The traditional business model for the video-games industry has seen some changes in recent years. The rise in popularity of cheap mobile applications and digital video-games has made the market ever more competitive. This is probably why publishers like Namco Bandai are experimenting with some of these new business models.
One such experiment is bringing out a new entry in the prestigious Ace Combat franchise as a free-to-play title.
It was possible to get a glimpse of this experiment, Ace Combat Infinity, at a recent demonstration. This consisted of two story missions which served as a way of showing off what to expect in the finished product.
The first mission played felt more like a tutorial to give players a chance of learning the controls. It worked quite well considering how easy it was to get started. A few drills later and it’s down to business. In this case, it basically meant having to shoot down a few targets so the mission could end.
For the other mission, it was necessary to destroy some turrets that were surrounding a futuristic vision of the iconic Stonehenge British monument. It was somewhat tougher to complete since it involved doing lots of sudden turns to not crash – whilst getting close to the ground to shoot the turrets.
It felt more like an arcade title than a realistic take on the flight simulation genre. It’s expected as that feels like the direction that Ace Combat Infinity has in sight. It works rather well and there are ideas such as scores that will make it possible to replay missions.
It’s interesting to see just how simple the controls are. It only took a few minutes to adjust for someone who hasn’t really spent much time with the Ace Combat series. Tricky actions such as targeting enemies and successfully eliminating them are easily completed. This was before turning on the various assist options that ensure new players can still play without getting frustrated.
These seemed like missions that are encountered fairly early into the main story. It explains why the various objectives completed were different, but somewhat simple to complete. But what truly mattered was how it felt to play them. The HUD is simplified enough to ensure that only essentials, such as the radar and current speed, are shown on-screen. It made it a lot more accessible as it means not feeling overwhelmed with information.
The aircraft available to try out handled differently and required a different approach for each of them. Seeing the possibility of upgrades also made it seem more promising, as it means players can always go back to mission to improve scores, once more upgrades are acquired.
Visuals didn’t always stand out during the demonstration. Some of the building textures felt flat and not as detailed as everything else. In contrast, the attention of detail to each of the aircraft used is astonishing. It’s clear that the team wants the aircraft to look as good as possible.
It makes sense since it’s hardly the case that most player will notice the surroundings when flying at high speeds. It also has some impressive explosions when destroying enemies. These two factors combined made for some exciting periods of time flying at high speed around the mission area and destroying the various targets. It also helped that all of this happened whilst typical Ace Combat music played in the background.
It wasn’t possible to experience the new online c-op feature, but some information was given. The mode supports two teams(up to four players for each) and they must see which completes the objective first and earns a higher score. It’s clear that objectives are time sensitive and there is an emphasis on working as a team. For example, one such objective showed both team in pursuit of a large aircraft. It seemed like an interesting idea and one that might work if is enough variety in objectives/missions to keep players interested. Specially for those who enjoy entering tournaments.
At the moment it’s not exactly clear just how the free-to-play model is included. It is known that both story and the co-op mode are free. Perhaps it will let players buy additional missions or upgrades to get further into the game more quickly. Fortunately there is a Beta planned for the title and one of its purposes is to get player feedback on how the free-to-play model is implemented.
It’s difficult to accurately give a more thorough report of how this experiment is coming along. Especially given the fact that the demonstration consisted of two missions. But it left a positive impression and like it is more or less the same Ace Combat that fans have played for years. Yet it also seemed eager to welcome new players – which is great considering that is one of the goals of this free-to-play experiment.
For now it’s best to reserve judgement until it’s possible to try out the beta or perhaps the new mode. But it’s safe to say that developer Project Aces is taking the integration of the free-to-play model into Ace Combat Infinity seriously.