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Review by: Jordan Thomas
Published: February 15, 1998
I know you, dogfighters.
You hide polished, WWII-style goggles in your closet, right next to a trailing white scarf. You have model planes hanging menacingly from the ceiling of your room, grim birds of prey from the battle-torn skies of days long gone. Nothing thrills you like the curling tail of smoke that pours forth from the blackened fuselage of an enemy you’ve sent into his death spiral.
Your battlefield lies far above the trenches and the fathomless oceans. Your weapons are the sleekest aerial combat machines of history, and your only armor is the deceptive, fleeting cover that the surrounding clouds can provide. It’s a dangerous occupation, fit for few individuals. But you love it. You are, without question, a Fighter Ace.
Recently, I tried my hand at this net-based war of the wings. With a few simple downloads, I was able to take to the skies…and get thoroughly thrashed. There are some of you aeroduel fanatics out there, and I think you must have taken offense to one or two of my past reviews, because I had more enemy fighters on my tail than I had bullets in my machine gun.
Based entirely through Microsoft’s Internet Gaming Zone, Fighter Ace allows you to engage in realtime, intensive dogfights with hundreds of other players. Before you get started, you can practice controlling your craft locally in practice flights, whether you’re connected or not. To play the real thing, you simply log onto the website and launch the game. Choosing a server is incredibly easy, and for once with an online title, I didn’t find myself grumbling before I even got into the gameplay.
Once the software has been launched, you can configure a variety of simple options to designate the controlling peripherals. Keyboard is possible, but…use a joystick. When they start putting little clickin’ keys in fighter planes, I’m gonna crash mine into a building. Anyway, one of the features I appreciated most about this title was the helpful pop-up tutorial instructions. With literally no reference to any document, the game will show you how to soar into some of the tougher multiplayer combat you’ll ever experience.
The game’s central flaw, like many Internet based systems, is visual. While the models are polygonal and the landscape texture is relatively interesting, it’s all quite pixelly, and would have benefitted immensely from Direct3D acceleration. There seems to be a pervasive trend amongst the expansive Net-gaming services to ignore the innovations in graphics acceleration under the pretense that a game for hundreds of players cannot be expected to flaunt the latest in texture-tightening. However, as we’ve seen in plenty TCP / IP capable multiplayer games of late, we know that it can only help reduce frame loss and make everything look more believable overall. It’s time to push the medium.
In Fighter Ace, the graphics are commendable as far as the current crop of online games goes, but even so the quality wasn’t enough to dazzle me. There are a few slick models of the various planes which rotate smoothly before you enter gameplay. But once inside, I had a difficult time coping with the object and surface scaling. For example, each pilot, either ally or enemy, is highlighted by his or her name hovering above the speck on the horizon that represents their craft. However, there were not enough steps between this distant dot and a blur roaring right past my cockpit. I don’t mind dealing with high speed dogfighting, but only if I can see my opponents approaching.
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