Mankind has always been fascinated by flight. It’s only in the last century that we’ve been able to achieve it to an extent that for some people, it’s a daily thing. Most of us have been in a plane before at least once, and air travel has almost become a given in today’s society.
I’ve been interested in aviation perhaps more than your average person for most of my life, some of my earliest gaming memories are playing SU-25 Stormovik on the old Amstrad. I really got into flight games sometime around 2006, when my father got me a very special birthday gift; a flight in Nanchang CJ-6 (The actual plane!). It was a basic fly-over of the city, but the pilot was more than willing to do some loops and barrel rolls. I barely escaped with my guts (I still feel a little queasy just thinking about it) but that experience gave me the urge to incorporate such things in my gaming. Luckily for me, Ace Combat 6 was released the following year. I may have been late to the Ace Combat fanclub, but damn I was happy to be there.
Why is any of this relevant? Ace Combat has always been a very exclusive title. It was stuck on the Playstation (other than some portable console titles) until AC6, which is very likely why I never discovered it until it came out of nowhere as a 360 exclusive title. While the newest incarnation of the franchise, Assault Horizon, has made the trek back to PS3 as well (the only title in the franchise to be shared between two consoles on release) PC gamers have been left out entirely. There have been some attempts from third parties (HAWX comes to mind) which have in my opinion never really captured what made Ace Combat so good.
As always, when the big companies with budgets the size of a whale fail to deliver, it’s down to the guys making games in their bedrooms to give us what we really want.
Enter Vector Thrust, a flight combat sim currently in alpha by Portuguese developer TimeSymmetry. Cláudio Rodrigues, founder and sole member of the indie company, has set about creating what we’ve always wanted.
Visually, the game is beautiful. Rather than going for top of the line models and textures, Vector Thrust is done in a cell-shaded style, similar to what you see in cartoons and anime. Don’t let the thought of that put you off. It very honestly works wonderfully, and allows the vehicles and landscape to look great without having to put massive amounts on details into the assets. It’s nice to watch your missiles actually detach from the aircraft when fired (though in true Ace Combat style, they do reappear given your large amounts of ammo. But hey, who likes returning to base every five minutes anyway?) and the smile that crept across my face as a pressure wave danced across my Su-47 as I hit that magic number for the first time (for those of you that are not familiar with supersonic flight, it’s just over 1200km/h; the point at which you break the sound barrier and create a ‘sonic boom’).
Once you get past staring at how nice it is, you find yourself controlling a plane that feels almost like it was ripped straight out of Ace Combat. I’m a massive fan of the ‘realistic but not a simulator’ feel of the AC games, and I’m very happy that it has been brought over to Vector Thrust. Combat with the AI is generally how things went down in AC6, a beautiful dance (with the angels?) with both combatants attempting to get behind the other and unleash missile hell on his opponent. At least, that’s how I do things… And it works beautifully. I should note that I used a joystick while playing, and through my very short time playing with the keyboard; I do not recommend it at all. While I still had to use the keyboard for throttle (my joystick lacks a useful throttle, it’s cheap) things definitely became a lot more fluid and fun with the stick.
Vector Thrust as you download it is very good. For me however, what sets this game apart from the rest in a truly wonderful fashion is just how easy it is to mod. Missions, weapons and vehicles are all defined through easily editable config files, and their models and textures are in widely-used formats, incredibly easy to edit. It took me half an hour (most of which was spent in photoshop messing around getting things how I wanted it) to add a new skin to the Su-47, and ease at which I did that was phenomenal; literally only one game file was added (other than the textures). TimeSymmetry is building the game to be a modder’s paradise, and is even adding code in to help the small community that the game has already built to achieve what they want through their own work, as well as giving detailed tutorials on how to edit certain things. It’s beautiful to see a developer so eager to help the community, and to be perfectly honest it’s given me a lot of respect for the man behind this beautiful game.
You can purchase access to the Vector Thrust alpha on it’s Desura page.
The following is a rating of the game as it currently stands… an early alpha build. The alpha gives a good impression of what the game will be like on release, but please do not take it as gospel.
Gameplay: If you love how Ace Combat plays, you’ll love how Vector Thrust plays. It’s that simple. The current build gives a half a dozen campaign missions, as well as two random battle styled missions (fighting a bunch of the same plane, and surviving against what I can assume is random planes) The campaign missions are a tad hollow and a little bit dull, but from what I can tell they’re there to show you what you can do with the game, not to give you the ride of your life.
The menus need a lot of attention to be brought up to scratch, as they can be a pain to navigate. However, you can still do everything you need to do, so it’s not a huge problem.
Graphics: The cell-shaded textures are extremely endearing, and give the game a very anime look. Fans of shows such as Macross and Gundam will feel at home here, and those that aren’t will still fall in love with the visuals, I think.
Sound: The soundtrack is great, and the SFX are fitting. Perhaps not an award-winning audio experience, but a satisfying one nonetheless.
Innovation: As I’ve made the comparison countless times already, it’s obviously very similar to Ace Combat. However, it does bring that gameplay to the PC, which has not been done effectively before. The open code allows modders to do basically anything they can imagine, which is just awesome.
Replayability: In the current build, there isn’t a whole lot you can do. The campaign missions will probably not interest you enough to play them a second time, and the random battles are very basic survival gamemodes. However, there is a huge selection of aircraft to try, which will keep you playing for a while. If you like to get dirty with modding, then you’ll probably keep coming back time and time again.
Reviews are based on Graphics, Gameplay, Sound, Innovation & Replayability, each area being worth up to ten points, which are then divided by ten and rounded down to the nearest half to give a five-star rating.I’ll be watching development of Vector Thrust, so stay tuned for more updates and thoughts!
[You can find the original article here, including images of a custom skin for the Su-47 made by Indie base Staff]