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Top Gun
Score: 60%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Paramount Digital Entertainment
Developer: DoubleSix Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 16 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Flight/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Flight combat games have been around almost since the beginning of gaming itself. Today, the genre is well-populated; from the venerable Ace Combat franchise to the recent smash success Snoopy Flying Ace. Top Gun is a PlayStation Network exclusive from Paramount Digital Entertainment and DoubleSix. In this downloadable title, gamers can experience all the excitement of the 1986 Tom Cruise movie without having to put up with all the homoeroticism. At least, that's what it's supposed to deliver. This game delivers about half the excitement of the movie... and then calls it quits.

Top Gun isn't exactly an eyesore, but it's certainly no looker. Whether you're a fan of the movie or not, it's hard to ignore the beautiful shots of the F-14 Tomcats streaking across the sky. This game features almost none of that beauty. Instead, it showcases nearly feature-less earth and still water from beginning to end. The planes look okay, but they lack the attention to detail that gamers have come to expect from better titles. And, at the risk of sounding like a toddler, they don't even blow up all that good. I've got one good thing to say, though; when you pull a continuous high-g turn, you will get a serious case of tunnel vision. It's neat to experience that without the dreadful feeling of blood pooling in the back of your head.

Top Gun may miss the mark when it comes to visual design, but the audio fares even worse. For a game published by Paramount Digital Entertainment, the level of inauthenticity in the sound design is almost baffling. Everything has been redone, from the soundtrack to the voice acting. The Top Gun theme and "Danger Zone" are here, but don't expect to hear the original stuff by Kenny Loggins and Steve Stevens. I suppose there's a complicated reason behind this, but whatever it is, it's not good enough. I was hoping to hear the same missile lock tones from the movie. All the Aliens vs. Predator games use archived sounds. Why can't Top Gun? I've saved the worst for last: the voice acting is abysmal across the board. Maverick is (incomprehensibly) a silent protagonist; some people may see this as a blessing. On the other hand, Goose is insufferable; if Top Gun is any indication, anyone can be a Radar Intercept Officer if they are annoying enough. It's so bad that I find myself flying extremely close to my wingman in the hopes that I'll fly through his jetwash and... well, you know. Top Gun is a reasonably quotable movie, but this cast brings that statement into question. To add insult to injury, the script has been butchered and scrambled. Many of the movie's most memorable one-liners are delivered by the wrong character; for example, the solemn Viper is the one who delivers the "you'll be flying rubber dog sh** out of Hong Kong" line. Actually, he uses "crap" as a substitute; for what reason, I have no idea. Alan Wake and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves got away with multiple uses of the word and managed to hold on to their "T" ratings. It's so unfaithful that I was half expecting Striker to randomly shout "I feel the need... the need for speed!" during the final mission. It's seriously lousy.

You might be expecting Top Gun to paraphrase the story of Pete "Maverick" Mitchell. If so, you're right, though it's cobbled together in a slapdash kind of way that will leave fans extremely disappointed. Part of me thinks the developers should have simply created a standalone Top Gun experience with little or no relevance to the movie. And in some ways, they have; certain moments you'd expect to see in a game based on Top Gun simply aren't here; the prologue doesn't give you a chance to escort the shaken-beyond-words Cougar back to the carrier, and the rivalry between Maverick and Iceman is one-sided (though, admittedly, it's hard to argue with someone who doesn't say anything).

The first time I played Top Gun, I noticed something that didn't augur well for the rest of the experience. It had to do with the game's second mode, in which you fly around a map shooting down wave after wave of bogeys. What's it called? Horde Mode. Since this game is a PlayStation Network exclusive, this may escape the notice of some. If I've just left you in the dark, just know that 2008's Gears of War 2 features a mode that is identical in both name and premise.

The multiplayer component of Top Gun could become its saving grace, but that depends entirely on the community. So far, the game doesn't seem to be catching on very well. That's not a good sign; the weak Campaign Mode can't stand up on its own, and without a strong community, the multiplayer can't serve as extra padding. Thus far, I've had far too much trouble actually finding matches to be convinced that Top Gun will survive.

Provided there aren't severe deviations from established conventions, combat flight games tend to share the same learning curve. Once you've played one, the chances are good that you'll pick up the next one with no problem whatsoever. That being said, the planes in Top Gun handle differently from the aircraft from other games. Regardless of which plane you choose, you'll find the handling to be on the sensitive side. This takes away the feeling that you're handling a heavy vehicle, and instead imparts the sensation of flying a paper airplane. Not good.

Top Gun features the classic trio of difficulty levels, each of which aptly describes the challenge level you'll be getting. I played through the campaign on Normal, and I found it to be a workable but occasionally frustrating experience. You will find yourself in situations that are impossible to predict; by that, I mean planes will appear all around you and send salvo after salvo straight at you. If you want to survive the more heated encounters, you'll have to make use of a unrealistic tactic that I highly doubt is condoned by the COs of TOPGUN. You'll have to disengage for a bit, find a good angle, and fight like an opportunist. You can get into knotted dogfights with single planes, but when several other bogeys are targeting you and you alone, it's not a viable tactic.

Game Mechanics:
The choice to borrow elements from other games is an obviously risky development decision. There are success stories (looking at you, Darksiders), but this kind of development only works when the game is able to stand on its own as a unique, one-of-a-kind product. Top Gun shamelessly steals from nearly every flight combat game released in the last five years. Sure, it cribs from the best of them, but that's all it does. I'd have been fine with it if they'd done more with the high-g turns and squad commands of Ace Combat and C.F.I. mode (essentially H.A.W.X.'s Assistance Off mode). At least the mechanics work. There's one thing I really don't understand, though: who thought that it would be a good idea to use a regenerating health system in a game about airplanes?

Thankfully, the flight combat genre is perfectly healthy. New installments of the Ace Combat and H.A.W.X. franchise are due soon. But even now, the genre is populated enough to the point where you can spend less than Top Gun's asking price for a much better game.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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