As mentioned earlier, Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War takes place 15 years prior to the events of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War. It mainly focuses on the events that led to the Belkan War. You as pilot assume the role of a mercenary fighter pilot who is hired to fly for Ustio. Ustio is a small fictional country that is invaded by its militaristic neighbor Belka. Throw in some characters and that's pretty much the storyline. It can seem a little sappy but it works for videogames. Ace Combat Zero is essentially broken up into two modes: campaign mode and versus mode.
The campaign mode is fairly straightforward you fly your way through 18 tough combat missions. Some missions include attacking air-to-ground targets but a bulk of the mission load is geared toward air-to-air combat. To achieve mission success, gamers should try to stick to the jets best suited for that particular mission. So if the mission you're on requires attacking ground targets, you should try and stick to a ground attack plane such as the A-10 and avoid using planes better suited for aerial combat such as the F-15C Eagle. Each mission has its own challenges, so gamers can expect the level of difficulty to increase as you get deeper into the missions, just like in Ace Combat 5.
As expected this latest installment of Ace Combat features licensed aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle or the F/A-18 Hornet. More unlock able jets are also available later on in the game. Something, I've always found annoying in the Ace Combat series still thrives in Zero. On your first mission, as usual, you start out with an underpowered F-5 which is I guess ok for about the first 5 minutes of flight time.
I personally hate having to start out with a beginner's plane and virtually no advanced weaponry. New to this title is the ability to purchase weapons instead of using the default weaponry of that particular plane. You get to purchase advanced missiles or Napalm bombs for your fighter jet. Of course the really good guided munitions are available later in the game, but its still a good addition to the game.
One of the strong points of Ace Combat Zero is the ease of controls. Controlling your jet is fairly easy, and also included are settings to simplify the controls. Although the graphics are pretty much the same, Ace Combat Zero uses different paint schemes on its fighter jets that gives it a richer graphical output.
Otherwise, the graphics engine and land textures have not been changed much from Ace Combat 5. For Zero, Namco has changed the cut scenes to use real people instead of the computer generated graphics found in Ace Combat 5. The sound is essentially what you would expect from a flight simulator, and Namco even threw in some decent theatrical music along with the missions.
It would be really cool if actual more realistic flight simulator mechanics would be incorporated into Ace Combat. For example, the only real flight difficulties gamers need to worry about is stalling. Basically, whenever your jet is at a very low airspeed while gaining altitude your jet gives way and will not gain more speed putting you into a nose up dive. It would be a great it occasional engine failures or a limit on weapons usage were incorporated into the Ace Combat series. In addition, some form of limited countermeasures to avoid enemy air-to-air missiles is sorely needed.
It is worth mentioning that the only multiplayer action is available in versus mode. Ace Combat Zero is not playable online, which really hurts but two player still packs in all the intense air combat pilots crave. Versus mode as usual is displayed in the normal split screen view.
In the end, although on the surface Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War seems like the same old game, its not. Many new additions improve the overall gameplay experience and it follows with the great storyline from past Ace Combat games. The replay value on this title is extremely high. It's a game that you can simply put in and potentially play forever. Flight-sim fanatics need to pick this one up and add it to your gaming library.
Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War is rated "T" for Everyone (Content suitable for ages 13 and older) and is available exclusively only for the PlayStation 2 console.