Review by PickHut
The one thing Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere can flaunt over its two PlayStation brethren is how diverse some of its missions are. One such early mission involves an automated plane (looks more like a blimp, but whatever) carrying deadly gas, and it's programmed to crash into a city. Destroying it would do more harm than good, so you're left with having to blow up all the structures in its path, ensuring it will land safely in the river. I'd question how they knew it was going to land in the water at all, but this is video game logic we're dealing with. Another mission, which made me do a double take when I first saw it, is actually featured in space! It's a timed assignment where you'll need to take out several satellites before their laser systems become activated. I don't need to tell you what will happen to your Star Fighter if you screw up.
But all the variation in the world can't make a game wonderful if they're not that great. The entire time I played AC3, I got this feeling that the developers didn't give it their best. Let's go back to the gas blimp stage for a good example; the concept is sound, but the execution is garbage: the largest "threat" is one jet fighter guarding the blimp. And usually, it's just watching the events unfold, so shooting the plane down is optional. Another goofed opportunity is a mission where you have to destroy radars while they're being jammed, then climb up and stay at a specific altitude when they're not. Now, I assumed that, if I somehow got stuck at a lower altitude when they weren't jammed, I would get hit by a missile, or worse, fail the mission. Well, I actually didn't climb high enough in one instance, and guess what happened? Enemy planes appeared on the map. They weren't even super duper planes that kill in one hit, just normal opponents that I ignored for the duration of the stage.
This level of laziness is really inexcusable. The reason Ace Combat 2 was able to get away with similar, gimmicky stages was because they were in the extreme minority; you got the feeling they were experimenting with different ways to create missions. Going into the next game, you'd think they would create these same type of missions on a more bigger and polished scale. Apparently not. Thankfully, though, the great dogfighting action from Ace Combat 2 lives on in this follow-up... is what I would say if it were true. Now, in Ace Combat 2, I was constantly stuck in fights with smart opponents that tried their damnedest to shake me off their backs, and there was usually someone right behind my plane, waiting for the right moment to hit me with a missile. It made for some really heated battles.
I rarely got the same feeling in AC3. Normally, the opponents look like they're lazily trying to escape, and to make matters worse, it felt like my missiles were programmed to hit enemies much easier than in the previous two titles. I lost count the amount of times I took down jet fighters flying directly at me, something that was tough to do before. The AI makes a small improvement towards the end, but before you know it, the game is over. Playing on Hard will give mixed results, too, since the AI can't seem to make up its mind on whether it wants to be challenging. I found it really disconcerting that stalling, which occurs frequently in this installment, is much more threatening than actual enemies. I blame the grading system for the mellowed opponents, which is really just a glorified speed run system. It, too, has a Jekyll and Hyde complex, since it constantly switches back and forth from wanting you to shoot down a specific number of planes under a set time, to just demanding that you quickly finish a stage. They don't even bother telling you which one to do, as well, so you'll need to mess around before getting it right.
I guess you could take solace in the fact that it's kinda better than Air Combat, but that's not really saying much, since it's just Air Combat with better graphics and a diverse range of missions. Oh, and a sub-par trance/techno/ambient soundtrack. I really don't understand how Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere could have fumbled in the first place; Ace Combat 2 basically laid the foundation for what a good Ace Combat game could be, and all its successor had to do was expand on it. And yeah, I know the US version has been heavily edited, leaving out every animated cutscene, voice acted segments, and 20-some missions. However, unless the cutscenes magically made the gameplay better, or the lost missions were a dramatic improvement over the 36 polarizing missions kept, I don't see it as much of a loss. If you're only going for one solid Ace Combat game for the original PlayStation, this isn't it. Ace Combat 2 is your choice.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere (US, 03/02/00)
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