Retro review: Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War

Daniel Woodhouse

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Retro game Ace Combat was released in 1992.
Photo courtesy of Facebook

The Ace Combat series is set on a parallel Earth called Strangereal — where the continents have been reshaped and the countries have names unlike those of today. Zero takes place in 1995, fifteen years before AC5. This chapter of the series covers the Belkan War, where the country of Belka invades its former province Ustio after a surplus of natural resources is discovered in Ustio. After losing numerous battles, the Ustio military hires several squadrons of veteran mercenary pilots in order to turn the time.

AC Zero not only has a unique story, but also presents numerous themes of warfare and the human condition. It poses questions such as: is there really a difference between war and peace? If people draw lines in the sand about whose land is whose, humans are doomed to forever fight one another because of the way we have divided ourselves. Does the word ‘innocent’ mean anything in war, or is all just collateral damage? And when it all comes down to it, what’s most important to the soldier: honor, glory or survival?

Gameplay involves air combat, but each mission is different in its own way. Sometimes the player battles with enemy aces. Other times they can participate in air recon for an upcoming strike, or even taking part in naval and ground battles by providing crucial air support. What really sets this series apart from other flight simulators is that each game has its own super weapon and airship battles. In Zero, players can fight a giant laser that can decimate entire squadrons of fighters; its airship is a 200 foot long bomber/carrier equipped with about two dozen anti-aircraft guns and launches fighter jets.

Around the middle or end of each mission, players have to engage in a game of cat-and-mouse with numerous ace fighter pilots who are both skilled and deadly. The dogfights are definitely the most exciting part of the game, as they create epic set pieces: skies fill with metal carnage, exhaust trails of missiles and tracer rounds of miniguns.

The planes and ground vehicles look incredibly realistic for a game from 2006. However, the graphics aren’t too detailed. Special mention also goes to the game’s score, which beautifully fits the tone of the story by giving subtle moments of serenity before returning to the deadly game of wits.

Namco, who some might remember as the developer of Pac-Man, really knocked this Ace Combat installment out of the park. I look forward to seeing new products from this amazing series.

4.5 out 5 stars