Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War
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|Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War|
|Publisher(s)||Bandai Namco Games|
|Genre(s)||Combat flight simulator|
Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War (エースコンバット・ゼロ ザ・ベルカン・ウォー, Ēsu Konbatto Zero Za Berukan Wō) is a semi-realistic flight simulator developed by Bandai Namco Games for the PlayStation 2 video game console. It is part of the Ace Combat series of games. In Europe the game was released under the title Ace Combat: The Belkan War.
Ace Combat Zero's gameplay is split into a single-player campaign mode and a two-player versus mode. The mechanics themselves are a mix of features from Ace Combat 04 and 5.
The game features primarily older versions of fighter aircraft seen in its predecessor game, such as the F-15C, F/A-18C, and several second- and third-generation fighters like the Saab 35 Draken. The player begins the game with an F-5E, an F-1, and a J35J, but is able to unlock and purchase more advanced aircraft by completing missions and destroying targets to earn credits. The game's official superfighters are the ADF-01 Falken from Ace Combat 5 and the ADFX-02 Morgan (resembling the cancelled PZL-230 Skorpion attack aircraft), but players can access the X-02 Wyvern from Ace Combat 04, while the ADFX-01 Morgan - the predecessor to the ADFX-02 - is also available as a special unlock.
The game revives Ace Combat 04's aircraft customization system - players can buy up to three special "SP" weapons per plane but can only choose one for the mission; they can also pick their wingman's SP weapon but not their plane. Another returning feature from Ace Combat 04 is the ability to withdraw from the battlefield for rearming at home base during long missions.
Zero retains Ace Combat 5's wingman-command system. During most campaign missions, the player can issue orders to the AI wingman using the DualShock controller's directional pad.
The game continues the Ace Combat series tradition of taking on aces who fly aircraft with unique paint schemes. Aside from the pilots and their squadrons whom the player faces as boss characters, many missions will have other enemy aces scattered throughout the game map; defeating them will list their unique plane and short pilot biographies in an in-game digital album.
One element of the game's mechanics is the Ace Style system. Over the course of the campaign, the player will encounter enemy targets that are incapable of fighting against the player and neutral entities, both of which are marked as yellow dots in the map display and yellow crossed target icons in the HUD. A horizontal bar with three boxes marked "Mercenary," "Soldier," "Knight," will be found at the mission debriefing screen. The player's conduct during missions will see the rank slider bar sway toward one of these three boxes.
Which type of ace the player currently is will determine radio chatter, which ace squadrons the player encounters, as well as what FMVs play. Different aces earn different planes, and at the end of the game, each plane acquired will carry color schemes representing each fighting style.
- Mercenary Ace - Mercenary aces are pilots who destroy the opposition without mercy and are not concerned about their own allies, as announced by in-game FMVs. Players who kill all targets including non-hostile targets in a mission and ignore allied support requests, will see their ranking bar go left.
- Soldier Ace - Soldier aces are pilots who can fight as circumstances permit and change the flow of battle, as announced by in-game FMVs. This ranking is achieved by balancing kills of non-hostile targets while sparing some, and accepting some requests for support.
- Knight Ace - Knight aces are pilots who believe in fighting fair during the battle and protecting the weak, as announced by in-game FMVs. Players can attain this ranking by coming to the aid of allied units and not destroying non-hostile targets, which will result in the slider bar going right.
Completing the game three times, once in each fighting style, will unlock the ADFX-01 Morgan superplane for use by the player.
The game takes place in 1995 Strangereal, the fictional setting of the Ace Combat series, 15 years before the events of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, revolving around a conflict between Belka and the Allied Forces - a military coalition comprising the Osean Federation, the Union of Yuktobanian Republics, the Kingdom of Sapin and the Republic of Ustio. The war itself and the background is given short detail in the Unsung War campaign's opening cutscene.
Seven years before the events of the game, after some years of political unrest and economic instability stemming from the Belkan federal law review in 1988, the Belkan federal government allows the Ustian province to secede, resulting in two other eastern provinces also declaring independence. This, however, did not fix the economic crisis that had befallen the country, which allowed the Osean Federation to swallow up a significant amount of Belkan territory. The fallout from the reforms and the economic turmoil later triggers the rise of a radical right-wing party in Belka in 1991. Over the next few years, the Belkans rapidly militarize the entire country and, after natural resources are discovered in Ustio, launch a massive campaign on March 25, 1995.
The game's frame story is told from the perspective of journalist Brett Thompson after the Belkan War as he discovers numerous reports of a single mercenary fighter pilot who played a pivotal role during the war. In an attempt to uncover more information about him, Thompson tracks down and interviews several fighter pilots who fought against him, (the identity and nature of these pilots differs according to the player's "ace style" during missions) and the pilot's former wingman, Larry "Pixy" Foulke. Through his stories, and the stories of the other pilots, Thompson hopes to uncover the identity of this unknown mercenary and what role he truly played, both officially and unofficially.
The player assumes the role of "Cipher," a mysterious mercenary pilot commissioned by the Ustio Air Force. He is assisted by fellow mercenary pilot Larry "Pixy" Foulke and later by Patrick James "PJ" Beckett. Much of the game's narrative is played out through the eyes of Thompson, whose interviews are played in between missions and focus on how the pilots who fought against Cipher were affected by him, and what these pilots did after the war ended.
In March 1995, the Federation of Belka invades the Republic of Ustio, a former Belkan province, in an attempt to seize newly discovered natural resources required for Belka's economy. With much of Ustio rapidly fallen under Belkan occupation, the Ustian government allies with Osea, Sapin, and Yuktobania to fight off the advancing Belkans from their territories as the Allied Forces. Part of Ustio's war effort includes hiring mercenary pilots for their air force, including two pilots with callsigns Cipher and Pixy.
Cipher and Pixy work with Allied combat units in driving the Belkans from Ustio. The Allies keep up the pace with offensives deep into Belka, with the aim of crushing its warfighting capabilities. At the same time, Pixy starts to question the validity of the invasion, especially after Allied planes carpet-bomb civilian targets in the Belkan city of Hoffnung. The Allies continue their advance, but the Belkans respond by detonating seven nuclear weapons on their own soil, killing tens of thousands and shocking the Allied Forces into temporarily halting combat operations. In the confusion of the nuclear blasts, Pixy fires upon Cipher's aircraft and deserts. After withdrawing, Cipher is paired up with PJ as his new wingman.
Despite the nuclear detonations, the Allies push on, calling for a ceasefire to negotiate Belka's surrender. The Belkan government falls and is replaced by an interim government, which orders all Belkan troops to stand down. Cipher and PJ eliminate Belkan forces that defy the ceasefire order. The Belkans and the Allies sign a cease-fire treaty, which reduces the size of the Belkan military and partitions much of Belka's resource-rich territory among the Allied countries. As the Allies argue over the newly gained territory, pilots and soldiers from all five nations show their resentment by forming a terrorist organization called A World With No Boundaries (AWWNB), that seeks to erase the concept of borders between countries and create a unified world. Cipher and PJ are sent to suppress AWWNB, with the first victory being the destruction of the stolen Belkan XB-0 Hresvelgr air fortress and its escorts, the renegade Sapinish fighter squadron "Espada".
The final battle in the game is fought over Avalon Dam, where Cipher and PJ destroy an enemy base capable of launching ICBMs, including a new superweapon codenamed V2; AWWNB plans to use the weapon to force global unification. During the battle, PJ is shot down by Pixy (who had defected to AWWNB) with his newly acquired ADFX-02 Morgan's laser weapon. Cipher is able to take out Pixy and stop the AWWNB threat.
Throughout the game, Thompson's documentary, made several years after the war, plays between missions. Many of the enemy aces Cipher fought managed to eject from their planes and survive the war, either being sent to prison or going on to lead normal lives. Thompson interviews each one about their battles with Cipher from their own perspectives. The final interviewee is revealed to be Pixy, who survived his dogfight with Cipher. He is disillusioned with his AWWNB ideals, but continues to try to find meaning in them. He also thanks Cipher, in hopes that he may be watching the interview. The narrator concludes that there's not enough information to find what Cipher was really like, but the fact that all of Cipher's former enemies smile when they recall him is enough for him, "that, perhaps, may be my answer".
The game received positive reviews.
It currently holds a 75/100 score on Metacritic. IGN's Juan Castro graded the game at 8.8/10, stating that Namco took a chance in slowly evolving the series, and it offers "slight modifications" into the engine." He also took note of the story as different from other console flight games and the cooperative mode is a blessing to fans.
Computerandvideogames.com lauded the game's release date as a refresher from the multiple games of different genres that came out at the time. He noted the good graphical presentations and the sheer difficulty provided by the Aces.
Eurogamer's Rob Fahey, however, said the game's "incremental" changes confuse players with what has changed between this and Unsung War.
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