REVIEW: Terrible game, not at all what I was expecting for Ace Combat
Let me just start by saying that as a long-time fan of the AC series, especially 4 and 5, this game feels like a cheap knockoff and not like an AC game at all.
There's actually a lot of reasons I don't like this game, but we might as well start there. The gameplay is different and generally not Ace Combat-like. The new DFM (which for those of you lucky enough to have not bought this game yet probably don't know stands for Dog Fight Mode) system completely changes this game from a fun arcadey combat sim to a game where you spend most of the time using dumb key sequences to play arcadey minigames where the plane flies itself and you just keep a circle hovering over a zoomed-in enemy aircraft. Now, you can opt to play without using the DFM, but it's kinda like trying to play Fallout 3 without VATS: the game play is changed so much to favor the new system, that trying to play without it is difficult, irritating, and generally no fun at all. Furthermore, since enemy aircraft can "use DFM" on you, you get railroaded into using the dumb turn-the-tables escape sequence to get into DFM behind them as the only effective way to avoid taking hits from their otherwise un-shakeable lock.
The new first-person mouse-controlled helicopter gunner stages, and the "walking game" where you turn your head this way and that walking around the base during cutscenes are asinine, and it feels like they're trying way too hard to emulate call of duty in a game which is clearly NOT supposed to work like that.
The good news is that since it's on the PC platform, you have some limited compatibility with popular joysticks, and it should map a lot of them out of the box for basic controls. It recognized both my X52 and Cyborg EVO right away. That said the controls are clunky, and if you have a joystick plugged in, the keyboard controls in the menus suddenly become really glitchy and broken, and like most shoddy console ports there's no context to the insipid button-mashing prompts (press [BUTTON 3] to not die!). If your joystick like mine has 37 buttons that you know only by shape and location, and not numbers, be prepared for a lot of aggravation in navigating the menu system and "quicktime events". The only solution I've really found is to map everything to the keyboard, and then use your joystick's profiling software to map its buttons to keypresses (and un-map them in the game), but that's not really a solution since then you have to play the "which joystick button do they mean when they say 'press M not to die?'" game. It's unnecessary layers of abstraction that make quick decisions and fluid control extremely difficult.
Did I mention the controls and UI are clunky? As an example, it took me forever to figure out I had to press [BACKSPACE] in the aircraft selection menu to get to the hangar where I could actually SEE THE AIRCRAFT I'm selecting. Though I guess you can always just pick an aircraft from the text list and choose 'color 4' and be surprised later when you find out what that is. They also revamped the default control style so roll only rotates your craft a little bit, and you have to pitch and yaw from there to turn, like the old X-Wing vs Tie Fighter games from the 90s. You can turn that off by switching back to classic controls in the menu, but the fact that they have that as the default and call it "Optimum" just serves to highlight the lack of foresight in designing and implementing the controls, and overall paradigm shift to a more simplistic arcade shooter that lacks the depth of the original game series.
Now, a lot of these poor control and UI problems are more or less par for the course when it comes to shoddy console ports with Games for Windows LIVE, but that really doesn't make it excusable. In fact, that's just another problem: why does this game need Games for Windows LIVE? It's already locked to the steam platform, so why not just use steamworks instead of clubbing gamers over the head with the downright horrible third-party DRM system and general user experience f***ery that is GFWL? Nobody likes GFWL. A lot of gamers tolerate it, sure, but I sure as hell don't. Despite a DECADE of waiting for an Ace Combat game to come to the PC, and AC4/5 being the only reason I've owned or kept a Playstation 2 AT ALL for the last 7 years, I would have passed up on buying this game entirely if I'd noticed the GFWL requirement before clicking 'Buy.' It's that bad. It's just not worth it in my mind. It's the same reason I didn't buy Dark Souls. At what point are console developers going to realize that PC gamers DO NOT WANT THIS? They're only shooting themselves in the foot.
In the end I gave up around the third mission or so, having spent less time in the game than I spent trying to clobber GFWL into working so I could play in the first place (hours... seriously. what a ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ waste.) After thousands of hours of enjoyment out of previous Ace Combat titles, this one just wasn't fun. It wasn't worth wasting my time on.