A more cynical man than me may sigh at the arrival of another long standing PlayStation series finally arriving on the PSP. He may think "Don't they have ANY new ideas? Can't they come up with something... different?" But I am not that man, and the arrival of Ace Combat X for the PSP shall be treated with the same due care and consideration with which I treat all my games... ahem...
Following the war between two fictional countries, Leasath and Aurelia, you are part of a last ditch effort to stop Aurelia being completely occupied by Leasath's invading forces. There is a definite sci-fi slant to the technology in the game too: the basic planes are all fairly standard, but there are some weird and wonderful things in there. The story certainly leads to some interesting discoveries - I certainly never thought I'd end up fighting an invisible flying fortress.
But apart from this slightly obscure story, Ace Combat X is exactly the game you think it's going to be. Choose a mission, hop into a plane, blow something up, come home for brandy and cigars. The only real variety is in the type of things you have to blow up. The missions themselves tend to come in 3 different flavours: ground attack, air attack and a mixture of the two. Namco has tried to spice things up a little by requiring the player to use an almost stealthy approach in certain missions, but the end result is always the same. And it can drag after a while. That's not to say that no enjoyment can be had from the game. Certainly, it would be hard not to enjoy dog-fighting while flying around in a hi-tech jet, it's just that the lack of variety is glaring, and it sours the experience to a degree.
The game's main campaign mode has a branching structure, allowing you to choose a path of missions on your way to your final goal. It does help in giving you the feeling that you are in control of your destiny somewhat, but considering the brevity of the campaign, it might not have been wise to make some of these missions optional. Still, any conscientious player will soon realise that completing these additional missions is well worth it, as they provide you with cash for new planes and parts, or in some cases additional troops for later missions. There are an enormous number of parts and if unlocking items is your thing, you'll be in heaven here. However, as is often the case, you'll probably just find a plane you like and stick with it.
The transition to the PSP has been handled very well. The game looks as beautiful as you'd expect on the widescreen display and it's definitely comparable to its PS2 counterparts, if not as detailed. Sound effects and music are spot on too, and, combined with the nicely detailed in-game HUD, go a long way to creating a believable atmosphere. It's only when we get to the control system that the problems start to arise. Assigning Pitch to the analogue nub and Yaw to the D-Pad makes controlling your plane much more difficult that it should be, resulting in Yaw being used sparingly at best. It's even more of a shame when you consider how well the nub actually works for controlling the pitch of the aircraft.
It's hard not to be cynical and biased when an old series arrives on a new(ish) format and then proceeds to play almost exactly the same as it did five years ago. The gameplay is solid enough, but it just seems to be lacking effort, failing to make best use of the PSP hardware (multiplayer dogfights, but no online support) and not taking the series forward creatively. Ace Combat X is certainly a decent enough flight sim, and well worth a look if you're a fan of previous titles, but it's just an average addition to a long running series.