house is behind many refined flight simulators for PC like Apache (I’ve really loved this one on my cute little 486) and iF-16. The game carries the official license for Paramount's motion picture. With these premises, TopGun: Combat Zone surely is a game with a big potential.
There is no need to say that Namco’s Ace Combat 4 will be the direct opponent of every flight simulator coming out on Ps2 for a long period. Anyhow, Digital Integration has created a game that is completely different from the Japanese flight simulator.
First of all, Top Gun: Combat Zones is much more faster than Ace Combat 4. The developers have created a graphic engine and a game structure that is clearly oriented to convey a strong arcade gaming experience. For this reason, you’ll need no more than a few seconds to fully understand the control system of this game. The left analog stick is used to pitch and roll, while the right analog stick allows you to change the camera view – a feature that really helps during the game. By pressing the right stick (that’s what is called R3 button) you can have a rear-view mirror, that is surely the one you’ll use most of the time playing this game. In a cool option menu you can choose among 4 different controller configurations for the other buttons. I’ve found myself extremely comfortable with the default one where L2 and R2 are used to rudder, L1 is the brake button and R1 is used to throttle. X and Square are fire buttons for primary and secondary weapons, while the circle button is used to cycle your weapons. The triangle button is used to cycle target.
The game makes a wonderful use of Dual Shock 2’s analog buttons. The throttle and rudder buttons are finely sensitive to the pressure. After a few mission you’ll be able to perform fine manoeuvres just playing a bit with these buttons. Then, there are many moves that you can use in desperate situations to escape your enemy or avoid an attack. If you have seen at least once Top Gun, you should have an idea. First of all, with a full press on the throttle button the Afterburner is activated. Then, clicking the Left analog stick in, you activate a series of manoeuvres that are probably the most exciting feature of this game. Performing a jink or an half roll has never been so intuitive in an air combat simulator. The fans of the movie will simply love these moves.
In Top Gun: Combat Zones there are two main game modes. The “Game” mode is what could be considered a career mode. While in Ace Combat 4 there was an interesting story narrated with skill, in this game there isn’t a story. Basically, you have to complete with success 36 missions grouped in three different Eras. At the beginning of the game you are in the first Era with your mighty F-14 and you have to play through five academy missions. Then, the real fun starts.
Once again, this is an arcade game and not a simulation game. For this reason each mission is timed and you have to accomplish all of your goals before the time ends. But what’s really important is to attain high scores – just like it happens in any arcade game. There are many ways to reach high scores. While you are playing the game, the score is constantly increasing as the time passes. Anyhow, if you perform special manoeuvres the score increases more rapidly. For example, if you fly at a low altitude, close to the ground, you’ll get more points. If at the end of a mission you have a good score, you can earn a bronze, silver or gold star. There are five bonus planes (F-4, JSF, YF-23, Osprey, Harrier) in the game that can be unlocked only getting these medals on all missions or reaching certain goals. Other two planes – F-18 and F-22 – are unlocked respectively when you start the second and the third Era.
The other game mode is called Quickstart. As you succeed in certain missions in the Game mode, many options for the Quickstart mode are unlocked. As the name says, the Quickstart mode is the one to choose if you just want to fly around the terrains of the game and have some fight.
In Top Gun: Combat Zones there are many flaws that become evident after you have played a few missions. First of all, the map and the heading bar displayed in the lower part of the screen doesn’t help you too much in locating your enemies. Basically, the radar is a map that shows the horizontal position of the enemies relative to the player. The heading bar should help you to figure out their vertical position (if they are below or above your plane). I’ve played the game for about ten hours, and I am still not able to make good use of this system. Besides, If you are not used to arcade games, the lack of a story and the nonexistent presentation could prevent you to keep on playing the game for more than a few missions.
Anyhow, arcade enthusiasts will probably prefer the gameplay of Top Gun: Combat Zones over the one of Ace Combat 4. The control scheme is flawless, the missions are varied, the action is extraordinarily fast-paced. Good.