The Ace Combat franchise generally has seen its jet combat supremacy unchallenged. Ubisoft changed this with its May 2009 release of Tom Clancy H.A.W.X. So it was time for change.
Ace Combat: Joint Assault for the Playstation Portable is the second game in the franchise that Namco has developed for the system. It is the first, however, to include real life locations. I got a chance to check out its single player campaign.
Joint Assault follows a pilot who goes by the name Antares and works for Martinez Security, a private military company. Mission one introduces you to Rigel squadron, a rag tag group of mercenaries lacking any moral backbone. They egg you on as you learn the controls. Mission two pits you against a giant airplane equipped with rows of AA flak guns and a giant main cannon pointed at Tokyo. Who could do such a nefarious thing? Valhalla, a group of Eastern European soldiers with no country to call home, are on a mission to establish their own nation. Oh, and they're backed by a shady international businessman. Martinez Security are called to action throughout the Middle East and Europe.
The gameplay of Joint Assault is more complex than you might expect on a PSP. Its normal controls map dive, climb, left and right turns to the analog nub. As I played, it dawned on me that something felt horribly wrong. I was unable to roll my plane, and instead was relegated to glorified yaw turns. I immediately located the expert control option and haven't gone back since. Expert controls uses the nub for pitch and roll, though yaw is uncomfortably mapped to the d-pad. The developers tried their best. Playing without easy access to yaw is not an issue.
You can expect to go up against legions of enemy jets, but the enemy roster also includes SAM sites, helicopters, tanks, and even giant cannons. A total of 44 planes were available in my preview copy. Each comes with at least two weapons, with additional purchasable weapons available. You can only start a mission with two weapons on any given plane. Standard missiles suffice in most situations. Planes can be customized with special parts like extra air brakes, enhanced avionic systems, and special armor.
Missions are split into substantial 10 to 20 minute skirmishes. Checkpoints are usually placed after every major objectives completion. On an average commute to Kotaku Tower East I was able to complete one or two missions on average granted I didn't fail repeatedly and no one asked me for change. All this creates perhaps not the best experience available on the PSP but a more than adequate PSP flight sim.
Ace Combat Joint Assault will be out for the PSP later this month.