Reviewed: June 19, 2008
Released: June 4, 2008
If you just can’t get enough of those gorgeous space shooters then Aces of the Galaxy is the game for you. While not nearly as intricate or complicated as Project Sylpheed published by Square Enix last year, Aces of the Galaxy offers a non-stop, old-school shooter experience with truly breathtaking visuals. Artech Studios even managed to work in a story to bookend the missions, and even though we are once again fighting to save the human race, this time it appears we have started the war.
Despite some misleading artwork in the comic-style cutscene panels Aces of the Galaxy is a serious shooter that will challenge even the most experienced gamers. It doesn’t quite reach the levels of Ikaruga, but it comes close and it looks a million times better.
Aces plays out in a large 3D environment giving you the illusion of a free roaming shooter, yet you find yourself confined to a rail system that guides your path through spaces, asteroid belts, nebulas, and gorgeous scenic space vistas that will literally distract you from the action as you try to take it all in. Even though your movement is limited you still have a bit of freedom to steer through rings, avoid floating rocks and debris, and even aim for the occasional power-up.
Throughout each mission you will encounter numerous types of enemy ships as you unleash your own brand of space justice in your own Omega ship. You have three ships to choose from, but they vary only in style. All three have the same controls and weapons; a chaingun, swarm missiles, and torpedoes, and these all respond exactly as you’d expect.
The chaingun is used to lay down a line of fire that causes minimal damage while the swarm missiles allow you to lock onto multiple targets by holding down the fire button and passing the aiming cursor over several enemies. Release the fire button and watch the fireworks. And finally, the dumb fire torpedo requires you to be pretty much at point blank range aiming at a non-moving target – great on capital ships. You have unlimited ammo for all weapons but there is a slightly rearming time for missiles and torpedoes.
The Omega fighter has a few other tricks up its sleeve. The left and right triggers allow you to dodge to either side to avoid enemies and obstacles. You can also slow down time briefly using the right bumper, giving you that added edge in targeting an elusive enemy or steering through a crowded asteroid belt.
One thing you may or may not enjoy is the chaingun, which does NOT offer continuous fire. You literally have to tap the A button for each and every bullet unless you are using a third-party controller that supports rapid fire. What seemed like a pain in my thumb at first actually made sense once you figure out the clever balance of weapons and the combo system the game uses. Your chain gun isn’t used that often, usually just for short bursts while your more powerful weapons are rearming. The mix of enemies, their ship size and their formation patterns demands that you vary the use of all three weapon types.
Another thing you probably won’t like is the hardcore presentation of the game. You get one life to finish the game. No saves, no continues, no mid-level checkpoints, and no unlocking stages so you can practice outside the main gameplay mode. I haven’t played anything this brutal since Bomberman: Act Zero. The pressure really builds up in the later levels, since all your hard work and progress can be obliterated with a single death.
Aces of the Galaxy spans several stages and there are three paths through each stage. If you obtained the warp power-up you will go to the star map and pick your destination in the next stage. Sadly, these destinations are purely cosmetic changes, and even though they help to break up the monotony of what could easily become a very repetitive shooter, it would have been nice to have varied gameplay in each type of path. Instead, you get normal space, fiery space, and ice space.
Despite the cosmetic changes offered in each of the three paths, the game does get boring about halfway through. The enemies all start to look alike and their attack patterns start to repeat and you unconsciously slip into autopilot mode, as your thumbs lay down swarm missiles while your mind balances the checkbook. Sadly, there aren’t even any bosses to look forward to at the end of each level. Sure, there are tougher ships at the end, but I wouldn’t call them bosses.
There is support for two-player co-op and Aces does a good job of scaling the difficulty to accommodate double the firepower. Personally, I found the two-player experience a bit cluttered. There was just too much going on and I always seemed to mix up my targeting sight with my wingman.
Aces of the Galaxy is simply breathtaking when it comes to the backdrops. I would have enjoyed a bit more variety, especially when taking a different path. Often, it seems that the game was using the same levels and just remapping the textures for fire or ice. Regardless, the game is a looker.
Ship designs are pretty clever, even if you seldom get close enough to appreciate them. The larger capital ships are impressive in scale and detail. The special effects are flashy and the explosions are awesome, making this game as fun to watch, as it is to play.
Aces offers 720p support which offers stunning details and crisp graphics while maintaining a smooth framerate amidst unspeaking carnage and flashy particle effects. And kudos to one of the most original ending credit sequences in gaming history. Taking a cue from the DOOM movie, each name in the credit appears on screen and you get to shoot it.
The Dolby Digital mix is put to fantastic use for a variety of sounds. Each of the weapons make their own distinctive sound, and yes, the chaingun will frazzle your nerves if you fire it for more than 10-20 seconds. The swarm missiles are probably my favorite effect. Explosions are thunderous – despite the fact there is no sound in space.
Don’t worry about any bad acting. You’ll be reading the comic-book style presentation of the story while listening to some smooth and catchy electronic themes that are perfectly suited to this genre. It’s a great mix of atmosphere and action that keeps the energy level high.
There are 12 achievements that will take weeks, or months, of dedicated gameplay. Some are easy, like getting to level 2, while others require you to finish the game without dying, earning 10 million points, or finishing the game on co-op. Grab and friend and get to work.
Yes, the game does wear thin after a few hours. There needs to be more variety in level design, cooler locations, maybe something planetside in the atmosphere. Hopefully, the leaderboards and challenging achievements will keep you coming back for future replays.
It would be easy to dismiss Aces of the Galaxy as more eye candy than game. It is a gorgeous game with high contrast levels, vivid colors, flashy effects, and smooth animation, but beneath the shiny exterior lies a challenging space shooter that will test your skills, reflexes, and with only one life to win it all…your patience.
If you are a fan of shooters and are tired of getting your butt stomped in Ikaruga, then give Aces of the Galaxy a try. The trial version is very indicative of the final game, so if you like what you play there, spring for the full copy and once again, save the human race.