Replay Value: 6
Flight combat games have come and gone like virtual tumbleweeds across dirt roads of old western ghost towns. Games like Ace Combat, Top Gun and Air Force Delta have all tried to bring something new to the genre. Announced many months ago, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe hoped to give the genre a new twist with Dropship: United Peace Force. The title's seen setback after setback and is finally here thanks to the publishing efforts of Bam! Entertainment, who's suddenly launched an assault on the PS2 with new titles left and right. Giving the player control of Harrier-style planes called dropships and mixing in driving combat elements, Camden Development Studio has created a unique type of game that's disappointing as it is innovative.
It's a mixed bag when it comes to the visuals. There are things that it does well, such as fine, detailed textures on the ships, but there are things it botches up, like plain, dull textures on buildings or vehicles. The landscapes are beautiful to look at, but pale in comparison to those in Ace Combat 4. You can most definitely notice this comparison when it comes to the water. Yet, the land textures aren't as smeary up close as those of Ace Combat 4's. Some cutscenes are rough around the edges thanks to jagged lines that weren't cleaned up. The computer generated cinemas aren't even that awe-inspiring, either. Smoke effects are realistic and fiery explosions are beautiful, yet the wind effects of the dropships touching down could have been a little more detailed. Also, it seems that some of the heat effects from the vents could have been made more visually sharp to make the planes seem livelier. Sun flare and realistic clouds are present and help create a believable atmospheric sky. One last thing that can be said are the hideous animations of the troops, which look like they were animated as marionettes. Considering how much goes on in the game, that's an understandable flaw that tarnishes a fairly well polished presentation.
In April of 2020, a new peacekeeping force was created from the remains of NATO and the United Nations. Dubbed the United Peace Force, the organization was founded to replace both NATO and the UN in order to achieve global peace based on partnership and trust through a single world security system. The workhorses of the United Peace Force are the dropships, capable of lifting off and landing vertically and transporting armored transports and troops. Since the world's constantly in violent turmoil, leaders of all countries turn to the United Peace Force for help in order to bring back peace to their lands. It is now 2050 and the United Peace Force has recruited you into their corps, so pay attention, prove your worth and don't let them down; the end of global tyranny is up to you.
Dropship is comprised of 20 missions spread out over a number of campaigns. The missions play out in two sections: dropship and armored vehicle. The dropship stages will be the majority of the gameplay, and this is where most of the fun is. These types of missions will have you doing such things as heading out to designated landing zones, picking up convoys and troops and dropping them off in enemy bases, to fighting off bombers and jet fighters who threaten your ground units. You have wingmen that play major roles in both aiding you with assaults and defending you from enemies. Certain stages will even give you the ability to assign your wingmen specific commands like taking out hangers or ground units. Your armaments include a standard primary cannon, air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, and straight-flying rockets. Occasionally, the missions may have you driving an armored truck or tank, and then the gameplay switches to a rusty gear in bad need of some grease.
The armored vehicle section is more frustration than needed. Sometimes, you'll be driving for your life, doing your best to avoid gunfire and missiles that only strokes of luck will permit. Other times, you will be given control of the turrets, and the game puts you in first-person perspective where you must use your radar to find and take out targets. To the game's credit, a particularly fun part of one level was tagging SAMs (units equipped with surface-to-air missiles) with a laser tracking signal and ordering missiles to be fired at them. However, the driving stages are a thorn in the game's side, not only because the physics are so loose, but also because it brings its visual category down a couple of notches due to the vehicles appearing to float across the terrain. As soon as you're on the ground, you'll be begging to get back in the air.
Combat games, especially those of Dropship's nature, are nothing without sound and voices. This is one department where Camden has gotten a firm grasp on. You'll hear the whooshing of rockets and missiles as they are deployed. You can hear the whine of the cannon start up, the thunderously rapid succession of gunfire, and the receding whine as the cannon stops. The roar of the engines when the planes lift off is wonderfully loud and real. You'll even become panicked and annoyed as your ship takes too much damage causing the alarms to blare at you until you either explode or return to base for repairs. Radio chatter is also crisp, well scripted and proudly acted. There are a couple of characters that don't live up to the rest of the cast's performances, but it really doesn't warrant any criticism at all. The soundtrack is also attuned to the game, leaving no piece out of place or in contrast to the gameplay. This is one game where you'll want to play it LOUD!
Controlling Dropship is like learning how to ride a bike; you get frustrated with it until you get the hang of it and once you do, it's still work to ride it. The controls are complex and convoluted requiring a great deal of awareness and concentration. It may seem easy at first, but that's just how the beginning levels are. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security thinking that you can jump into this game and get the hang of it in just one level. It is strongly recommended that you play the five training missions in order to acquire a solid feel for the controls. Have you ever seen the way a Harrier jet takes off and hovers around? It's no easy matter and if you don't attempt the training stages first, you will be bouncing all over the place in critical areas just trying to land your plane. A major annoyance is the slow time it takes for your weapons system to lock on. You'll see your targeting ring slowly start to coalesce around your enemy and by the time it becomes solid, depending on your angle, the enemy could have zipped right past you. It's very easy to break your target lock as well. Another hindrance is the occasional delay in launching missiles. Sometimes, you can launch two at a time and other times, you'll only launch one and have to wait a considerable time to launch a second. When this happens, you'll end up wasting too much time on one enemy and a mission failure could just be around the corner. These three factors make dogfighting out to be more of a chore than would have liked.
Driving the armored vehicles and tanks is a completely different matter. Controls are real simple; all you have to do is press X to accelerate, Square to brake and O to fire your turrets if activated. Here's where it gets stupid; once you brake to a stop, you have to hit Square again in order to reverse and vice versa. This can leave you stuck in a hairy situation a couple of seconds longer than needed because you're so focused on just getting the hell out of there, you forget you have to "shift". To add insult to injury, the physics seem to have been forgotten about in programming. The armored vehicles seem more like soapbox racers than off-roaders. The ground feels like ice, and don't even bother with Triangle for your emergency break unless you want to loose all control, which you didn't have very much of in the first place. Collision detection also doesn't do much for the sloppy physics, so here's a piece of advice - don't crash.
Dropship: United Peace Force is actually a good game that provides incredible action. The missions vary greatly, and the story is composed nicely, keeping you hooked wanting to play more. It's not the prettiest of PS2 titles, but it does have a lot going on in it. It's just plagued with flaws that could have been prevented -- or at least attended to better -- if the game had maybe one or two more delays. It's also a shame that the driving sequences were so frustrating and inadequate; it hampers the overall enjoyment and fun factor. As far as replay goes, it's not something you will find yourself starving to play over and over again, unless you want to earn perfect scores for each level. All in all, it's a solid title that many combat action lovers with a good deal of patience will enjoy having in their collection, but those who have short fuses and high standards will want to classify this as a rental only.