Top Gun Review
“Top Gun” is one of those timeless movies that are timeless because of the phenomenon itself, and not necessarily because of inherent quality. In other words, it’s probably best described as a cult classic but that being said, it’s still one of my favorites, which is why I was interested to see the latest interactive adaptation. We always have to alter our expectations and grading curve when dealing with downloadable titles, but even so, this one fails to meet the current standards for quality on the PSN. It’s not that it’s bad, per se, but it just feels a little bland and uninspired. The control is iffy, the visuals are meh, and the story isn’t what I wanted. On the good side, there’s a fair amount of depth so if you really get into it, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth. The only problem is whether or not you’d play long enough to really dive into the meat and potatoes of the game. Even if you do, it isn’t exactly great.
If this were one of the first downloadable titles in existence, I would’ve been more lenient in scoring the graphics. Considering it’s a mere 240MB download and Double Six had to create multiple large landscapes, it’s not a terrible effort. However, those landscapes really are PS2-like in terms of refinement and presentation, and the special effects aren’t anything special, either. The testing grounds for your Top Gun classes are drab and uninteresting but to be fair, the environments do get a bit more diverse and appealing later in the game. It’s just that when you get up close and personal with the ground, it really does look like something from another generation of gaming. It’s true that very few PSN games are forced to give us such large amounts of terrain, though, so we should probably cut ‘em some slack. It just pales in comparison to the sharper, more polished downloadable experiences out there, and it’s tough to ignore.
The sound brings the entire production down, simply due to laughable voice acting and generic, run-of-the-mill effects that do little to spice up the in-air action. The soundtrack isn’t bad but only because they’re utilizing licensed tracks from the movie, so I don’t have any complaints. C’mon, that’s good ol’ ‘80s goodness right there! But the voices only manage to be tolerable at best; unsurprisingly, they couldn’t get Tom Cruise to voice Maverick and so…Maverick has no voice. You play as that character and he never says anything; his RIO, Goose, always responds for him, and Goose is just plain annoying. Furthermore, they couldn’t get Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, or any of the other actors from the movie, and their replacements are no good. Combine this with effects that sound tacked-on and ineffective in terms of intensity, and you’ve got some disappointing sound.
Let’s start with the good in terms of gameplay, pacing and depth- there are plenty of different (and distinct) planes to unlock, and you can even select short, middle, or long-range missiles before deploying. You even earn new helmets and other equipment, although I’m not sure why as you never actually see your character. But anyway, all the extra unlockables give you incentive to advance and fittingly, you have to start by working your way through the Top Gun academy. It’s not too difficult, but it’s necessary because that’s where you’ll learn all the basics. R2 accelerates, L2 brakes, R1 and L1 yaws right and left respectively, triangle switches targets, square fires missiles, X fires your guns, and you can even “free look” outside the plane. You never have to land or take off and with the exception of those yaw mechanics, it’s a fairly straightforward arcade-style flight game.
The frame rate seems pretty smooth throughout, which is a definite bonus, and multiple objectives means you really have to master your plane. You will recover health if you can steer clear of enemy fire for a while, and the physics don’t feel too far off from reality (as if I really know what I’m talking about…oh yeah, I was in a F1 Tomcat just this morning). But anyway, it’s not that it feels awkward but in some ways, it is awkward. Having to shift your direction with the R1/L1 yaw controls while adjusting your speed with R2/L2 gets a little frustrating, and there doesn’t seem to be any good way to avoid missiles. Sometimes they’ll hit you; sometimes they won’t, almost regardless of your evasive maneuvers. And speaking of the latter, I really miss any sense of speed and agility with these supposedly high-tech machines; even the better ones still felt a little slow and clunky to me.
I’m really just comparing it to what I’ve seen and experienced in other flight titles, of course; as I said, I’m no pilot. Heck, I don’t even like flying. But Top Gun isn’t supposed to be a simulator and if I compare this flight to, say, what we had in Warhawk or IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey, the controls just feel unrefined. And although the objectives will change, there’s only a limited assortment of them and after playing for only an hour or so, you’ll have seen just about all of them. You know, get some ground targets, escort a damaged ally, survive when being heavily outnumbered, and the classic “take out all flying targets” goal. It’s hardly anything surprising and it ends up being a wash-and-repeat process: find target, try and get straight at it, lock on, and fire missile. If there’s another target in the vicinity, you can immediately switch over with Triangle; if you want to fire multiple missiles at one enemy, go for it. You just have to wait to reload those missiles and in the meantime, you’ll only be stuck with your fairly worthless machine guns. Thing is, even though the game progresses, you don’t ever feel as if much anything ever changes.
Multiplayer is pretty fun, though. You may not find many people around to play with – the game just came out this week – but I imagine with more pilots up there, it could get pretty intense. And hey, everyone’s on the same playing field; you all have to deal with those less-than-tight controls, so it’s even. The story for single-player basically just deals with the main events of the movie, like Goose’s death (sorry for the spoiler, but if you don’t know this by now…) and even the infamous fly-by. But the placement of these occurrences is erratic and unnatural and it doesn’t really matter, anyway, because you’ll want to skip the cut-scenes due to lackluster visuals and poor voiceovers. The rest can be predictable and uninteresting, although dogfights are usually fun, if only because it’s typically entertaining to wing through the sky, hunting your adversary.
Top Gun is okay, but it certainly doesn’t impress. Perhaps it’s too ambitious of a title to be downloadable right now, because I know it required a lot more polish, but had that polish been applied, I’m not sure it would’ve been downloadable. Or if it had, it would’ve been more expensive. But anyway, there is some fun to be had here and fans of the film might want to give it a try, but as far as flight experiences go, this one falls a little short.
8/19/2010 Ben Dutka