Countries spend millions keeping their air forces in the sky. Fuel is expensive, after all. With Ace Combat Infinity – the 17th instalment in Bandai Namco’s flight series, but its first sortie into free-to-play – Project Aces has managed to simulate that burden. Every time you take to the skies, whether it’s part of the campaign or series-first competitive team missions, a unit of fuel is consumed. You’re given three to start with, and can earn more by completing challenges, but run out and you’ll have to stump up 79p or wait four hours for another unit to generate.
You can partially bypass this by spending £11.99 on a solo campaign pass that will enable you to fly eight singleplayer missions without buying fuel. But only five short levels are available now and you’ll still have to spend fuel to fly online. Plus, thanks to Bandai Namco’s abandonment of Assault Horizon’s filmic innovations – Dogfight Mode is gone in favour of more traditional encounters – what is here feels undernourished in comparison to a 2011 game. Dogfight Mode might have been divisive, but it was rousing and did a far better job of communicating the drama of air combat than shooting at fast-moving dots. Bombing runs and gunship missions are also nowhere to be seen.
You’ll only be piloting jet fighters, but at least there are lots of them. New planes, mostly real-world craft but with nods to past games, are researched as you level up, bought using in-game credits and then added to your fleet. You can have up to four customised jets at once, defining loadouts, buffs and skins, while spending time in the air levels up planes themselves, letting you spend credits on performance and defensive upgrades.
You can fly your custom planes in Infinity’s only multiplayer mode, which sees two teams of four pilots competing to take down the most AI enemies across five missions. Enemies have different point values, denoted by their colour on the radar, and each match is limited to just a few minutes. Special events, such as the arrival of a wing of ace pilots or the surfacing of an enemy submarine flanked by UAVs, see both teams work together to destroy the threat within a time limit, with a bonus handed to the team that delivers the killing blow. Emergency Sorties, meanwhile, are fully cooperative, but Infinity offers only one at launch.
More will follow, but despite what its name might suggest, Infinity is extremely limited, both in terms of what little content it offers and your ability to access it. Bandai Namco promises to update the game with more missions and modes – including online PvP – but its heavy-handed implementation of F2P is likely to result in clear skies above its online theatres.