Aero Fighters Assault

a game by Paradigm Entertainment

Platform: Nintendo 64Nintendo 64

Genre: Action

See also:Aero Games

Let me set the scene... Terrorists these days being the well-organised but on the whole rather antisocial chaps that they are, a group called Phutta Morgana has mounted a world-wide offensive in a bid to eradicate democracy, freedom of speech and pot noodles.

Your mission, as if you needed to be told, is to stop them - or at least, to wait until they've dealt with the pot noodles and then stop them. To enable you to accomplish this, and in a plot-line that will have the writer of Iron Eagle reaching for his 'Beginners Guide To Plagiarism Law', you are have been given command of a team of elite pilots created by taking the best and brightest members from the world's top airforces.

Initially, you are able to choose from four of the world's deadliest attack aircraft - an A-10 Thunderbolt, an F-14B fighter, a Russian Su-35 and a small jet aircraft called an FSX. Each plane has different flight characteristics, different weapons systems, and different pilots. The handling varies considerably from aircraft to aircraft, and you'll find that the effectiveness of the various weapons vary considerably against different targets.

Gimme The Guns!

The F-14, for example, carries heat-seeking Phoenix missiles, which will split up and pursue the nearest hostile targets. This makes them great for taking out agile airborne opponents like jets and helicopters. However, the random target selection system means you can't choose which targets the missiles will go for, and this makes it difficult when, for example, you're trying to pound a particular target, particularly if it's on the ground as the missiles seem to prioritise air targets.

The A-10 on the other hand has line-of-sight rockets, which follow the trajectory they were launched along. Aerial targets are therefore tricky, as the missiles will not track them, but slow moving and stationary ground targets can be hammered since the rockets - put simply - will go exactly where you send them. The various capabilities of the different aircraft are suited to different missions, which you'd think would mean you could choose the most appropriate aircraft for each mission - except that you can't swap aircraft between missions! Why not? I mean, what's the point?

When you fly into combat, you do get the three aircraft you haven't chosen as your wingmen. Unfortunately, they don't do much more than harass the enemy fighter aircraft and constantly get into trouble. When it comes to taking out the major targets, you're on your own.

The mission structure itself is fairly simple. You need to destroy a massive boss vehicle within a set time limit, and you need to go through a mass of support aircraft and ground vehicles to get to it. Or at least, you do in theory...

Duh!

Which brings us to one of the major game flaws. In most shoot-'em-ups, such as Lylat Wars for example, you must pass through a level full of minor enemies before you can engage the end-of-level boss. Although this makes for a game with somewhat linear play, it nevertheless gives you some kind of structure. With Aero Fighters Assault however, the structure is a little different. Instead of encountering the enemies in sequence, you meet them all at once, in a fairly circular playing arena, and can take on the boss from the word go.

This would be great, if, for instance, you were forced to pick off the smaller enemies before you hit the bigger one. But you don't need to. The layout of the combat area, and the constraints of a short time-limit in which to complete each mission, mean that you don't even have to bother with attacking the smaller enemies; instead, you can just go in head first and take on the level boss immediately.

The game style is very reminiscent of the old arcade coin-op Afterburner, which caused a sensation with its hectic second-person jet fighter action. Sadly, although Aero Fighters Assault may have recreated the looks of the old game, it hasn't managed to capture the thrilling gameplay of the now-dated shoot-'em-up. The major reason for this is the speed, or rather the lack of it.

This game is just so slow! The jet fighters don't so much fly into combat as trudge. You'll soon find yourself under the impression that the planes would probably be able to move faster if the pilots climbed out of their cockpits and pushed. And this is even before any other aircraft appear on the screen! Get a lot of enemy activity on the screen at once - which, as all the enemy aircraft are on the field from the beginning, is pretty much all of the time - and the speed drops from 'trudge' to 'if-we-went-any-slower-we'd-be-going-backwards'.

And speed is the key. It doesn't matter how impressive or realistic the gaming engine is if the whole things runs about the same rate as a hibernating hedgehog!

Multiplayer Madness!

Unusually, for this sort of game, the multiplayer head-to-head deathmatch mode is actually faster and smoother than the main one-player game, and this is one of Aero Fighters Assault's few saving graces. The reason for this is that there's nothing else in deathmatch mode except for the opposing aircraft, and as the game only supports two players, there's never more than two aircraft to handle. In the air-only scenario, there's not even any ground to worry about, but the downside of this is that it gets difficult to work out which way is up and you'll probably spend the majority of your time just looking for the other player.

This game had so much potential, but it just doesn't cut it. The control system, for instance, has been well thought out. The controls themselves are completely definable, and there are two different systems, one 'normal' and one 'novice'. In novice mode the aircraft handling is simplified, making it easier to control but not as manoeuvrable as with the normal system. Barrel rolls and loop the loops for instance, are not permitted, but this stops the inexperienced novice immediately going into an uncontrolled spin and crashing. Once you're used to the plane handling, the normal option then allows all the spectacular aerial moves you could wish for, along with the associated dangers.

It's just a shame that everything moves so slowly. It's not as if there's even that much scenery to handle. Fly through Tokyo, for example, and you'll find some buildings, but the majority of the city has been covered with water as a result of a terrorist 'thermo-bomb' being detonated and raising world sea levels. Whilst this is obviously an interesting plot-line, it rather conveniently negates the need for a lot of detailed ground images. Not that I'm implying this was the intention mind you. I mean, there are some levels with ground, such as the desert with, er, rocks and things...

Still, It Looks Nice

On a more positive note, the graphics are very good. Buildings - what few of them that there are - when hit with a missile don't just explode, but instead slowly collapse in upon themselves in a fiery heap. Frigates take a pounding, then when they've had enough keel over and slowly sink beneath the waves. Enemy aircraft sometimes explode outright, and at other times barrel slowly towards the earth in a ball of flames before exploding. Rockets and shells blow spray from the water. Rock arches can be flown through. There are so many excellent details in this game that it should be good.

On the other hand, the cockpit view doesn't actually include a cockpit, and the Heads-Up Display appears on the exterior view of the aircraft as well as the interior, blocking a lot of the action from view. It must be said that you do need it though, because without the altimeter and with the lack of surface detail, once you get below a certain height it's practically impossible to work how far you are from the ground.

Aero Fighters Assault is going to have to go down as a nice idea, badly implemented. Who knows, perhaps by the time the PAL version emerges, the whole speed/slow down problem will have been eradicated. Well, it might happen!

Until then, if you fancy a reasonably good two-player head-on deathmatch, then you might want to look here, although the deathmatch mode alone doesn't really justify the price. Otherwise, unless you don't mind flying through the air faster than a speeding milkfloat (with no wheels) then it's probably best to steer well clear. I'm off now to do something a little more thrilling, like... oh I don't know, stamp collecting maybe.

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Aero Fighters Assault Downloads

Nintendo 64 Aero Fighters Assault download

A distinctly poor attempt to do an air combat game on the N64, from the makers of Pilotwings. Although the planes themselves are well-modelled, the game as a whole is appallingly slow. It also suffers from badly thought out level designs where the bosses can be attacked right from the off, meaning some stages can be over in moments. A 1 huge let-down.

reggie posted a review

Abysmal airborne shoot-'em- up with borders as big as Soviet Russia and not even the tinest amount of that thing called 'fun'.

reggie posted a review

Good in spells, but flawed and disappointing at length. AFA feels realistic enough but is too dull, too often.

To access the secret planes, go to the Title Screen and press Left-C, Bottom-C, Right-C, Top-C, Left-C, Right-C and Down-C.

reggie posted a review
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