It’s funny timing that Top Gun was released today, given the fact that the H.A.W.X. 2 demo also went live at the same time on the PlayStation Store. It’s funny because H.A.W.X. 2 seems to “borrow” elements from Top Gun for the NES, as I mentioned earlier today… and now we get a brand new Top Gun game to play and discuss. Unfortunately, problems rear their ugly heads with this effort from the development at from DoubleSix, and $15 will feel like too much not long after you take your first F-14 hop.
If you did play either the original H.A.W.X. or today’s demo of H.A.W.X. 2, you’re going to know almost exactly how to play Top Gun. The left stick rolls and banks your craft while the L1 and R1 buttons control yaw for more intricate and precise turns. Missiles are fired with the square button and your guns are fired with the X button. There’s also an option to pilot the plane from a distance, much like the Assistance Off mode in H.A.W.X., by pressing the circle button. Unlike H.A.W.X., your planes don’t stall and the controls are a bit more forgiving… but they’re also incredibly sensitive. Since you cannot stall, your minimum speed is still quite fast, leading to many instances of speeding past ground targets before you can lock onto and fire upon them. Everything about the controls feel fast, and when it comes to ground assaults, this becomes problematic quickly.
Single-player modes consist of a Campaign and a Horde mode. The single-player Campaign basically puts players in the uniform of Lieutenant Pete Mitchell, also known by his familiar call sign, Maverick. Maverick’s tale starts out on a hairy note over the Indian Ocean, where he and his fellow pilots fall under attack by Soviet forces led by their notorious ace called Ivan. Maverick and his RIO, Goose, are then shipped off to the Top Gun academy to sharpen their skills. If this sounds familiar to you, it should… as the first half of the campaign essentially follows the movie. The general plot is glossed over, though. While you do share the skies with Jester and Viper, other important instances such as Maverick’s in-air accident and Goose’s subsequent demise are merely glossed over and explained away by dialogue that’s supplied by voice actors who seem to be bored. The second half of the Campaign follows Maverick and Iceman into the combat again a Soviet fleet or warships and planes, culminating in the final battle with Ivan. There are a few movie references in the second half, too, but the voice acting again kills a lot of the movie’s influence.
As with most flight combat games, players deal with enemies both on the ground and in the air. Air combat is the better of the two, although it’s a tad easy to be overwhelmed by missiles and targeting enemies feels like it’s inconsistent and takes too long. The game tries to change things up by adding jamming devices, which disable missile locks and necessitate the use of guns to take out targets. This obviously alters your target priorities, but taking out these jammers on the ground is far more difficult than it should be due to the aforementioned oversensitive controls. Later missions introduce bombers with on-board jammers (which remind me of E-767 places from the Ace Combat games), and these require the player to take out each of four engines with guns only. Aside from these differences, Top Gun‘s combat is standard stuff for flight combat games; SU-27 and MiG-31 planes attempt to splash your plane in the air while SAMs and AA guns try to do the same from the ground. It’s familiar stuff, but this isn’t necessarily bad.
Multiplayer play is tough to judge. Each time I tried to play with others, the connection was lost. From what I was able to experience from the Deathmatch rounds I got into, online dogfighting was fun. There’s an odd “warmup” period before each match, so kills don’t count… but scores are active, it’s fun. Playing against other human players means that predicting flight paths is much more difficult and that missile locks don’t guarantee kills.
Visually, Top Gun is average. Generic landscapes and ocean settings house each mission, and the action moves along at 30 frames per second. The planes aren’t all that detailed, and there are instances of texture glitches and tearing from time to time. Cutscenes for the game are basically shots of your aircraft from different angles while unmoving faces in small boxes recite lines of dialog. In terms of sound, expect lots of phoned-in voice acting and poor-to-average covers of familiar themes from the Top Gun film mixed in with some generic guitar riffs. It’s unfortunate that the voice acting couldn’t be pulled from the film, considering that all of the other licenses are intact. The same complaint applies to the music; how can Danger Zone and the Top Gun Anthem be included, but not by the original artists? If the game is based strongly on the film, and Paramount itself is listed as the game’s publisher, why are the film’s assets being substituted for? These are very odd aesthetic decisions.
It’s unfortunate that Top Gun has seen multiple games spawned from the original film, and yet we still don’t have a game that pays the ultimate compliment to the movie. In no way is Top Gun a terrible game, but it’s not all that remarkable, either. It plays like a dumbed-down version of H.A.W.X., and that game is available as a full retail release for slightly more than this 240MB download gives for $15. $10 likely would be a sweeter price point for this title, and it just begs for in-movie assets… cutscenes, sound clips, and real music. If you’re jonesing for a flight combat game, try H.A.W.X. for now… and keep an eye to the virtual skies for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon when it appears on radar next year.
Final Grade: C-
It’s not all that common for two fairly high-profile demos to be available on the same day, but that’s exactly what we got with today’s simultaneous releases of the NHL 11 and H.A.W.X. 2 demos today via Xbox LIVE.
While it’s easy to generalize that EA’s sports games are mere roster updates every year, NHL 11 is much more than that. In-game, there’s a new faceoff system, bigger hit and hip checks, a better sense of momentum for players on the ice, and tweaks to the presentation that bring the game closer to a television broadcast than ever before. Transitions between breaks in gameplay are now augmented by pertinent stat overlays and better-looking replays of action that occurred on the ice just prior to the play stoppage. Broken sticks occur and players have to decide whether to stay on the ice to try and defend or to quickly skate back to the bench for a stick swap and leave their team briefly shorthanded. Hit animations are better than they’ve ever been. Goal scoring celebrations spotlight the scoring player and the home crowd reacts loudly to each player’s name as they’re read by the (new) PA announcer. Crowd interaction doesn’t stop there, either. Big hits on the ice by the home team bring huge swells from the crowd; the ambient atmosphere has rarely– if ever– been better.
The NHL 11 demo allows players to either play the final period of the deciding game of the Stanley Cup Final between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks in Battle For The Cup or grants players a chance to check out one of the game’s big additions: Hockey Ultimate Team. Battle For The Cup, as it did last year, really accentuates the emotion and excitement of the Stanley Cup playoffs without having to play through a full season to get there. It’s instant gratification (of sorts), but really lets players see, feel, and experience a playoff atmosphere and that do-or-die feeling. Winning the Cup in the demo lets players in on a rather impressive Stanley Cup celebration, complete with player handshakes, emotional moments, and a team picture for the ages.
Hockey Ultimate Team combines elements of fantasy hockey, a trading card game, and NHL 11 gameplay into a pretty addicting package that looks to keep players into NHL 11 for a long time. Players get an initial deck that contains player cards, training cards, contract cards, and head coach cards. Player cards are individually assigned to positions, filling all of the lines that you would if you were playing an actual game. You’ll need to set up scoring lines, defensive pairings, special team lines for power plays and penalty kills, and more. Since NHL 11 has rosters for the NHL, AHL, and now the Canadian Hockey League, you’ll have a wider selection of player cards… but, at least at first, not all of them are going to be superstars. Line chemistry also comes into play, so expect to do lots of mixing and matching of lines– even in the demo– to tweak your team as much as possible. Training cards can be added to player cards to make them perform better, and contract cards extend the number of games that a player card can be used before the player “retires”. Once your team is set, you participate in tournaments and the results are decided on the ice and your team comes to life and you play actual games with your players and lineups. As you play, you earn “pucks”, which are the equivalent of Madden 11‘s coins. These pucks can be used to buy booster packs for your card deck as well as to buy cards at auction to improve your team. The demo gives players a chance to unlock a special deck upon release if they share the demo with friends on their XBL friends list, which is a nice plus.
The retail version of NHL 11 arrives in a few short weeks, and if the demo is any indication, it has the potential of being the best hockey game that we’ve seen in years.
The H.A.W.X. 2 demo isn’t nearly as positive an experience. The first level of the demo puts you in a plane flying with the Russian military as they attempt to quell a strengthening uprising that threatens the security of the entire country. After some setup, your squadron is ambushed by the insurgents and a battle begins. The good news is that the decent dogfighting from the first game seems to be just as good here. It’s fairly exciting, and some enemies are smart enough to use their own flares and chaff to throw off your missile locks and make missile engagement tough. Sometimes, it feels a little too tough as your plane can’t always seem to get close enough for gun combat and it feels more like a chase than a dogfight… but at least it’s a moderate change of pace from the usual lock-fire-cycle target routine.
After the dogfight ends, a refueling sequence begins shortly thereafter. This is a decent idea, in theory, but the execution is all wrong. Much like in the first H.A.W.X. game, a Superman 64-like ring-flying sequence is initiated in order for you to take the “most efficient path” to the refueling plane… but the catch is that you only have 5 minutes to fly close enough to initiate the sequence, fly through the rings without making too many mistakes, then fly at a limited speed towards the refueling plane and try to dock with it. The first problem is that the ring-flying sequence is just broken here. In order to complete the refueling exercise in the allotted time, you literally have to fly through the rings with your afterburners on… and the trajectory is far from straight. Missing too any rings in a row prompts failure. If you get through that sequence, your speed is then curtailed as you have to “gradually” increase your speed to approach the refueling plane. That would be fine if time wasn’t ticking down from, say, less than a minute to go. Complicating matters is the fuel nozzle, which you have to line up with properly in order to initiate the refueling sequence. Simply put, this refueling sequence makes the frustrating one from Top Gun on the NES seem like child’s play; it’s unnecessary and should have a prompt for auto-refuel in order to maintain the pace of the game. It’s a game-breaker… and not in a good way.
The second stage puts you behind the stick of a stealth bomber in Africa as you are required to bomb a series of strategic targets from 15,000 feet. Players must activate night vision (which is a decent touch) and then take off manually. Once you reach the first waypoint, you’re given your first set of targets. After ascending to 15,000 feet, you switch to Precision mode and drop bombs on set targets from a different perspective. This sequence is a break from the norm and executes pretty well. Once those targets are dispatched, enemy helicopters must be shot down below 15,000 feet, opening your craft up to anti-aircraft and missile fire from the ground below. Bombing select targets at an airfield is your last objective before you’re instructed to return to the carrier… and land your plane.
Yes. In another scenario culled right from Konami’s Top Gun, you have to land your plane. This involves yet another round of flying through rings, as well as skillful throttle control, lowering your landing gear, and landing at the correct angle and speed. Flying through the rings is the toughest part, but not having to fly against the clock makes landing a bit easier than refueling. Once you land, the demo ends.
H.A.W.X. 2 is due to arrive around the same time as NHL 11: September 7th. It’s selling for $10 less than a standard new game, which is a plus, and the dogfighting certainly seems as good as the first game. With the addition of difficult refueling and landing sequences, however, it remains to be seen whether H.A.W.X. 2 can be a great follow-up to a game that surprised a few people last year.