Review by dancer62

Reviewed: 08/18/11

Pretty, but dumb

I like racing games, a lot. I avoid console flying games because they can't measure up to the computer flight simulators. So, what about a hybrid flying/racing game? Back in the 90s, Hi Octane was pretty good on the computer, less good on the Playstation. We'll see.

Wow, good opening movie, a montage of fast moving jets flying low through an attractive and detailed landscape. Menus, simple and clear, arcade mode, career mode, challenge (stunt) mode.

The music is techno, it stays in the background, not intrusive, not really inspiring either.

The graphics are detailed and colorful, the terrain is nicely textured, and the game gives a nice feeling of speed. The viewpoint is from behind plane. Announcements and designators for other planes sometimes clutter the HUD, obscuring visibility, often right before a turn or tunnel, but memorization of the tracks will limit crashes due to screen clutter.

There is a selection of planes, all imaginary and non-licensed, not particularly interesting although one of them reminds me of the dropship from Aliens. Aviation buffs will not be able to select worthy planes by their real-world reputation. And selection of a plane is important, because unlike Ace Combat, you will not be able to develop a stable of planes. Each unlocked plane has very weak statistics to start with, and upgrades are outrageously expensive in game dollars. For example, a plane unlocked by a tournament with a $10,000 dollar prize may need a half MILLION dollars in upgrades to be competitive. Grinding a tournament 50 times, to be able to use that plane in the next tournament? Luckily, one of the earlier won planes has relatively decent starting statistics, and RELATIVELY reasonable upgrades ($150K or so).

How do the planes handle? There is no aerodynamic modelling. Lift, drag, and apparently gravity, are in abeyance, the planes handle more like ground effect vehicles than airplanes, extremely limited in altitude, pitch, and roll. There is a reluctance to respond to control inputs that is very annoying in dogfights. By the way, I use "dogfight" very loosely, without effective pitch and roll, without gravity and drag, three dimensional aerobatic maneuvering is not possible, and plane to plane combat is a series of turning duels. One advantage to gravity not being a factor, there is no fear of crashing into the ground. Crashing into the edges of the airspace, is, however a problem (almost a parody of the old pilot's saying, "Be careful when approaching the edges of the air"). .

There are five tracks, and five air combat arenas based on those tracks. Planes swoop up and down hills, along canyons, through caves, and wind between the legs of offshore drilling rigs. Each track also has a reversed and a short version. Courses have tight turns and are littered with obstacles.

There is a challenge mode, with things like hot laps, collecting coins, flying through rings, etc.

One of the more annoying "features" in races, which cannot be turned off, is "weapon power-ups". That means that first is a dangerous place to be, because anyone behind you can shoot you with a missile, making you drop positions, and likely losing you the race if you're coming up on the finish line. You can't dodge missiles, they will hit you while you're yanking and banking through twisty tunnels. Your only defense against missiles is the barrel roll button, which will likely send you into the wall. Eat a missile, or crash, same result, get placed back on the track, losing a couple of places. Luck bears a large part in winning races.

Tournaments completed in Career mode unlock planes and earn money, but only for first place. Tournaments consist of one or more races, and one or more melee dogfights. Dogfights are a little like the old fashioned tank games. Turn, baby, PLEASE turn, oh, wow, there's a target in range, now, will the machinegun fire, has it cooled down enough from the last time I used it??.. crud, someone just shot ME down.. how can they stay on my six and shoot at me, when I'm lucky to get a high deflection shot on anyone else?

OK, so M.A.C.H. bears somewhat the same relation to Ace Combat that Modnation Racers bears to Gran Turismo. (Well, OK, I apologize, M.A.C.H. is not nearly as bad as the PSP version of Modnation Racers) Is it fun to play? Yes, it's challenging in its own way, the gameplay environment is pleasant, racing is thrilling, and dogfighting is.. um.. tricky? Bottom line, it's enjoyable enough that I end up playing longer than I really intended. It fills the same niche as Ridge Racer or Wipeout, I can run a few races, shake my head at the wacky physics, and come back a few days later and play some more. Is it a first rank game? No. Is it worth having? Certainly!

Pros: Congenial gameplay environment
Fun, once you retune your expectations

Cons: Weird physics, or lack of physics
Can become frustrating

Rating: 7/10, fun and playable, but there are much better games

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: M.A.C.H. Modified Air Combat Heroes (US, 02/20/07)

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