With “Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation,” the flight action series roars on to the Xbox 360, taking advantage of the console’s power to deliver great graphics and game play.

The visuals on “Ace Combat 6” are simply stunning — with photo-realistic aircraft and impressive landscapes and buildings. In fact, Namco Bandai Games challenges visitors to its Web site to tell the difference between photos of real aircraft and images from the game. Of course, I failed.

In addition, the Xbox 360’s computing power enabled developers to create multi-layered missions with enormous battlefields and scores of enemies and helpful allies. The results is unending action.

However, those expecting an exacting simulation of jet aviation had better turn elsewhere, because this is an action game. The big difference between flight simulation and flight action: In one, my aircraft spends most of the first hour slamming into the ground and, in the other, it spends the first hour in action.

The idea is to keep the player in the air and fighting. Don’t worry about fuel, G forces or ammunition — for the most part. You don’t even have to worry too much about the ground at lower difficulty settings. In many cases, you’ll bounce right off.

The controls are quite easy to learn — especially in novice mode, which limits the controls to steering, elevation and thrust.

This might seem “unrealistic,” but it also makes the game much more enjoyable for the average gamer.

Gamers play as Garuda 1, a pilot for Emmeria who starts off with an F-16. As the game progresses, other aircraft become available for purchase. Most of the aircraft — on both sides — are U.S. jets, but a few European and Russian craft become available as the game progresses.

Emmeria — an America-like place with some European trappings — has been invaded by the Sovietlike nation of Estovakia. Gamers must accomplish a variety of missions involving dogfights and ground support as Emmerian forces struggle to liberate their homeland.

The opening missions are pretty realistic, but a few sorties lean a bit toward science fiction. Garuda 1 goes up against an enormous flying aircraft carrier and then must fly inside tunnels carved into a mountain. At this point, I felt a little more like Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars” than Maverick from “Top Gun,” but sometimes you just gotta embrace fantasy and have fun.

The cut scenes provide a glimpse of how the war is affecting folks on both sides. Some of the scenes seem a little stilted and few have much to do with the game’s action, but they do provide some interesting context.

The game offers plenty of replay value since the missions can be tackled in a variety of ways and with different types of aircraft. In addition, the game offers online combat in cooperative and competitive modes.

Overall, “Ace Combat 6” is a great game for wannabe pilots, action junkies and those who just want to blast stuff — which should encompass most gamers.

Platform: Xbox 360On the

The developers’ view

Following are questions we posed to developers at Namco Bandai Games about “Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation” and their answers.

Q: What challenges were presented by creating the game’s impressive graphics?

A: Masato Kanno, art director — The biggest challenges were the lack of a next-generation precedent to go by, and lack of rival products to compete against. In all honesty, “Ace Combat” is really the only flight action game out there. Which means we have no competitors to encourage us toward ideas. …

We had to clear many benchmarks, such as maintaining a product representative of our vision, creating world-class HD graphics, locking in a stable frame-rate, and above all ensuring a fun and exciting “flight” experience, before delivering the final product into the hands of gamers everywhere.

Q: How did the extra processing power available in the Xbox 360 change the nature of the missions that players face?

A: Hiroyuki Ichiyanagi, producer — More than anything, the additional processing power gave us the ability to realize our longtime dream of engrossing the player in an all encompassing conflict between massive military forces.

In terms of scale, each “Ace Combat 6” mission is composed of several operations which unfold simultaneously in real time. A single operation is the same size and scope as an entire mission in a previous “Ace Combat” game. The overall quality of each mission has vastly improved as well. We set out to recreate a “Living Battlefield,” but we couldn’t create that feeling by simply placing a bunch of units all over the stage. Instead, we wanted the player to feel that each unit was acting under a coherent strategy in pursuit of individual objectives. In order to achieve this, every unit has been given a vast array of parameters that react and change as a result of the player’s actions, affecting the entire flow of the battlefield in real life.

In short, increased processing power provided the catalyst for a massive increase of scale and quality, manifest in battlefields far exceeding the scope of previous Ace Combat games.

Q: What changes will “Ace Combat” fans notice in game play?

A: Hiroyuki Ichiyanagi — Thanks to the introduction of the massive battlefields I mentioned earlier, we were able to incorporate a variety of new gameplay elements. The most robust of these are the Dynamic Operation System and Allied Support System.

The Dynamic Operation System is based on the principal that it’s completely up to the player to decide when and how to approach each of the simultaneously unfolding operations within each mission. The order in which the player chooses to take on each operation will have an effect on the overall player strategy, and the remaining operation’s outcome.

For example, capturing an enemy base may earn the player a landing strip for refueling and re-armament, while winning a large-scale aerial conflict may gain the player access to high-altitude electronic support, etc. …

As for the Allied Support System, units aided by the player in previous operations will come to the player’s aide when a support request is sent out. The type of support provided to the player depends on which operations the player cleared prior to that point.

Examples of Allied Support include things such as carpet bombing, tank battalion artillery fire, or even coordinated missile attacks from allied aircraft.

Q: How did you determine the balance between fun and realism?

A: Hiroyuki Ichiyanagi — “Ace Combat” has always been developed under the premise that it is not a simulation, but a flight action game. “Ace Combat” is an entertainment experience empowering the player to become the hero. Unlike a simulator, long hours of practice are not necessary. Anyone can pick up the controller and instantly enjoy soaring through the sky, gazing over beautiful landscapes or becoming lost in the intense heat of battle. All of the production staff, including myself, embrace this underlying concept, so balancing realism and gameplay has never really presented much of a challenge for us.

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