Flight combat games have been somewhat lacking during this console generation. Yes, we got Ace Combat 6 for the Xbox 360 and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. for both the PlayStation 3 and the 360… but those have been the most notable in an otherwise unremarkable few titles that represent the genre.
Until now, that is.
Afterburner Climax is a conversion of a SEGA arcade game that loses almost nothing in its trip from the arcade to the home. There are no in-depth stories and no characters to identify with here; it’s you, your plane, and swarms of enemies out to shoot you down and sign those checks that your body can’t cash. The game itself is rather short and may seem limited, but unlockable medals and options and an ever-changing leaderboard add enough replay value to justify the $10 asking price. While fans of the classic SEGA arcade game (and SEGA Genesis sequel) likely won’t need any additional motivation to buy Climax, gamers that are new to the series will also have plenty to be impressed with here.
Unlike Ace Combat 6 or H.A.W.X., Afterburner Climax is purposely fast and extremely busy. Dogfighting isn’t the idea behind this game; it’s more of a rail shooter. That means that there are plenty of targets to take down including jets, choppers, SAMs, flak guns, and more. Most of the action comes at you, so you must be quick on the trigger in order to shoot the enemies down before they do the same to you. As you lock on to enemies, you can fire salvos of missiles to blast them from the skies or to incinerate ground targets. In addition, large groups of enemies can be locked onto at once by activating Climax Mode, which dramatically increases the missile lock reticle and can help to eliminate mass threats with extreme prejudice. This mode can only be used sparingly and must be recharged over time once it’s deployed. Defensively, having missiles fired directly at you means that deft maneuvering is required to avoid getting killed out there in the unfriendly skies. Virtual pilots have to ability to roll their craft (by moving either left or right and then steering hard in the opposite direction) and can speed up or slow down in brief bursts as needed. Some stages also demand precision steering to avoid collisions with the environment.
Afterburner Climax has multiple modes of play. Arcade Mode is exactly what it sounds like, as players attempt to clear all of the stages of the game just like in the arcade. This mode has limited continues, but the difficulty level can be tweaked to suit the player’s level of experience. As progress is made in the Arcade Mode, special customization options open up. These EX Options become unlocked as various milestones are established; for example, getting the Game Over screen enough times allows you to set the number of continues– or available credits– higher. Other EX Options include the ability to have your machine guns fire automatically and for your craft to travel at its fastest rate of speed at all times. Unlocking and then adjusting these options can make the Arcade Mode an entirely different experience than when you first play it, and the game’s branching pathways make for a unique experience for the first few playthroughs.
These EX Options, however, have no bearing on the other mode of play in Afterburner Climax: the Score Attack Mode. Score Attack has a preset difficulty and unlimited lives, so unless you give up, you will beat the game every time. Beating the game isn’t the goal of Score Attack, though. It’s all about getting the highest score possible and earning bragging rights via the worldwide leaderboard. Although there are infinite lives here, Score Attack is far from easy. Extra objectives, known as Emergency Orders, must be completed to earn the highest scores, and these are not easy at all to achieve. One such mission has you trying to shoot down a speedy enemy prototype plane before it escapes, while another requires you to shoot down a fleeing stealth bomber using nothing but your guns. Figuring out which of the branching pathways can lead to higher scores is also a key element in charting well, meaning that a few runs in Score Attack are necessary to achieve the best results. Depending on how you fare, different medals can be won and added to your collection. This criteria includes how well you are graded afer each stage, how many enemies are shot down, how much you use Climax Mode, and so on.
Visually, Afterburner Climax is quite impressive– especially for a downloadable title. The game’s framerate is a solid 60 frames per second, and that’s in spite of multiple planes, missiles, and various particle effects that are all on-screen at the same time. Driving rainstorms, volcanic areas, enemy bases, and nighttime skies over a bustling city are just a few of the theaters of operation that you’ll be flying in.The explosions are violently beautiful to behold, and details such as missile trails and damaged planes are easy to miss while playing but will catch the eye of even the most casual observer. In the sound department, pilot chatter and the concussive sounds of explosions and ammunition are accompanied by one of two soundtracks which includes a remix of the Afterburner II OST.
There’s a lot to like about Afterburner Climax. It is the arcade game, minus the interactive cabinet with moving parts. Playing through the game is a thrill ride, and setting new high scores in Score Attack is a notable accomplishment. The game also has a fair number of Achievements / Trophies to unlock, and range from easy (such as pulling off your first roll) to hard (ranking AAA in Arcade Mode). Don’t be deceived by the relatively short length of the game during a playthrough; it’s repeated play and improving skills that unlock some of the game’s cooler features and customizations, and that leads to even more replay value. Following hot on the heels of Capcom’s Final Fight: Double Impact offering, Afterburner Climax successfully brings the arcade home once again, with no quarters or tokens required other than the $10 cover charge.