I think it’s almost every little boy’s dream to pilot a jet plane one day. There is something very alluring about screaming through the skies at ludicrous speeds, firing huge guns, and in general, kicking ass. Unfortunately, most of us will never get to live out those dreams but then again, isn’t that why video games exist? Lethal Skies is the newest offering from Sammy Entertainment and it seeks to place the player in the cockpit of some of the greatest aircraft to grace our skies. Though this genre has an established pedigree, with such classic titles as Afterburner and NES’ Top Gun, Namco has strived to fill the void lately with its Ace Combat series; a worthy effort that combines both action and simulation elements. So who wins in the dogfight between Lethal Skies and Ace Combat 4? We shall see.
Lethal Skies takes place in the near future as aspiring pilots are thrown in the intimidating position of having to save the free world from evil forces bent on its destruction. Perhaps this would seem a little bit overwhelming but it’s not, since players are equipped with the latest and greatest weapons the world’s militaries have to offer. The result is a wild ride.
Lethal Skies does a good job of utilizing the capabilities of the PlayStation 2 but I definitely feel that more could have been done. Models are accurate and it’s cool to fly some of the very same planes that are protecting our nation as we speak. I especially thought the afterburner effect was cool and I liked watching my engines open up full throttle. In addition to the variety of planes, there are also quite a few other vehicles and weaponry, such as AA guns, tanks, helicopters and ships. While these models lack the detail of their aerial counterparts, they are quite well done as well. There are some good smoke effects throughout the game that I was fairly impressed with. The environments however, lack detail and are overly simple. The first level places the player in a city submerged beneath water. While there are numerous buildings, I felt that they lacked polish and the water seemed to be a technique used to simplify level creation. I did enjoy some of the variation in the later levels, including a level that sees you flying through a canyon. I also found the briefings and menu system to be very well laid out. It shows that some extra thought did go into polishing some aspects of this game. Overall, I got the feeling that the developers strove to create a solid game but failed to reach the next level of air combat.
The sound effects are pretty good but they don’t really stand out and carry the impact that they should. When I’m being tracked by a missile, I expect a certain level of tension to result from the screeching racket. Lethal Skies just doesn’t enforce that intensity. As well, the soundtrack is pretty run-of-the-mill, with some mediocre techno music proving to be the mainstay. Overall, I think that the audio department is one of the weakest areas of the game and could be much improved on.
With all the raving I’ve done about air combat simulations, you would expect me to be an expert virtual pilot. Well, truthfully, I’m not. Unfortunately, the control in Lethal Skies is a bit too much on the arcade side and I didn’t really feel that it was natural. You’re able to adjust the control to fit your liking but with only three possible settings, this seemed somewhat of an afterthought. On almost every mission, you’ll find yourself with a couple of wingmen to help keep the enemies off your tail. There is amusing radio banter as you save them from countless enemies. The gun targeting system is very cool and does a solid job of determining where you will need to shoot in order to hit your intended target. The missile targeting system however, is a little on the dumb side and I found it continually picking out obstructed targets. Perhaps this is how it works in real life but I didn’t enjoy having to quickly reselect my target only to have flown past it.
There are a fair number of missions in Lethal Skies and they’re of decent difficulty, but many of them lack character and flair. Many of the potential targets are items such as radar towers and enemy bases that are simply surrounded by AA batteries. While this may make the game challenging, there is no real skill in avoiding AA fire and it causes the game to lose a bit of its appeal. With all that said, I did enjoy playing Lethal Skies for a while, but never really got sucked in.
Truth be told, I was disappointed. I love this genre and normally show a little bit of favoritism, but I just wasn’t that impressed with Lethal Skies. It could have had more action, a little bit more detail, and most importantly, better control. If you’re a diehard air combat nut, you might want to take Lethal Skies for a spin, otherwise I suggest you keep this one grounded.