I can remember watching Top Gun as a kid, seeing Maverick and co taking to the skies, chasing off the bad guys and oiling themselves up for a not-at-all-gay-honest-guv game of beach volleyball. It was much the same for a lot of kids my age, we all wanted to be up there killing the baddies and winning the girls but secretly being scared by the very idea of “doing a Goose”. And so, a lot of years on (was it really that long ago?) we can make do with flying and shooting stuff in our front room. It doesn’t win any girls, but it can still be an exciting experience.
So here’s Jane’s Advanced Strike Fighters, bringing back the name associated with several highly detailed flying games from previous generations. This time round though, we’re camping in the arcade field and JASF looks to bring fun to the skies, leaving the old Jane’s sim games behind and aiming itself at a whole new audience. Results are mixed, but generally positive.
Initial impressions are pretty good – sharp looking visuals, miles upon miles of nice looking terrain blotted only by some rough looking buildings in parts. A short tutorial breaks you into the action, giving you the basic controls and teaching you how your (limited) HUD and various markers work. You’ll soon be up in the sky, hugging the ground to avoid radar before popping up to bomb ground-based targets or take on a few enemy MiGs while doing barrel rolls and evading enemy fire. The ammo situation is a double edged sword, and depending on what you’re after will depend on how you find it. You’ll get an allocation of missiles and bombs when you take off, which when they’re all fired will leave you totally vulnerable. For a few seconds. You see, the weapons regenerate after a very short while. Good technology, that. But it does mean you can go in all guns blazing, drop a few bombs, shoot a few missiles, fly around a bit then go and do it all again. For arcade-style fun and excitement it’s pretty decent. For those after something a bit more sim-based or want to look after their payload and save that vital final missile until the absolute last minute then you’ll be a bit put off by the never-ending supply.
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That said, you’ll need it. The single player campaign will require you to destroy a huge number of ground targets, certainly impossible with a standard weapon set. And don’t forget all those enemy planes that will pop up in the distance and make you number 1 on their most wanted list, they’ll work together to distract you and get behind you to let off a few of their own missiles in your direction. Your plane’s “health” is only measured by a bar in the top corner of the screen though, so don’t expect to actually see any damage on your own aircraft. One second you’ll be looking as pristine as a Ferrari in a showroom, the next you’ll be in flames and heading for the ground. It’s a shame that you don’t get roughed up by damage; having a line of dents or holes where enemy gunfire has pummeled the side of your plane would be great, as would seeing nearly-downed enemies smoking as you hunt them for the final blow, but it’s not to be.
As for the planes themselves, there’s a really good variety that you unlock as you play through the campaign. They do feel different to fly; those which are aimed at aerial combat are much more nippy and versatile than the slow, heavy bombers that do epic damage but are about as maneuverable as a wardrobe. Picking the correct plane for the mission is vital – pick something designed for ground attacks and you’ll be stuffed when you’re joined by some enemy fighters, but if you’re expecting some dog fighting a pick an out and out fighter you’ll have trouble when you come across some ground-to-air launchers that you don’t have the means to get rid of. Luckily, the mission explanation suggests a style of plane, and from that point it’s up to you.
The campaign itself is a reasonableish (it’s a word, ok?) length and gives decent variety, but it’s the multiplayer element that really caught my eye. With the option of various competitive modes as well as the awesome-sounding co-op options I couldn’t wait to get in the air with a few people and start spouting all those hugely overused Top Gun quotes. Sadly, waiting was exactly what I had to do. A lot. Endlessly in fact. There just wasn’t anyone else online, and no amount of lobby setting up or game searching found anything. This is a massive shame. I’ve even put that in bold it’s such a shame. The way the planes handle make it easy for most people to do some pretty neat flying, and some co-op missions or online dogfights would be insane in theory, but the options just weren’t there. Hopefully the online community will pick up if the game gets a price cut to entice impulse purchases, but right now if you’re only after the multiplayer then it’s not good news.
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So that makes a final score something of a tough task. The game itself is perfectly fine – it looks nice enough, the missions are varied and challenging and the planes handle well enough to make you feel like you’re in control without holding your hand too much. But this empty online community is a real fly in the ointment (pardon the pun) and the campaign which clock in at around 6 hours is only going to keep you engaged if you fancy ramping up the difficulty and going for all out perfection.
It’s such a shame to see a potentially rewarding game fall a little short of expectations, but if you’re a fan of arcade flying then this might still plug a gap until Starhawk arrives. If you can find a group of people willing to give you a few games online then add 1 to the score as your experience will increase substantially, but as it stands JASF is just not quite there. Very enjoyable, but not for long enough.
Reviewed on PS3