The skies aren't friendly on the App Store, as Ace Combat Xi: Skies of Incursion prepares to take off guns blazing this winter. Coming from a series steeped in tense, action-packed aerial battles, this motion controlled iteration could be a long sought evolution.
While the short three and a half minute level we played didn't offer much insight into the complexities of combat, it did provide an opportunity to explore the basics.
Once we were strapped into a fighter jet high above Aurelian airspace, the timed mission tasked us with eliminating a squadron of trespassing Leasath pilots. A red gauge in the upper-right corner counts down the number of remaining bogeys with each successful kill.
Navigating is obviously handled via the accelerometer: tips and tilts correspond to the jet's pitch, yaw, and roll. Propulsion is automatic, though you can hit the throttle for a boost of speed or apply brakes, though braking is only available when using expert controls.
As you would expect, more precise control is possible under the expert scheme, but the novice set up guarantees easier flying.
Enemies within range are targeted automatically and you can switch among multiples by tapping a targeting button on the right, though there weren't enough bogeys to necessitate using it in this mission. Once you've locked onto to target, a single tap of the missile key fires off a guided rocket. There's also a machine gun, but since it has to be manually aimed it's much harder to land a hit.
Eliminating the batch of Leasath fighter jets was a cinch thanks to powerful instant-kill missiles and spot-on handling. Obviously, the missions will get harder as the campaign wears on, but this demo mission was pretty simply despite our squadmates failing to lend a helping hand. We're curious to see if supporting AI fighters play a more active role in the final game than they did here.
Exactly how long the campaign will be and the number of aircraft available has yet to be determined. There were no hints to either of these in the build, nor of any upgrade system or multiplayer, of which we're particularly keen on seeing more. Much of what enabled F.A.S.T. to take off was its online multiplayer.
These are questions to be answered as we move closer to the game's vague winter release (that could mean as late as February), yet it's evident even from this short mission that Ace Combat Xi will carry the franchise's banner proudly.
It's a remarkably beautiful game, and one that easily surpasses others in the genre in terms of visual detail. We're eager to find out if it can match that beauty with gameplay sophistication.