Making the Grades
If the only bogey you've ever shot happened during your best round of golf, you may want to leave your clubs in the garage and try Ace Combat 3 by Namco. In this game, bogeys are bad guys not bad scores, and they want to shoot you out of the sky. So, if you've ever dreamed of being a fighter pilot, put on your g-suit, grab a supply of vomit containment devices and tag along... if you're up to the challenge.
In order to be successful, a pilot must be briefed prior to facing the enemy. During these sessions, mission objectives are carefully laid out--along with the best way to approach your targets. Trust me, this is not a good time to fall asleep in class. When you are familiar with your assignment, choose an aircraft and weapons which best suit the task at hand (as a newbie you will have no choice of fighter jets until proven worthy). Now you are ready to strap yourself into a cockpit and carry out your orders... at speeds in excess of Mach 1.
Once airborne, a HUD (heads-up-display) enables you to see important instruments without taking your eyes off the sky. Following the information displayed by the aircraft's onboard radar, you are able to track the enemy until they come into view. When the radar "locks" on a target--either airborne or surface bound--all that's left for you to do is pull the trigger. Destroy all enemy targets and you're ready to move on to another mission. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Actually, it is... in easy mode. But as the difficulty level increases, so do the capabilities of your opponent. It's tough to remember those mission objectives while simultaneously engaged in a dogfight, evading Triple A (anti-aircraft artillery), traveling at the speed of sound, and racing against time. Add to this the challenge of night missions, carrier landings, mid-air refueling, and the killing of a few satellites in a souped-up space shuttle, and it won't take long to find out whether you're Top Gun material... or not.
Much like my flying abilities, Ace Combat 3 has its share of ups and downs. During aerial maneuvers, I was repeatedly impressed by several effects used to achieve a sense of realism. The illusion of cloud and mist is skillfully used as cover while the horizon "draws in." Canopy flare, a result of the sun's rays shining through imperfections in the canopy material, will have you wondering why you left your sunglasses on the ground. And you'll catch yourself ducking your head at the sound effects which accompany fly-bys that were a little too close for comfort. On the downside, "killing" targets is the object of this game (as is the case in real life aerial combat). Although we never see people killed, one would assume that enemy aircraft are also flown by pilots, so it would've been nice to see them eject from their plane before being hit (not an unrealistic scenario).
Flying skills are not a prerequisite for potential virtual pilots, but anyone with prior flight experience (actual or simulated) will see a dramatic decrease in the learning curve. And for those of you who just can't seem to prevent that fighter jet from becoming a $30 million lawn-dart... you can always dust off those clubs and go back to your golf game.