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Jan 25, 2013

Top Gun: Hard Lock Review

I have been a Top Gun fan for longer than I can remember, and have been a fan of the F-14 plane all my life. This is a fun little title that blends the action-oriented feel of Afterburner with the free-flight freedom of Ace Combat. This game is to air combat games, what Burnout is for racing games.

The controls for this game are simple and intuitive; the emphasis of this game is on speed, and it pulls it off nicely.
In most flight simulators, when you press "right" on the stick, the plane moves forward, and just turns sideways. In this game, when you press right, the plane rolls to the right and banks. Once you release the stick, the plane auto-levels with the horizon. This can take some getting used to if you play other flight simulators. If this is your first, it will feel comfortable and fun. The auto-leveling of the plane keeps you even with the ground, making it very hard to crash. I flew on full afterburner under a highway and breezed under it with ease. The afterburner in this game makes it fun to fly from one objective to the next, and this is where the game's sense of speed really shines.

The Hard Lock mode (Two words, not one as the product description reads) is very similar to the dogfight mode in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, where you follow your opponent very closely and pepper him with bullets until you can get a missile lock. A missile lock is acquired by keeping the opponent inside of a circle while the missile locks on. In Hard Lock mode, you must complete mini-games, moving the analog sticks in a motion indicated on the screen. During these mini-games, you and your opponent will perform various maneuvers, such as "Break right" "Loop the Loop" and "Split-S" among others. They're generally easy to pass, and the better you do on them (you are rated a percentage for each maneuver you perform) the larger your Hard Lock circle becomes, making it easier to acquire a target lock. Your Hard Lock can be reversed if you fail at one of the mini-games, at which point you need to frantically stay outside of your opponent's circle, and reverse the Hard Lock again.

Everything in the game looks pretty decent. There is a "film grain" filter on the graphics, which cannot be removed. I do not know if this was done deliberately to make the game feel more "80s" or "retro," or if it was done to compensate for the lack of graphics this game has. Either way, I like it, and I normally hate grainy filters on my games. The planes look like the iconic planes, and the game takes advantage of the "hard lock" mode to show off the visuals. There are various skins and decal sets to unlock for each plane. It may be important to note that there are no human models in this game. Everything is a vehicle or structure. While I don't have a problem with this, it is a noticeable absence, likely done to save time during development.

One complaint from another customer who reviewed this game was the repetitive music. While I do agree the music can get repetitive, there are multiple tracks which I don't mind repeating, and on Xbox360, you can pump in your own soundtrack. That being said, the game's title screen does feature the Top Gun theme. Everything else sounds like knock-off versions of "Danger Zone." All-in-all, the sound is adequate, and does its job. The voice acting is bland and uninspired, but passable. One cool thing is that when you have your afterburners on long enough, your plane makes a sonic boom, and that is a nice touch that I see in few/no other games.

Top Gun: Hard Lock is an overall solid title. It is made with a very arcade feel to it, rather than the simulation feel of other games. The big problem this game has, is that you have to buy the multiplayer separately. A budget title that requires you to pay for the multiplayer absolutely kills the multiplayer community, and it is extremely unlikely anyone actually paid for it. When the game drops to an ACTUAL budget price, of $20 or less, then it would definitely be worth the pickup. As it is right now, you're better off buying a different game.

+It's got the Top Gun theme!
+Tight, responsive controls
+Excellent sense of speed
+Arcade feel blends Afterburner and Ace Combat into an exciting, free-roaming game.

-Missions can run a little long
-Music can get repetitive
-Have to pay for multiplayer
-Better games are available for cheaper
-Limited selection of planes
Verdict: 75/100

Genre Simulation
Style Flight Combat Sim
Release Date March 13, 2012
Developer Headstrong Games Ltd.
Publisher 505 Games U.S., Inc.


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