Over G Fighters
10th Jan 2007 | 12:23
Aside from blasting off into space in the shuttle, life surely can't offer any greater adrenaline rush than smashing through the sound barrier with $35m of McDonnell Douglas F-15 Strike Eagle strapped to your back. We met an RAF pilot at a mate's wedding recently who had just spent three years on secondment to the US Air Force doing exactly that, and he assured us that while not quite as cool as playing on the 360, you certainly get a kick out of it. So with F-15s and myriad other modern jet fighters as one ingredient and the world's most powerful games machine as another, surely Over G is all set to recreate the thrills and spills of 21st Century aerial combat and satisfy our hunger in this, the leanest of gaming summers?
No, siree. Here we'd like to make the noise of a Sidewinder air-to-air missile rushing up to the exhaust pipe of a MiG-29 Fulchrum before exploding and showering a zillion razorblade-sized shards of metal across the landscape, but we're not sure how to write that in words so you'll have to make some whooshy/growly/explodey noises yourself. Done that? Excellent. Anyway, in case that wasn't clear enough, Over G Fighters is a bit cack. Well, a lot cack. It's not what we'd class as a proper 360 game in any department - presentation, graphics, sound and so on - and PS2's Ace Combat series is far superior, a damning indictment in its own right. Disappointing, and no prizes for guessing why Ubisoft didn't send us a copy until AFTER it was out in the shops.
But before we go 'weapons free' and loose off a volley of radar-guided abuse missiles, perhaps we should have a look at what's on offer? Oh, go on then. You're a pilot in the Energy Airforce, some kind of United Nations-style organisation dedicated to keeping the world at peace. Naturally, keeping the peace involves blowing up lots of enemy airmen and their rides, along with sticking the odd Paveway bomb on top of a tank column. The enemy are curiously anonymous but as a rule zip around land, sea and air in Russian military hardware, from Tupelov bombers and Mi-24 choppers to Kirov-class cruisers. Mission briefings are delivered by a static 2D hand-drawn air marshall type, one of four wing men can then be selected to accompany you on the sortie and then finally an aircraft and weapons loadout suitable to the mission type is chosen. The rosta of planes available covers all bases, from out-and-out air-superiority fighters such as the F-16 Hornet to ground-attack beasts like the A-10 Thunderbolt. You'll start off with only the US Navy's F-14 Tomcat and everything else is unlocked as you complete the missions, which take place in various locations around the globe.
So far, so very Ace Combat. Now we can stomach the poor pre-combat presentation, as mentioned above, on the PS2 but here we were really hoping for something a little more dramatic and engaging, such as a plot of some kind that glued the action together, perhaps the odd glossy cut-scene showing the reign of terror being conducted by the enemy forces. Not 2D characters, massively irratating wing-man chatter and the kind of arcadey music that makes you want to cut up teddy bears with a pair of garden shears. Compounding this sonic gloom is the fact that the proper action bit of the game is bent on realism, if not in accurately capturing the way a fighter jet handles then certainly in the HUD display, the technical terminology, the constant beeps and whistles of your in-plane threat receivers and the aircraft models themselves. Identity crisis? Roger that.
So to the skies. Here's what you do in the first five or so missions (which, incidentally, don't include a 'basics' training mission and hence there's a wade through the lengthy manual): Take off. Fly straight. Wait for your radar to light up a target or two. Fire missiles. Watch enemy explode. And that is literally your lot for a good half hour or more. Come on now, people. After the first scenario things do brighten up a little and a decent variety of mission types open up and the enemy decide to take notice of you, hence you'll need to do stuff like change course occasionally and watch your six o'clock for enemy jets. Hell, you might even have to get out of the way of an inbound missile.
So things get a lot trickier as the skies fill up, you start taking fire from ground or sea-based anti-aircraft weapons and are assigned multiple targets during a mission but there's scant relief from the pervading sense of naffness to the whole thing. Much is so unhelpful. There are plenty of hostiles in any given area but they come up on your radar as green blobs. Green = friend, surely? Confusing. More confusing is that you have targets specific to you, these painted orange, and while friendly AI aircraft fight alongside you and engage the 'greens', including a wing-man who you can issue commands to, too often you end up getting swarmed. Oh, and don't even think of eyeballing a target, you'll never get close enough to see the models in any detail and if you do it probably means a firey death is moments away.
Graphical quality is curiously changeable. Up close, especially in the replay mode, your planes look terrific. On the ground, it's frequently a disaster area. Take the cities - they look like they're lifted from the pages of a pop-up book, being mostly flat and 2D with the occasional large building jutting up in laughable fashion. Audio, as mentioned, is mostly taken up by whistling threat receivers and inane banter rather than a cacophony of missile explosions and afterburners.
Outside the main Scenario mode you'll find two Challenge modes, one being a 'kill as many bogeys as possible' affair while the other is 'design your own mission'. Online is probably the best of all, with eight-way dogfights and no technical hitches, but if there's anyone left on the servers by the time you read this we'd be very surprised. Don't bother smoking that kipper, we won't be back for breakfast.