It’s funny timing that Top Gun was released today, given the fact that the H.A.W.X. 2 demo also went live at the same time on the PlayStation Store. It’s funny because H.A.W.X. 2 seems to “borrow” elements from Top Gun for the NES, as I mentioned earlier today… and now we get a brand new Top Gun game to play and discuss. Unfortunately, problems rear their ugly heads with this effort from the development at from DoubleSix, and $15 will feel like too much not long after you take your first F-14 hop.
If you did play either the original H.A.W.X. or today’s demo of H.A.W.X. 2, you’re going to know almost exactly how to play Top Gun. The left stick rolls and banks your craft while the L1 and R1 buttons control yaw for more intricate and precise turns. Missiles are fired with the square button and your guns are fired with the X button. There’s also an option to pilot the plane from a distance, much like the Assistance Off mode in H.A.W.X., by pressing the circle button. Unlike H.A.W.X., your planes don’t stall and the controls are a bit more forgiving… but they’re also incredibly sensitive. Since you cannot stall, your minimum speed is still quite fast, leading to many instances of speeding past ground targets before you can lock onto and fire upon them. Everything about the controls feel fast, and when it comes to ground assaults, this becomes problematic quickly.
Single-player modes consist of a Campaign and a Horde mode. The single-player Campaign basically puts players in the uniform of Lieutenant Pete Mitchell, also known by his familiar call sign, Maverick. Maverick’s tale starts out on a hairy note over the Indian Ocean, where he and his fellow pilots fall under attack by Soviet forces led by their notorious ace called Ivan. Maverick and his RIO, Goose, are then shipped off to the Top Gun academy to sharpen their skills. If this sounds familiar to you, it should… as the first half of the campaign essentially follows the movie. The general plot is glossed over, though. While you do share the skies with Jester and Viper, other important instances such as Maverick’s in-air accident and Goose’s subsequent demise are merely glossed over and explained away by dialogue that’s supplied by voice actors who seem to be bored. The second half of the Campaign follows Maverick and Iceman into the combat again a Soviet fleet or warships and planes, culminating in the final battle with Ivan. There are a few movie references in the second half, too, but the voice acting again kills a lot of the movie’s influence.
As with most flight combat games, players deal with enemies both on the ground and in the air. Air combat is the better of the two, although it’s a tad easy to be overwhelmed by missiles and targeting enemies feels like it’s inconsistent and takes too long. The game tries to change things up by adding jamming devices, which disable missile locks and necessitate the use of guns to take out targets. This obviously alters your target priorities, but taking out these jammers on the ground is far more difficult than it should be due to the aforementioned oversensitive controls. Later missions introduce bombers with on-board jammers (which remind me of E-767 places from the Ace Combat games), and these require the player to take out each of four engines with guns only. Aside from these differences, Top Gun‘s combat is standard stuff for flight combat games; SU-27 and MiG-31 planes attempt to splash your plane in the air while SAMs and AA guns try to do the same from the ground. It’s familiar stuff, but this isn’t necessarily bad.
Multiplayer play is tough to judge. Each time I tried to play with others, the connection was lost. From what I was able to experience from the Deathmatch rounds I got into, online dogfighting was fun. There’s an odd “warmup” period before each match, so kills don’t count… but scores are active, it’s fun. Playing against other human players means that predicting flight paths is much more difficult and that missile locks don’t guarantee kills.
Visually, Top Gun is average. Generic landscapes and ocean settings house each mission, and the action moves along at 30 frames per second. The planes aren’t all that detailed, and there are instances of texture glitches and tearing from time to time. Cutscenes for the game are basically shots of your aircraft from different angles while unmoving faces in small boxes recite lines of dialog. In terms of sound, expect lots of phoned-in voice acting and poor-to-average covers of familiar themes from the Top Gun film mixed in with some generic guitar riffs. It’s unfortunate that the voice acting couldn’t be pulled from the film, considering that all of the other licenses are intact. The same complaint applies to the music; how can Danger Zone and the Top Gun Anthem be included, but not by the original artists? If the game is based strongly on the film, and Paramount itself is listed as the game’s publisher, why are the film’s assets being substituted for? These are very odd aesthetic decisions.
It’s unfortunate that Top Gun has seen multiple games spawned from the original film, and yet we still don’t have a game that pays the ultimate compliment to the movie. In no way is Top Gun a terrible game, but it’s not all that remarkable, either. It plays like a dumbed-down version of H.A.W.X., and that game is available as a full retail release for slightly more than this 240MB download gives for $15. $10 likely would be a sweeter price point for this title, and it just begs for in-movie assets… cutscenes, sound clips, and real music. If you’re jonesing for a flight combat game, try H.A.W.X. for now… and keep an eye to the virtual skies for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon when it appears on radar next year.
Final Grade: C-