Ace Combat Joint Assault Review

By Tim Stevens - Posted Sep 13, 2010

Ace Combat: Joint Assault rights its predecessor's wrongs on the PSP by mixing in some great co-op action and a hangar-full of jets. But, is this otherwise familiar effort worth strapping in for again?

The Pros
  • Relatively good graphics
  • Plenty of unlockables
  • Full-campaign co-op
The Cons
  • Frustrating lack of mid-mission checkpoints
  • Very familiar, often repetitive missions
  • Same cheesy voiceover work

Ace Combat Joint Assault Review:

The Ace Combat franchise continues its assault on all platforms, returning to finish what it started on the PSP with 2006’s Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception. As the version numbers increase little changes in this series, so it’s no surprise that 2010’s Joint Assault will be an incredibly familiar experience to anyone who has played its predecessor. Still, there’s one major feature new here: online co-op through the entire campaign, and that changes things.

Increasing Premiums

Even little portable Ace Combat games come with massive production values, and Joint Assault is no exception, featuring a bizarre custom soundtrack, plenty of licensed aircraft, and some highly polished cut-scenes. Here they tell the story of insurance fraud on a global scale – the sorry tale of what happens when an adjustor gets the power to buy an army.

It’s an odd angle for a world war to say the least, but it provides the all-important excuse for globe-trotting missions that will have you canyon-carving in the Middle East one minute and dogfighting over San Francisco Bay the next. Yes, in another first Joint Assault features a number of real-world locales as backdrops for battles. Ultimately they make little impact on the game itself, but as you’re fending off wave after wave of incessant enemy attackers the presence of a familiar landmark or two does help to make things a bit more compelling.

The locations may be new, but the missions themselves are largely recycled. Honestly there’s only so much variety you can have in a game like this, but still the old standbys are all here. You’ll be attacking massive aerial fortresses, attacking massive ground-based fortresses, and quite frequently tapping into the dozens and dozens of missiles that these aircraft somehow find room for. That’s not to say the missions aren’t a challenge or entertaining, it’s just that they’re awfully familiar. And, sadly, many lack checkpoints, which can be a real bother as the later ones can easily take 15 to 20 minutes to complete.

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We’re Going To Need A Bigger Hangar

Joint Assault offers about 40 aircraft to unlock, including legacy fighters like the F-4 Phantom and F-5 Freedom Fighter,  ground-pounders like the A-10 Thunderbolt II, and everyone’s favorite naval offering, the F-14 Tomcat, in which you can be Tom Cruise’s wingman any time. You’ll start with only the F-4 but will earn funds in each mission to spend on new jets. Or, you can buy more advanced munitions and other upgrades for those already taking up space on the slab. Finally, when it’s time to move on, you can sell anything you’ve bought – amazingly, for exactly what you paid for it.

Combine all those items to buy with other unlockables like custom paint schemes, emblems, and enough medals to fill the biggest of chests and you’ll see there’s plenty here to keep completionists busy. There are plenty of missions too and, thanks to a few campaign branches, multiple play-throughs are a real possibility. That’s especially true if you find someone to do some co-op with.

Every mission in the game can be played with at least one wingman, some with a total of four players. Other missions split gamers into two teams of two, completing different but related missions simultaneously. Cool? Yes -- if you can find similarly skilled and interested players. If not, you can always turn to the eight-player competitive multiplayer modes, but you’d better make sure to complete that campaign a few times and buy the best hardware before hopping online lest you find yourself seriously out-gunned.

Presentation, Presentation, Presentation

The visuals here are largely the same as Skies of Deception, which is to say good for the PSP but something of a step down from the home console versions. Still, they do the job, with only the blurry ground textures causing issues -- sometimes it’s a little difficult to tell when you’re about to slam into the ground if you’re not keeping one eye on that altimeter. Jet models are well detailed and fully animated, and each offers a full virtual cockpit.

All the action is accompanied by a curious selection of tunes, some operatic and some seemingly lifted from a Japanese Top-40 station. An odd mix, for sure, but the soundtrack works well enough and anything that breaks up the incessant radio chatter here is a good thing. But, if you’re an Ace Combat fan you naturally wouldn’t expect anything less.

A Full Load-Out

Ace Combat: Joint Assault is the best portable entry in the franchise yet, and while that isn’t necessarily saying much it does improve on the last PSP entry, if only thanks to the online co-op. Even if you aren’t interested in taking this online the lengthy, branching campaign and bevy of unlocks will keep you satisfied until you’ve personally ensured that every last bogey has bought the farm.