8.8

AirForce Delta Strike review
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Summary:

Airforce Delta Strike, also known as Airforce Delta: Blue Wing Knights, is Konami's third foray into the flight combat genre. Ironically similar to the old Soviet war doctrine, Airforce Delta Strike pushes quantity over quality. It has more aircraft, more missions, more characters, and more radio chatter than any other game in its genre. The problem with AFDS, however, is the same as the problem with most Russian military hardware: It's a nice concept and looks good on paper, but it just doesn't stack up against the competition in a real fight.

Gameplay: 6/10
The first thing you'll notice about the gameplay in AFDS is that there is a lot of it. There are well over 100 aircraft to be unlocked, purchased, and flown during the story mode. Trying to ''collect 'em all'' is a big attraction of this game. There is also no shortage of things to blow up with all those fighters you've earned, with plenty of missions to play. You don't need to worry about being overwhelmed by choices for which plane to fly for a mission, however, because each character in the game has a certain selection of aircraft to fly, and some missions can only be done with certain characters. For example, Holst has the best ground attack planes, and Rick has the fastest jets available. Unlike the other Airforce Delta games, AFDS actually has a fair amount of special weapons in addition to generic all-purpose missiles, and the aircraft loadouts actually reflect their real-life counterparts to some extent. This isn't to say that you aren't toting 70 of those generic missiles on most fighters. However, it does mean that you get rockets instead of guided missiles on the P-38, while the F-117 has no gun but stores of laser-guided bombs. On the other hand, the armor and missile counts of many aircraft seem to have been assigned completely arbitrarily. I do like the fact that stealth actually does something useful for the player, unlike in Ace Combat. Additionally, each aircraft's air-to-air and air-to-ground ratings actually mean something: The effectiveness of their standard missiles against air and ground targets, respectively. While this is a good feature that adds to the flavor of each aircraft, it also means that you can't tell how many shots it will take to destroy certain enemies with certain planes.

There are three critical flaws in the gameplay, however. The first problem is the lackluster controls. I don't mean the button set-up; thankfully, that can be changed and remapped fully in the configuration menu. I'm talking about the handling of the aircraft, which is so unrealistic and frustrating that it often damages the entire game experience. Pull up on the stick to climb or bank, and afterwards your aircraft will ''level out'' (snap back down) part way as if you were on a rubber band. Push down on the stick and you're lucky if you're plane budges at all at some airspeeds. Don't even bother with your rudders; they're not analog enabled, and they too will bounce you back to your original heading as soon as you release them. The one saving grace of the controls is that the throttle stays where you put it, so you don't have to worry about wearing out a button trying to maintain full afterburner. The lackluster controls would be forgivable if the entire game was fast-paced dogfighting in the open skies, but with all the precision flying you are forced to do, the game can be a nightmare to play at times.

This brings up the second and biggest problem, which is the missions themselves. While there is a small amount of variety in the beginning, you will be quickly wishing for some good old dogfighting and bombing missions (which are almost completely absent, unless you count the occasional Standby or Intercept missions). Half of the story missions require flying your plane through a tiny enclosed space, usually while being shot at constantly, unable to defend. This includes subway tunnels, underground bases, narrow canyons with giant fans, space elevators (straight up), and even the barrel of a giant railgun (while it's firing). If the mission briefing mentions some structure bigger than a breadbox, chances are you will be flying through it, even if you aren't explicitly told to do so. With the smooth, responsive controls of Ace Combat or Energy Airforce, this would be less of a problem, but AFDS's controls are curse-word inducing in these missions. The other half of the missions involve escorting or defending large, slow-moving, defenseless objects that are under attack by more enemy craft than you have missiles. This sort of mission is especially flabbergasting in outer space, where you can't tell what direction you are facing and thus cannot get a bearing on your targets. Getting shot down is a rarity in this game compared to all the times you will crash into walls or fail to protect your incompetent allies. Even the few more unique missions are poorly designed, such as the lone recon mission. Even though you're given the YF-12 (rated at mach 3+), you need to fly at about 100 knots and within 5000 feet of your targets in order to scan them. Whose bright idea was this?

The final flaw is the lack of any multiplayer mode, even a simple splitscreen dogfight. This is an absolute shame. It's like having a party-fighter with the cast of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, or a FPS with the biggest selection of guns ever, and not being able to play against your friends in them. Let's face it, everyone has a favorite plane or ten in this game; what would be better than to pit your favorites against a friend's? Konami missed out on a great opportunity here, and I would have easily increased the game's final score by a point or more if it only had some multiplayer capability.

Story: 7/10
Most combat flight games don't have much of a story to them, so Airforce Delta Strike gets points for effort and originality. The premise is pretty absurd, but then again it's just a video game. Apparently, the game takes place far enough into the future to have an alliance of space colonies get together and attack Earth. That would make the jet fighters your pilots fly hundreds of years old at the very least! Suddenly the character Jamie's fetish for WWII prop-driven aircraft seems a bit less ridiculous. Or even more ridiculous. Maybe both. Anyway, you take the role of a pilot in a group of ragtag misfits called Delta Squadron who are helping defend the Earth from the bad guys from outer space who have vastly superior technology. Most of the conflict takes place on a fictional land mass using a limited strategic element. You can choose which missions to take, or at least the order in which you take them, and move around the map from airbase to airbase. You can also talk to the different characters in your free time, though this doesn't seem to affect the story much. Your campaign will lead you across the continent and eventually into outer space. The story does branch at certain points, depending on what you do during the missions, so a replay or two is almost required for the full experience. The characters themselves are a little grating, and come across as unprofessional, disorganized miscreants. (Going back to my opening metaphor, the current Russian military has been described the same way...) They are also quite stereotypical; you've got the tortured soul maverick, the cold-blooded ace, the optimistic rookie, and so on. Appearance-wise, almost all of the characters are either steroid-users or supermodels, complete with skin-tight flight suits. The enemy pilots, who you overhear in the endless radio chatter and certain cutscenes, have no real personality in comparison. If you come to like any of the characters, it will most likely be due to their selection of aircraft. All in all, the story is fairly average, but it does add to the game in a positive way.

Graphics: 7/10
Graphically speaking, Airforce Delta Strike gets the job done, but it is still noticeably inferior to Ace Combat in most respects. The aircraft models are well-done, complete with moving control surfaces, roaring afterburners, and weapons bays. I applaud Konami's effort to make such an incredible number of accurate models in the first place. Unfortunately, the texturing for these aircraft is sometimes just plain hideous. The combination of clashing pastel paintjobs with oversized, awkwardly placed squadron markings just does not work on most planes. Does anyone really want to fly a pink Strike Eagle? Fortunately, you can buy additional paint jobs for your craft, some of which resemble paint schemes of the real life aircraft. These look significantly better, though still not quite photorealistic. The non-aircraft enemy units could be categorized as ''wacky'' or even ''zany,'' and not in a benign way. I'm talking about giant wheels with guns on them, carriers disguised as icebergs, jumping crab robots, Gundam rip-offs, and all sorts of weird space ships. The giant wheels and such look as good as one could expect them to be, but the problem lies in the designs themselves. The backgrounds have little saving grace. The ground looks more detailed when you're flying extremely low than in AC04, but there is not much to look at, as a lot of the landscape is quite drab. The sky in many levels is a murky brownish yellow which is not very pleasant to look at, but maybe Konami is trying to make a statement about pollution. There is noticeable pop-up in some areas as well, which can make things difficult when your target occasionally disappears off your screen. One nice feature is the aircraft viewer, where you can look at all the aircraft you have obtained, rotate them around freely, and fire their weapons. Also included in the aircraft viewer are pages and pages of text telling the history of each aircraft. This feature has nothing to do with the graphics or any reviewable category, but as a military aviation fan, I really appreciate extras like this.

Sound: 8/10
The sound is one of the game's strong points in several ways. The music is decent, with the expected hard rock scores and a catchy main theme. The sound effects are very good as well. I like the old-school anime/cartoon explosion sounds, and including the unique sound for the A-10's Avenger cannon is a nice touch. Last and possibly least, we come to the voice acting. It's not bad at all in and of itself, but it doesn't really add to the gameplay experience as much as it could have. Voice acting is most prominent in the radio chatter and mission briefings, and both parts of the game share the same problem: There is way too much of it, and hardly any of it is helpful in any way. The briefings mostly consist of the witless banter between among your pilots and superior officers as they explain absolutely nothing useful to you. The radio chatter is often banal or even childish, and fails to add anything to the story as it does in Ace Combat. Prepare yourself for some less-than-professional dialogue, including, ''You're a buttwipe, and you're going down,'' ''Receive my deathblow,'' and my favorite by an enemy pilot, ''Charge!'' However, you are often forced to listen for the elusive, subtle hints that will be your keys to finishing a mission. Most often this hint will be something like, ''by the way, be careful flying inside the 1-meter wide crawlspace,'' or ''don't let the enemy battlefleet get near our cardboard sailboat.'' What's even worse is that the radio chatter is present in the replays as well, and can't be turned off.

Play time/Replay Value: 9/10
This game is fairly long compared to others in its genre. There are supposedly about 60 missions total, but not all of these can be accessed in a single playthrough. The missions themselves vary in length, with none running much longer than 20 minutes. But, you will undoubtedly have to restart quite a few times on some of them, as explained above. There are also a few subtle story branches, multiple endings, and planes that can only be unlocked by beating the game with certain characters, or beating the game with all of them. Obviously, Airforce Delta Storm has the potential for tremendous replay value. In fact, replaying is practically required. Again, however, that potential is diminished by the tedium and frustration of many of the missions. Sure, I want to go through the game again, complete my collection of aircraft, and see one of the other endings, but not at the expense of my patience or sanity as I fly through a crowded tunnel with lasers shooting me only to have perpetually opening and closing doors crush my poor plane. Fortunately, there is a Free Mission mode that lets you fly any aircraft in any mission, so you can simply go back to enjoy the stages that are actually enjoyable.

Fun Factor: 7/10
The game is a mixed bag of fun and frustration. The sheer variety of planes and weapons is unquestionably the game's strong point, and collecting them can be fun in and of itself. Finally getting a chance to fly your favorite aircraft is also fun, even if it's not a very realistic representation. I'm sure that a number of aviation fans have looked through the huge list of flyable aircraft and blurted out, ''Holy crap, they have the [insert some obscure fighter here]. I gotta get this game.'' I know I did. However, as I am sure anyone can gather from the rest of this review, the majority of the missions are the polar opposite of fun. Any satisfaction you might have gleaned from actually finishing one of these stupefying stages is numbed by the spite you will have built up for the game.

Overall: 7
Airforce Delta Strike is not a bad game; at its core it is a good game that was poorly executed, and the end result is thus pretty average. Like many Russian military aircraft, the idea was solid and the design was promising, but thanks to the less-than-stellar workmanship, it simply couldn't deliver what was promised or expected. To be frank, there are better flight combat games out there, and if you're interested in this game you probably own one of them. That said, Airforce Delta Strike's unique features, mainly the massive number of aircraft not flyable on any other console game, make it worth a look. Aviation fans will obviously enjoy it most, but casual action gamers might want to rent it before committing.

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