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December 7th, 1941. The date which will live in infamy. And also the date on which Aces of the Pacific starts.
As you might have guessed already, Aces of the Pacific (AotP) is a World War II flight simulator taking place in the Pacific Theater of Operations. The second game in the Aces series, it’s similar to Red Baron and Aces over Europe, but additionally has some unique features that make it worth playing even if you know those two games from A to Z.
The first thing to notice and adjust when you first start the game is the extensive difficulty menu. Besides the usual AI setting, there is also the flight model level, which can turn the game type into anything from arcade action, to a quite realistic simulation. At the expert setting, aircraft even have some of their quirks, like the compressibility problem of the P-38 or aileron lock at high speed when flying Zero. There are many other features to turn on/off, from (in)vulnerability and midair collisions, to limited ammo, fuel, and engine burnout. After adjusting these to your liking, it’s time to take off. The game offers two modes: single missions and career. Single missions vary from training, various escort, intercept, and dogfight & bombing missions, to duels with aces and historical missions. After choosing one, you’ll see that there is a total of five armed forces to fly for: Three American (U.S Navy, Marine Corps, and Army), and two Japanese (Navy and Army). Each of these has its own unique aircraft, except USMC which uses a limited selection of USN armament, totaling for 28 flyable aircraft, from light fighters to heavy fighter-bombers. Choose a side, and you’ll get to the screen with mission adjustment. You can specify which aircraft you’ll fly, weather conditions, and the enemy's skill. Accept, and another settings screen waits. Getting annoying, isn’t it? Here, you can see the briefing, the map, the change payload, and the formation. Enough of this, let’s get to the action.
The graphics are nice, and quite detailed for their time - just take a look at the screenshots. But well, here is something strange. When you look around, you’ll notice that everything around you is in a ¼ scale to you, except other aircraft. I can only guess that the reason for this is to reduce system requirements, as the game must have been quite resource hungry in 1992. But it does not interfere with gameplay too much. Start up your engine, and take off. To shorten travel time, the game offers an autopilot feature that takes you instantly to the next waypoint or event, in case you run into enemies on the way. As you start fighting, you’ll notice the quality of the sounds: Gun shots, bullets piercing your aircraft, explosions when someone’s fuel tank blows up, flak, bombs, and rockets and torpedoes impacting; almost all are very well done. You can even distinguish various guns just by hearing them: from light 7.62mm machine guns with their annoying rattling noise, to the deep boom of 30mm cannons, each caliber has its own sound. Every type of aircraft has its own armament, so eventually you’ll learn to recognize who’s firing at whom just from the sounds. Enjoy the struggle, and watch your six.
The game is a historical simulator, so we should take a look at the historical aspect too. As far as I can judge, the game is fairly accurate in most areas. Airplanes are quite true to their real counterparts, both by look and armament, and also by description from other sources, possibly even by handling. The game reflects the real situation, where Japan and the U.S had different procedures with air combat, so in most cases, U.S aircraft are less maneuverable but faster, and more armored and better armed. As a result, if you want to play on high difficulty, you have to know your plane and your enemy, because the AI does too. Trying to outturn a Zero with the P-38 is a suicide, but climb above him, and you can dive right on your helpless opponent. And in the same way vice versa, trying to catch the Corsair with a N1K1 George isn’t a good way to go. Historical missions are… historical. They seem to be scaled down in some cases, but they are in the right place and at the right time.
You’ll probably spend the longest time in Career mode. Pick a side, name your pilot, and choose the starting date and rank. You’ll be presented with a selection of campaigns. Every side has its unique campaigns, but often, it is the same battlefield viewed from the other side. Be careful which campaign you choose, because when you finish one, you can’t play the earlier campaigns with the same pilot. Pay attention also to the squadron you choose - in most cases, you will fly the entire campaign in the same squadron, so choose one that has your preferred aircraft. Of course, not all aircraft are always available, you can only fly ones that were deployed at the time of campaign, so there will be no P-51s at Pearl Harbor or Ki-24s at Japanese last stand. When you make the choice, you’ll see yet another menu. You can fly a mission, see your pilot's profile, map, aircraft… or go back to the main menu. Most of the missions you will fly are randomly generated. This is a first disappointment, as most campaigns have only two or three types of missions, and even then the individual missions are not very varied. It can happen that you will fly a nearly identical mission several times over. But if you are in the right place at the right time, you can fly a historical mission during a campaign. Another disappointment, especially if you've played Red Baron, is the aces. They are somewhere there, and you will encounter them, but they don’t stand out in any way. Their skill isn’t too superior to other pilots, and worst of all, they don’t die. At least not by your hand. You can shoot down an ace over friendly territory, too low for him to bail out, and yet you can meet him again, sometimes right in the next mission.
As you progress through the career, you will be awarded with medals and promotions. As you get promoted, your place in the formation changes. You can start at the very bottom, and advance to be the flight leader. But that's their only use, as medals are basically just for showing off. Your career can end in two ways. You can live through the war and see the Japanese surrender, and you can be killed or captured. You can also be injured, but that will not end your career, just the actual campaign.
Included in the game package is the 1946 expansion pack. Here, the game departs from the real timeline and presents an alternate reality where the U.S, instead of nuking Japan, decided to execute “Operation Coronet”, a land invasion of the country. The war then lasted for another year, giving several aircraft that never made it to action during WWII the opportunity to join the action: like the P-80 Shooting Star or the F7F Tigercat on the U.S side, or Kikka, the first Japanese jet inspired by Me-262 and the Shinden interceptor. There are seven new aircraft, distributed between three air forces (USMC and JAAF do not participate in the expansion pack). While the expansion pack includes some bug fixes and should be installed, the campaigns are separate and do not interfere with the original content. That is good, because the new aircraft are much better than those from the standard AotP.
Well, I think I should wrap it up. Overall, AotP is a great game that should not be missed by anyone enjoying this genre. The expansion pack squished out most of the bugs and gameplay problems, so there is no point in giving it a score worse than 5.
Best played at 12000+ cycles.
Posted on: 2016-07-02 by nada22
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