4/5 ★ – theebigbamtheory's review of Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies.
I've considered myself to be a fan of combat flight games for a while now, and I have been wanting to get into the Ace Combat series for a long time. Playing AC7 back when that game came out only strengthened that desire. I have been wanting to play Shattered Skies for a while now, and I'm happy to say that it didn't disappoint.
AC04 is considered to be a return to the roots of the series after AC3's mixed reception, and that will be quickly apparent when you start the campaign. A not-too-long story cutscene starts, telling a story from the perspective of a child whose family is killed indirectly by a pilot from the enemies' side, immediately establishing the presence of a future rival to the player's character. After that, a classic AC-style mission briefing begins, and you're flown into the first mission after selecting an aircraft. This will be the norm as you progress through the game, although the story cutscenes only appear after select missions.
The game's structure is simple and unobstructive, allowing the core gameplay and progression system to shine. You can buy new aircrafts and weapons with the points you'll collect after each mission, and the amount of the points you get depends on your performance. The aircrafts you can buy are limited at first, but you'll get access to more as you finish select missions. It's a straightforward and effective system.
The story is light (especially compared to some other games in the series), but interesting enough to make the cutscenes feel rewarding. Again, it's simple but impactful.
The game's control holds up very well. You will able to feel the progression of the aircrafts you obtain, as the improvements in speed and handling will be quite noticable. It's not very far off from the newer games in terms of fun factor.
The objectives of the missions have decent variety, although most of the missions are time limit based destructions. The later games in the series would improve on this aspect. Still, it doesn't ever feel repetitive so it's not a big deal.
In the normal difficulty, the game has a pretty decent challenge, although it starts out pretty tame in the first few missions. There are no checkpoints in the missions, which will be the primary source of frustration for most people, especially in the later missions that are longer and can introduce new objectives in the middle of the mission. Most of the enemies can be dealt easily, but enemy fighters later on will prove to be harder, especially when you encounter fighters from your rival's squadron, the Yellow Squadron. Overall it's a pretty fair game, but it also can be punishing when you least expect it.
Lastly, the music is pretty decent overall. This game starts the blending of various styles of music in the series, such as rock, orchestral, and latin. The music here can feel a bit samey and one dimensional, but it does have great highlights, like Comona (a very energetic rock track) and the track in the very last mission (epic orchestral vocals!).
AC04 is regarded as a landmark title not just in the series, but in the genre it's in, and it's not hard to see why. After all, it changed everything again. The "return to roots" theme works spectacularly, as the game showcases what AC games does best: fantastical yet grounded flight combat. Many of the game's qualities have been superseded by later games, but AC04's simpler approach to things makes it one of the more easier games to enjoy in the series. It's a classic title that is not to be missed.