Game Reviews

Sid Meier's Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies

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Sid Meier's Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies

The progression from World War I to World War II fighter plane technology was staggering. In just 20 years, planes had turned from brittle old moths to swooping, howling hawks.

It's perhaps too much to ask for a similarly dramatic step forward from the Gold Award-winning Sid Meier's Ace Patrol, especially in just six months.

But Pacific Skies is a more than worthy follow-up that maintains the first game's sky-high standards with a couple of well-considered additions and enhancements.

Maintain altitude

Despite the shift in era, the core mechanics of Pacific Skies are identical to the first game. You take it in turns with your AI opponent to move your small squadron of fighter planes, playing out a fully three-dimensional game of aerial chess.

At its heart is the same distinctive contextual movement and attacking system. It offers you a range of manoeuvres depending on your plane's altitude, orientation, speed, structural integrity, and the pilot's abilities.

This element really didn't need changing. It’s still a joy to set yourself up for a successful attack run by thinking two or three moves ahead.

You'll have to be more Pacific

The most obvious change, of course, is in the hardware at your command, and the natural knock-on effect that has on gameplay. You now command lean propellor-driven fighters, either for the Japanese or American army or navy (effectively offering two full campaigns).

The planes here are faster and nimbler, allowing you to make advanced turns and spins. It's also a natural way to expand the range of skills you can learn as your fighter pilots gain experience. This element can be quite dizzying, with each skill card you earn informed by real flight physics and tactics.

As with the first game, you can enjoy Pacific Skies on two levels. You can read up on the planes, carefully manage your upgrades, learn the vast roster of special techniques, and meticulously plan every turn, climb, and barrel roll. It's what Sid would have wanted, we feel.

But you can just as easily skip past the instructions, tool up your planes, and enjoy it for the fast-paced action-strategy romp it can be on the lower difficulty levels.

Tight formation

Missions are doled out automatically, with no multiple choice element as in the first game. However, there are those two different campaigns to tackle, each from two different sides.

Each battle is made up of four individual missions, and plane damage is maintained across all four of these missions, so there's a real sense of nursing your team through this war. It encourages you to try new pilot and plane combinations, and the fact that modifications stick to the plane you assign them to ensures that they retain their usefulness even when an exciting new prototype is dropped into your lap.

There's also a multiplayer mode (local or networked), and Firaxis has ditched the freemium model of the first game for a proper up-front charge, which will inspire traditionalists to pull off a figurative victory roll or two.

Pacific win

There are a couple of niggles. The graphics are still somewhat dry and perfunctory, and the menus are far from the slickest you'll encounter in a modern iOS game.

On the battlefield itself, it sometimes feels as if you don't quite have all of the information to hand to make a fully informed tactical decision, or to fully understand the nature of the threat in relation to your own capabilities. Not without poring over those clumsy menus, at least.

It's not helped by the somewhat esoteric flight language that the developer insists on using.

But then, Firaxis has always had a high estimation of its fans' intelligence and knowledge. It doesn't talk down to you, and it expects you to put a little work in if you want to squeeze every last drop out of its games.

And once you've been lured into Pacific Skies’s two-pronged attack of intuitive turn-based dog-fighting and nuanced tactics, you'll fly pretty much any way Firaxis wants you to.

Sid Meier's Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies

Though Ace Patrol and Pacific Skies's core systems are pretty much identical, the latter's shift to a more technologically advanced conflict and thoughtful enhancements make it every bit the worthy sequel