As a gamer with a fair amount of experience when it comes to air combat titles, JASF: Jane's Advanced Strike Fighters seemed to fit the bill, as a game I would likely appreciate. With my knowledge of the air combat genre considered, does Trickstar Games' debut achieve a lock-on and refuse to let go, or miss the target and crash land? Strap yourself into the cockpit, and prepare for take-off!
Can you become Azbaristan's saving grace?
Several years after the end of the Seven Year War, which has left the fictional state of Azbaristan split by a north-south divide, recent car bombings in the capital of the southern province have reignited tensions. The capital of Southern Azbaristan, along with the vast, off-shore oil reserves, are the only things which remain in the hands of the Southern Azbaristan Democratic Front. As a result, the region's top brass need help before they are conquered by their Northern counterparts. One of the world's most sought-after commodities is always a good bargaining tool, and sure enough the Western Defence Alliance (WDA) strike a deal to provide weapons and technology, in exchange for oil, and attempt to prevent a catastrophe of epic proportions. That's where you step in as Razor, a South Azbaristani fighter jet squadron leader, now commanded by the WDA, to complete a series of missions to reunite Azbaristan.
Unsurprising, Trickstar Games' first offering on the Xbox 360 sees them stick to a typical, somewhat over-used storyline: a mixture of global political friction, the threat of nuclear warfare, espionage and double (maybe even triple) crossing by ruling parties. In that respect, you get pretty much what you expect; however, I felt there were enough twists and turns to maintain interest throughout.
Graphically, the game's sixteen single-player missions (which can also be played in 2 to 4-player co-op) are fairly pleasing to the eye. Taking place across a vast area covering approximately 65,000km2, the terrain, sea, buildings and other structures have been built with a decent amount of attention to detail in mind. It may seem strange to be highlighting the ground scenery in an air combat title, but you'll appreciate this, particularly in the beginnings of the single-player campaign where the nature of the missions require flying close-up at low attitudes, where it would be reasonable to anticipate that scenery may suffer from becoming blocky or pixelated. Thankfully, this was not the case for the majority of the time I spent close to the ground in those early missions.
The graphics in JASF: Jane's Advanced Strike Fighters really excel in the virtual recreation of many "real-life" combat aircraft. Planes from the US, China and Europe, including the likes of the F-22A Raptor and F-35 Lightning II are represented in a hangar which eventually comes to a total of 30 aircrafts. Unfortunately, I found that the types of missions you are tasked with completing means that the majority are, all too often, played with the same multi-role jet. The developer may have shot themselves in the foot with this oversight, as they haven't really shown off their handiwork, by failing to encourage gamers to delve further into the full choice of flyable jets available in the game.
Huh, no XP ranking system?
Similarly, after completing the first mission, I soon realised that something was missing... an XP-ranking system. As opposed to the full collection of aircraft being unlocked gradually as you progress through an XP and rank-leveling process, the aircraft are made available simply by completing missions. In my opinion, this omission is a real shame as I feel that the lack of ability to build XP points will reduce the replayability of the title for many gamers.
User-friendly, pick-up-and-play controls
Having missed a trick with the lack of an XP system, the developer has redeemed themselves when deciding on the game's controls. Intuitive and uncomplicated - just the type of controls you need when you're performing all sorts of mid-air manoeuvres to simultaneously evade and gain the upper hand on enemy forces. The default layout has everything where you would expect it to be, meaning that the opportunity to easily pick-up-and-play will please both casual and hardcore gamers alike. The menu screens also follow suit, albeit they are a little bare, thereby maximising the amount of time which gamers will spent actually flying.
Watch your six, bandits incoming!
In contrast, the inconsistent difficulty in the single-player campaign sadly results in a case of "one step forwards, two steps back". Alas, all the good work on the control front is somewhat wasted by a difficulty balance which is, well, not balanced. Rather, it goes up and down like the proverbial yo-yo! For example, one attempt at a mission can be viewed as do-able, but the next could see you blown out of the skies by the same type of enemy in a matter of minutes. I feel that the lack of a consistent difficulty and damage structure will ultimately leave many gamers, likewise yours truly, incredibly frustrated by the experience.
Fresh, innovative multiplayer modes
Now that I've run the rule over the single-player experience in JASF: Jane's Advanced Strike Fighters, let's switch targets and focus in on the multi-player features of the title. The variety of multi-player versus game modes is impressive. There's the usual Dogfight and Team Dogfight modes, which largely involve the standard, yet adrenaline-pumping free-for-all fight to the death, where score or time limits decide the outcome. Building upon those game types are Rabbit and Base Assault. It appears that Rabbit (ironically, it's essentially a game of Cat and Mouse) is aimed at encouraging gamers to concentrate more on the defensive elements when necessary, rather than purely focussing on all-out attack as is needed in the two Dogfight modes. Base Assault offers something different again, as a mid-air version of Capture the Flag. From a personal viewpoint, the last two multi-player modes are a welcome addition to the genre, as they introduce alternative options which have not been seen in http://www.trueachievements.com/Tom-Clancys-HAWX-xbox-3....htm or its sequel.
Why so quiet already?
The chance to play some innovative multi-player modes, battling up to 15 other players for air supremacy at any one time sounds promising at first glance. However, the game suffers from very, very quiet multi-player lobbies meaning that some impromptu online action is nigh unto impossible. The likelihood is that the fact that the title was released in the US almost six months ago, has limited the number of players who are currently playing the game, even so soon after its European release. To get anything out of the multi-player experience in JASF: Jane's Advanced Strike Fighters, you'll have to get some friends organised to enjoy it together.
Are the achievements worth flying for?
Finally, the achievements in JASF: Jane's Advanced Strike Fighters provide nothing out of the ordinary. There's the usual suspects, such as several for completing the single-player story campaign on the various difficulty settings. In addition, successfully completing specific mission tasks will garner further points. The remainder will come from winning a certain number of matches in each of the different multi-player game modes and obtaining a set number of enemy kills. In my opinion, managing to gain the full Gamerscore available will hinge on whether you can find assistance with the co-op and multi-player aspects in the title.
In conclusion, JASF: Jane's Advanced Strike Fighters is a good game, but a long way from ground-breaking! It matches other titles in the air combat genre in some respects and out-performs them on occasions, whilst also failing miserably in one major facet. The good graphics and a user-friendly control layout, supported by varied and inventive multi-player options are all positives. Fundamentally though, the game's achilles heel is the lack of consistency in the difficulty settings, which is likely to cause the biggest gripe for many gamers. Overall, this is a decent Xbox 360 debut from Trickstar Games, with areas to consider for improvement in any future creations.
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