The Infinite Zenith

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Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War- Final Review and Reflection at the Endgame

“When history witnesses a great change, Razgriz reveals itself; first, as a dark demon. As a demon, it uses its power to rain death upon the land, and then it dies. However, after a period of slumber, Razgriz returns; this time, as a great hero.” –Albert Genette

With Nagase safely returned, Osea stage an offensive on Yuktobanian forces in the Jilachi Desert, successfully destroying their command headquarters and capturing an airfield. Wardog Squadron is then invited to poerform a ceremonial flyover in November City while the Osean Vice President gives a speech, but Yuktobanian aircraft enter the airspace, forcing Wardog to engage them while reinforcements are called in. During the confusion, the enigmatic 8492nd Squadron call off the reinforcements and Davenport ends up taking damage. Unable to eject, he crashes into the stadium and dies. Wardog later assists with the assault on Cruik Fortress as Osean forces press towards the Yuktobanian capital and are successful in neutralising its defenses, but en route to an allied escort, come under attack from the 8492nd Squadron. At Sand Island, Wardog is forced to escape with their mechanic, Wolfgang Buchner, after commander Allen C. Hamilton brands them as traitors. They rendezvous with Marcus Snow, who shoots down Wardog’s aircraft and secretly has the Kestrel pick everyone up. On board the Kestrel, Wardog learns that Vincent Harling is held at Stier Castle and participate in an operation to free him. Information also reveals that the Grey Men, hardline Belkan nationalists, were the ones who manufactured the antagonism between Osea and Yuktobania. Its members include politicians, businessmen and military command, unified by a desire to take revenge on both Osea and Yuktobania after their defeat in the Belkan War. To this end, they orchestrated Harling’s kidnapping and the replacement of Yuktobanian Prime Minister Seryozha Viktrovich Nikanor, as well as secretly prepare nuclear weapons to carry out their act of vengeance. After freeing Harling, Wardog is redesignated as the Razgriz, and tasked attacks the Belkan facility at Mount Schirm after carrying out reconnaisance that points to nuclear weapons being stockpiled here. They are successful, and later, Razgriz heads off to assist anti-war factions in Yuktobania, providing air support for them while they dismantle a Belkan warhead. The Belkan squadron, Ofnir, arrives to fight Razgriz, but they are shot down. Belkan operatives capture the Arkbird and plan to use it to detonate the remaining nuclear warhead they have over Okchabursk, Razgriz manages to shoot down the Arkbird. It turns out that Captain Bartlett had survived and joined the Yuktobanian resistance. He rendezvouses with Razgriz, bringing Nikanor with him. With the leaders secured, Razgriz engages and shoots down Grabacr Squadron before returning to the Kestrel. However, the Osean fleet comes under fire from Yuktobanian vessels. While Nikanor heads off for Oured to meet with Harling and issue a joint statement demanding an end to this war, Razgriz sinks the pursuing Yuktobanian forces and the Osean forces sent out to deal with the Kestrel. Information from Bartlett reveals the Belkans had completed construction on the SOLG, an Osean weapon that was abandoned after the previous war ended. The Grey Men intend to use the SOLG to launch the V2 MIRV. Mid-briefing, the Kestrel is sunk, but not before Razgriz takes to the skies for an all-out attack on the SOLG’s control facility in Sudentor. They are joined by friendly Yuktobanian and Osean aircraft alike, and after clearing out the ground defenses, Blaze heads into the tunnel to destroy the control unit while Bartlett flies in from the opposite end to take out the backup controls. Both are successful, and Hamilton is killed when he collides with a plane. On New Year’s Eve, the SOLG begins descending into Oured, and Razgriz sortie to destroy it. With its core units annihilated, the SOLG explodes harmlessly over Oured Bay, bringing the Circum-Pacific War to an end.

Whereas Skies Unknown explored the dangers of entrusting warfare, of life-or-death decisions to machines, The Unsung War speaks to the idea that warfare (and indeed, a majority of the world’s ills) are the consequence of collusion amongst a small group of shadowy elite. The Grey Men are the real foe in The Unsung War, manipulating events from behind-the-scenes, fuelling hatred between Oseans and the Yuktobanians with the aim of destroying them both to settle a perceived slight. Radical groups that possess little more than a few Twitter accounts and spirited, but untrained youth are unlikely to be threats, but when these groups are financially stable and have members in critical parts of a society, they can begin dealing real damage to peace and stability. These activities occur far from the public eye: to Oseans and Yutkobanians, it would simply appear as though the two governments were going to war with one another in response to the other’s actions. The Grey Men are shown as kidnapping politicians and ordering special squadrons beholden to them to create atrocities that furthered the hatred between the two nations. One method the Grey Men are not explictly stated as employing, but very likely to have been used, is the act of media collusion, in which multiple news outlets repost content with the same tone and opinion within a very short period of time with the aim of giving the impression that multiple “independent” sources all reached the same conclusion on a given topic. Because of the scope and scale of media outlets, it would be quite tricky for journalists to all hold the same opinion on something in such a synchronised manner (even if people do agree, the evidence chosen and method in which a conclusion is reached would all differ at least slightly): only a powerful guiding force would be able to achieve such a level of cohesiveness. When multiple sources reach the same apparent conclusion, the public is left to believe that what’s being reported is indisputable fact, and in this way, those who manipulate the media could, in theory, control how the public think. It is not inconceivable that the Grey Men also had people bankrolling both Osean and Yuktobanian media, allowing them to create events and amplify feelings of hatreds through the news. Such a foe can seem unbeatable, but The Unsung War gives players a chance to fight back against this injustice in a manner consistent with Ace Combat: take a missile-laden aircraft into the air and blow up assets helpful to the Grey Men, frustrating their plans to the point where the truth is exposed to the world. In this way, The Unsung War suggests that while shadowy societies like the Grey Men can manipulate the world to a hitherto unprecedented extent, the will of a few determined individuals, in the right place and at the right time, can shut down even the most well-organised of plans. The build-up to this in The Unsung War is exceptional, and through the game’s second half, players really do feel as though they’re making a tangible difference in Strangereal. Every single part to the Grey Men’s elaborate machine of revenge taken down feels immensely satisfying, and The Unsung War makes it abundantly clear that every action Razgriz takes has relevance in a larger context.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Last I left off, I’d just finished recovering Nagase from the frozen taiga of Yuktobania’s northernmost regions. Here, Wardog is sent out to the Jilachi Desert, and since I ended up replying “yes” to Chopper’s song, I was sent on over to Operation Desert Arrow. The distinct circular farm patches here are a result of center pivot irrigation, a form of irrigation in which equipment is rotated around a pivot, creating a circular area where crops can be watered. The technique was devised in the 1940s by a Colorado farmer named Frank Zybach, and the technique is remarkably efficient, reducing soil compaction and labour costs.

  • While centre pivot irrigation is an American innovation, it has been used elsewhere in the world: Saudi Arabia also employs the technique, and indeed, these desert missions have a distinctly Gulf War aesthetic about them. These are the only two desert missions in the whole of The Unsung War, and according to players, I ended up choosing the easier of the two missions: Desert Blitz is said to be an infamous mission owing to how its objectives are placed, but the prize is worth it: there’s a hidden hangar that needs to be destroyed in order to secure the last of the parts for the legendary Falken.

  • For the first time since picking up the Ace Combat 5 strategy guide at the local library, I finally fly over the skies of November City, a major Osean population centre inspired by Toronto and Los Angeles. The tower seen to the right of the image resembles the CN Tower, and the proximity of the stadium to the observation tower is reminiscent of how close the Rogers Centre is to the CN Tower. There’s an aesthetic about November City that can’t be found anywhere else in The Unsung War; the mission is set during the evening, and players simply need to fly over the stadium.

  • A mission without enemies would be dull, and moments after the fly-over, Yuktobanian aircraft appear over Osean airspace, prompting an evacuation. Nothing can be seen on the ground, as players will be completely focused on shooting down the enemy fighters. Missions like these typify Ace Combat‘s ability to do more with less: the game itself is about flying awesome aircraft armed to the teeth and blowing up entire squadrons on one’s own, but an incredible amount of the story is presented through the communications chatter that players overhear.

  • By placing dialogue at key points in the game, The Unsung War is able to create a sense of urgency and connect the players’ actions to a much larger context. Engaging flights of Yuktobanian fighters while stadium crews below begin evacuating spectators clearly conveys players to the idea that Blaze and Wardog squadron are playing an essential role in keeping enemy fighters away from the stadium. For this mission, I flew the F-15S/MTD, an experimental version of the F-15 equipped with a unique 2D nozzle that could use thrust vectoring and increase its performance at low speed.

  • The unlock system in The Unsung War is simple enough: some aircraft are unlocked for purchase after completing certain campaign missions, and player performance in campaign mission yields currency to buy aircraft. Using an aircraft enough will unlock the next iteration of the aircraft in the tree, and all aircraft in The Unsung War have a unique special weapon. The F-15S/MTD is equipped with XMAA, medium air-to-air missiles that can lock onto four targets simultaneously. These are reasonable missiles against distant air targets, and are especially fun to employ against targets that are still in formation.

  • Eventually, a flight of F-117s will show up and crash the party, while Davenport dies in a crash after his aircraft sustains damage and he is unable to eject. The mission has a melancholy to it as a result, and despite the lingering mystery resulting from the 8492nd Squadron’s conflicting instructions, the loss of Davenport is tangibly felt. I’d come to greatly enjoy his banter during missions: he reminds me a great deal of Skies Unknown‘s Count, who similarly clashed with Bandog in highly amusing ways. When Spare Squadron’s pilots get transferred over to Strider squadron, the exchanges decreased, but Count remained an interesting character.

  • I’ve skipped over a few missions for this post, passing over the assault on Cruik Fortress, Wardog’s escape from Hamilton’s rogue pilots and being guided through perilous skies to escape the treacherous 8492nd: The Unsung War is a superb game where every mission is unique, and every mission is enjoyable, but there are some missions that particularly stood out for me. Thus, I resume with the strike against Stier Castle in the heart of Belka, a land ravaged by war: during the previous war, in a bid to destroy their foes, they utilised nuclear weapons in the Waldreich Mountains, and this has left the area scarred. There is a moodiness about this mission, and Stier Castle itself is covered in grey.

  • Looking back, it would be fair to say that Skies Unknown‘s Shilage Castle was probably inspired by Stier Castle – both missions entail defending ground forces assaulting the castle. However, The Unsung War, the mission aims are only to take out ground targets and allow President Harling to be extracted, whereas in Skies Unknown, once the castle is seized, Trigger must do battle against Mihaly and his top-of-the-line Strike Wyvern. The lack of a single powerful ace in The Unsung War is noticeable, and while both the Ofnir and Grabacr squadrons are said to be formidable, they can be destroyed in moments with the right aircraft.

  • I opted to go for the F-22A Raptor for this mission despite the prevalence of ground targets. Aircraft in Ace Combat have special weapons that make them suited for a specific role, and planes with stronger ground capabilities are simply those with dedicated anti-ground special weapons. Beyond this, a plane suited for anti-aircraft operations can still hold their own in missions with an emphasis on ground targets, so for this mission in Belka, I found no difficulties in using the F-22A to deal with air and ground foes alike. Of all the missions in The Unsung War, the operation to retrieve President Harling from Belka brought back memories of winter days during my youth, when I’d spend snowy weekends visiting the local mall.

  • The snow-covered, overcast atmospheric surroundings create a sense of death that I’d long come to associate with this time of year, and it does feel like Belka ends up being the punching bag of The Unsung War, being a nation whose citizens suffer as a result of the games that their politicians play. Although Wardog squadron can’t directly take the fight to the Grey Men, their actions directly contribute to the Grey Men’s plans falling apart. The level of collusion shown in The Unsung War was scripted for the game’s story, but it is disappointing that in reality, there are analogues of this occurring.

  • I can think of no better example than the recent debacle with the MY2022 app: a few weeks ago (in fact, on the day I published my thoughts for The Unsung War‘s first half), all the media outlets in the nation simultaneously ran the same story about how the Citizen’s Lab allegedly gained access to the MY2022 iOS app’s source code and found “serious security risks for personal information” because the app doesn’t use SSL. This media’s assertion is laughable because there is no source code in a compiled executable (i.e. the .ipa files that iOS devices utilise to store apps), so there is no way that the Citizen’s Lab would have performed a code review to back such claims. Since iOS 9, all apps submitted to the App Store need to enforce TLS (Transport Layer Security) support, and the networking libraries have built-in support for TLS.

  • As such, to state that the MY2022 app isn’t compliant with authority, one would need to prove that the endpoint connections aren’t secure. The resource names are typically stored in the app’s source code, which, as previously mentioned, isn’t included with the .ipa file. If vulnerabilities are indeed present, they were found in some other way, but the media has obfuscated things to the point where they’re erroneously suggesting that the Citizen’s Lab gained access to MY2022’s source code. For most people, this explanation would be sufficient evidence of the app’s developers caught in wrong-doing, but a developer would find it strange to claim that the Citizen’s Lab is able to do something that, by definition, is not possible. That every news outlet across the nation broadcasted the story at the same time is reminiscent of the level of coordination was previously seen with the “Gamers are Dead” incident some years earlier.

  • This sort of thing does seem to suggest that there might be forces at work to denigrate the 2022 Winter Games, and on that note, today marks the first day of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. China ended putting on a solid showing at the opening ceremony in spite of bad press; the events were a sight to behold, from the nation’s entries and performances, right up to the torch lighting and fireworks. I’ve never found the Olympics to be an appropriate arena for political games and are more interested in Canada’s medal counts at such events. Back in The Unsung War, I participate in an assault on the Mount Schirm complex, where the Belkans are holding nuclear warheads. Sustained fire on the tunnel entrance buries the opening, preventing the Belkans from accessing their stockpile.

  • However, at least three warheads were secured, and so, Razgriz squadron next head off to assist resistance members in Yuktobania: they’ve managed to secure one of the Belkan nuclear warheads. Thanks to tight anti-air defenses, Razgriz must stay within the canyon walls to avoid anti-air fire. This mission likely inspired the opening segment of a similar mission in Skies Unknown, in which players must navigate a narrow canyon in order to maintain surprise over the Eurusean forces. There is a little more tolerance here in The Unsung War, and players can actually fly briefly over the canyon walls before the enemy anti-air weapons kick in.

  • Once the forces in the river valley are destroyed, Ofnir Squadron will appear. They’re also under the Grey Man’s pay, but despite their fearsome reputation, I promptly shot them down: the F-22A’s XMAA missiles made short work of most of the enemy fighters, and a brief dogfight allowed me to down the rest. With this last mission in the books, The Unsung War enters its endgame – the Belkans’ machinations are now out in the open, and they’ve seized control of the Arkbird, a joint Osean and Yuktobanian project that sought to push the two nations on a path of cooperation after the first Belkan War ended. Equipped with lasers, the Arkbird was designed to remain in low Earth orbit and destroy asteroid fragments.

  • By the events of The Unsung War, the Grey Men operatives seize control of the Arkbird and outfit it with a nuclear warhead with the aim of destroying the Yuktobanian capital. Nagase’s love of the Arkbird signified her love of peace, and so, when the Arkbird’s symbolism is corrupted by warmongers, she must now participate in the operation to destroy the very thing that represented her optimism. This was The Unsung War‘s way of showing how even symbols can be corrupted over time by shadowy organisations like the Grey Men. When this happens, people must set aside their own feelings and do what is necessary.

  • In order to catch the Arkbird, I ended up flying the MiG-31M Foxhound, the fastest plane available in The Unsung War. Equipped with unmatched acceleration and the highest top speed of any aircraft, the MiG-31M is a true interceptor, designed for catching up to bombers and taking them out of the skies. The Advanced Long Range AA missiles the MiG-31M runs in The Unsung War can lock onto four targets at once at long ranges, making them a powerful tool. On my first few attempts, I got vapourised by the Arkbird’s defensive lasers, but once I figured the laser out, it was a matter of attacking the Arkbird’s engines.

  • The Arkbird also deploys UAVs called Vogels. These UAVs are a precursor of sorts to the MQ series that show up in Skies Unknown, and while they’re uncommonly manoeuvrable, they are also surprisingly durable. I opted not to attack them, leaving them to my wingmen to deal with: instead, I focused on their launch ports after destroying the laser that was firing on me. Once the Belkans realise the Arkbird is too damaged to attack Yuktobania, the operative on board changes his plans to detonate the nuclear warhead over Osean territory. Dialogue creates a sense of urgency, pushing players to continue hitting the Arkbird.

  • Once the Belkan operative activates the Arkbird’s final emergency booster engine, it will appear on the player’s HUD, and destroying this will end the level. The Arkbird will plummet into the ocean below, its nuclear payload lost forever, and in the aftermath, it turns out that one of the resistance fighters who’d been aiding Razgriz is none other than Captain Bartlett. After he was shot down, he managed to escape Yuktobanian captivity and ended up joining the resistance. With help from Nastasya Vasilievna Obertas, Bartlett proves instrumental in unveiling the plans the Grey Men had for the world, and once the Arkbird is destroyed, Razgriz squadron heads out over to the Pobeda Peninsula in order to assist in a critical operation: Bartlett and Obertas have managed to free Yuktobanian Prime Minister Nikanor from the Grey Men’s clutches.

  • Razgriz head off to a far-flung corner of Yuktobania in order to rendezvous with Bartlett at the crack of dawn. Numerous checkpoints lie along his path, and at certain points, Bartlett will ask Blaze whether or not he should take a shortcut. Shortcuts will introduce more checkpoints that Blaze will have to deal with; if the checkpoints are not destroyed, Bartlett’s convoy will be wiped out. While the presence of ground targets suggest an anti-ground aircraft will fare better, the presence of enemy air means it’s easier to go with a fighter.

  • Slowing down and making use of guns will be sufficient in taking down the checkpoints. Throughout the mission, Nagase and Grimm will feel a little more relaxed than they have all game; having Bartlett back is great, and while he’s not quite the motormouth that Davenport is, Bartlett has a sense of humour and is always willing to lighten the mood up. As it turns out, he and Obertas were fromer lovers, leading him to take on the callsign “Heartbreak One” after she left him. This was something I’ve long wondered about, and being able to experience things for myself meant one more mystery in The Unsung War was solved, doubling my respect for the game.

  • Once Bartlett’s convoy reaches the Yuktobanian airfield, he will disembark and attempt to seize control of a C-1 transport in order to escape and bring Prime Ministor Nikanor to safety. Several tanks and anti-air guns defend the airfield, and once they’re destroyed, Bartlett will attempt to take to the skies. The sun begins rising, and Grabacr squadron will appear. The time has therefore come to put the F-22A’s advanced multi-target missiles to use here. This elite squadron, along with Ofnir squadron, are composed of former Belkan nationalists, and were persuaded by the Grey Men to join their cause.

  • The fact that the Grey Men have infiltrated almost every level of infrastructure in both the Osean and Yuktobanian nations speaks to how dangerous hidden organisations can be; it is only though Razgriz’s efforts that they are stopped. With all that is going on out there, I wouldn’t be surprised if shadowy organisations were manipulating the world’s chaos from behind the scenes, hiding behind lies and proxy soldiers to do their bidding. I ended up shooting the entirety of Grabacr down to finish off the mission, although all of the pilots manage to eject, allowing them to fight another day.

  • Razgriz squadron returns to the Kestrel, but the Osean fleet soon comes under fire from Yuktobanian vessels. Despite Nikanor’s message, the fleet continues to come under fire, forcing Razgriz into the skies. For this mission, I took the F-35C into the skies: armed with the long-range anti-ship missile, the F-35 is ideally suited for anti-surface warfare. The long-range anti-ship missiles in Ace Combat can sink enemy ships with ease, and in some situations, are useful in ground operations. While lacking blast damage, these missiles are effective against individually tough ground targets in The Unsung War.

  • Armed with the F-35C, this mission became remarkably enjoyable: the anti-ship missiles can acquire a lock from range, allowing one to destroy two ships quickly. From here, one can then strafe the remaining ships in a formation to quickly sink them. The atmospherics surrounding The Unsung War‘s final mission is unparalleled, and there’s a sort of finality about them now that the Grey Men’s machinations are out in the open. The end is evidently near, and the game’s pacing really picks up. One after another, the Yuktobanian fleet is put on the sea floor, and even when rogue Osean forces show up, I still had enough anti-ship missiles left to sort them out, too.

  • While the F-35C is rated for anti-ship combat, it performs admirably against air targets, as well. The numbers in The Unsung War appear to indicate how well a given aircraft performs in a role owing to its special weapons, and each aircraft type is limited to one kind of special weapon, hence this value. By Skies Unknown, each aircraft comes with one set of special weapons, but can equip different special weapons once they’re purchased, increasing their versatility. Project Wingman, an independent title, features aircraft that can carry three different kinds of special weapons simultaneously.

  • I have been eying Project Wingman with interest: it’s made by a three-person team but nonetheless has managed to capture the Ace Combat aesthetic very well. Returning to The Unsung War has reignited my interest in arcade-y flight games, and I suddenly found myself excited to try out more Ace Combat-like games. Project Wingman fits the bill quite nicely, and I’ll be writing about my experiences in the demo version on short order: the footage I’ve seen of Project Wingman looks very promising, and my interest in seeing the demo will be two-fold. First, I’d like to make certain my machine can run it, and second, I have read that there are small differences between Project Wingman and Ace Combat‘s mechanics. While minor, these are substantial enough so I’d like to get a feel for things before diving head-first into Project Wingman.

  • We’ve come to it at last: the two missions I’ve longed to play the most in The Unsung War. With Prime Minister Nikanor and President Harling appearing together on national television to shake hands and demand the beligerent factions to lay down their weapons, a coalition of Yuktobanian and Osean forces accompany Razgriz squadron on one final offensive against the Belkans: under the snowy skies of Sudentor, Razgriz gets to work destroying ground targets so allied forces can assault the facility holding the SOLG. The SOLG (Strategic Orbital Linear Gun) is an Osean weapon that was originally designed to counteract Yuktobania and later, Belka, but after the wars ended, it was abandoned.

  • The Grey Men managed to get the SOLG to an operational state, and have modified it so it fires a MIRV rather than kinetic projectiles. This information comes late in the game – the threat posed by the MIRV is that Belka now has a superweapon capable of wiping out half the cities in either Osea or Yuktobania. As such, it is unsurprising that both nations’ appetite for war has dulled, and now, it’s a flight to take the SOLG out of the game before it causes unspeakable calamity. Sudentor is a former Belkan city that became incorporated into northern Osea after the first Belkan War, and, as the headquarters of Gründer Industries, is a large city with numerous research parks and a sizeable central commercial district.

  • I ended up picking the Su-34, one of the most effective anti-ground aircraft in the whole of The Unsung War, for this strike at Sudentor – its payload of advanced anti-ground missiles can lock onto multiple targets at once, have a large blast radius, and the missiles perform a top-down attack, allowing them to strike targets from behind cover. These proved useful, since Sudentor is a target-rich environment. For the mission’s first part, the goal is simple enough; one needs to remove all of the foes between allied ground forces and the SOLG control’s entrance tunnel.

  • I’ve always wondered whether or not the skies over Sudentor is a consequence of the weather, or the urban pollution and smoky skies resulting from the fact the area is a major industrial centre. In Skies Unknown, I had the chance to fly over Anchorhead Bay during a night operation, and the modernised graphics show a vibrant urban area. Being able to revisit iconic Ace Combat locations in a future title is always a possibility: Skies Unknown brought players back to Shattered Skies‘ most famous areas, so I remain optimistic that one could revisit places like Sudentor in a future game.

  • We finally come to this moment at last: the tunnel flight I’ve always wanted to experience for myself. The Su-34 has above average stability and handling traits, so it was time to gently guide it into the narrow tunnel leading to the SOLG’s control systems. Experienced players will have memorised the tunnel’s interior layout, right down to the shutters, and therefore, can blast through at full speed. However, since this was my first time, I allowed the plane to fly at its default airspeed and hit the brakes whenever I felt uncomfortable with manoeuvring in the tunnel itself.

  • In the end, being careful meant I was able to finish the mission without crashing into the tunnel walls, and this tunnel flight is actually more straightforward than the flight to escape the 8492nd from Sand Island, which had a few tight turns and large obstacles within. A few of the shutters will begin closing as Blaze passes through the tunnel, but they close slowly enough so one could roll a little to squeeze underneath them. Unlike Skies Unknown, exiting the tunnel is straightforwards, too: there’s no need to manoeuvre between the pillars of an orbital elevator and then fly vertically.

  • While Blaze flies in from one end, Bartlett will enter from the other side. Both are able to coordinate a strike on the SOLG’s core components, severing its connection to the surface, and next comes the most suspenseful moment: Blaze must fly past Bartlett without crashing into him. Bartlett will call the player’s turn so no one crashes, but keeping right on the tunnel will prevent the mission from ending prematurely. Aircraft will have entered from behind players, and for most of the run, there’s nothing that can be done about them. Even Hamilton has joined the fight against Razgriz, and with him on Blaze’s six, the only thing left is to keep flying. Eventually, Bartlett will say Hamilton was killed by a ricocheting plane.

  • Personally, I would’ve loved to have fought Hamilton in a one-on-one, the same way I fought Mihaly, but because of Razgriz’s focus on stopping the SOLG, there’s no chance to do so. Once the core components are destroyed, shutters will begin closing, making it imperative to fly back out into the night skies. It was such an incredible rush to exit the tunnel and finish this mission. However, there is one more surprise that The Unsung War has for players: the Belkans had programmed a failsafe into the SOLG, and it’s begun descending for Oured. If it is allowed to crash and detonate its payload of MIRVs, the Osean capital will be devastated. As such, Razgriz is asked to put everything on the line one more time to save Oured.

  • This year’s poon choi was a ways larger than the one last year despite costing the same, so I am to take it that my favourite restaurant in town is doing well. Unsurprisingly, it was delicious, and as one of my friends puts it, it’s the best of Cantonese cuisine put into a single bowl. Back in The Unsung War, I’ve finished off the remains of the Grabacr squadron by blasting them with the F-22A’s multi-target missiles, leaving me plenty of time to fly on over to the SOLG’s point of descent. The SOLG was originally designed to be a coilgun, so I’m guessing the idea behind giving it an MIRV was to accelerate these nuclear warheads to a point where they couldn’t be intercepted. The SOLG is the final fight of The Unsung War, being an unmanned weapon on a collision course with Oured.

  • Solar panels and a rotating counterweight system will block the SOLG’s core systems from a direct hit: one must time their shots so that their missiles find their mark. The SOLG’s movement makes it feel like one is standing still, and it takes some finesse to avoid colliding with the SOLG’s main barrel, as well as any fragments that come off the SOLG. However, the SOLG is not the toughest foe I’ve ever faced in an Ace Combat game (that goes to the ADF-11F units, Hugin and Munin, that were encountered at the end of Skies Unknown). Here under the rising New Year’s Eve sun, I finished off the SOLG, and found myself wondering if Oured’s citizens were aware of Razgriz’s accomplishments here on this day. Destroying the SOLG brings the Circum-Pacific War, and The Unsung War, to an end. Truth be told, I never thought that I’d be able to do the Sudentor tunnel flight or take on the SOLG for myself.

  • That January afternoon some ten years earlier, I wistfully watched the YouTube videos of gameplay, when I was supposed to be reviewing alkene and alkyne reactions for organic chemistry, and balanced trees for computer science. I suppose that if I’d played The Unsung War then, the distraction would’ve caused me to fail out of university outright: nowadays, circumstances are different, and while the current cohort of students might be fighting their way through properties of a B tree or the Diels-Alder reaction, I’m able to kick back and blast planes without worrying about midterm I: with The Unsung War in the books, I’ve now fulfilled a dream I’ve had for about seventeen years. I will reiterate that I’m glad to be at a point where I’m no longer troubled by electrostatic properties of various functional groups for organic chemistry, and with this post in the books, my plans for this month are to wrap up posts for Halo Infinite, revisit Ragnarok Online now that I’ve gotten my own private server set up, and knock out posts for a few anime I’ve been watching in between Slow Loop.

With this, I’ve now experienced Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War in full; I’ve found the answers I’ve been seeking out since picking up The Unsung War‘s official strategy guide at the public library all those summers ago. The Unsung War is a fantastic game, and having now gone through it, my appreciation of Skies Unknown doubles for the fact that The Unsung War had polished so many aspects that would become staples of the Ace Combat franchise. To see Project Aces bring The Unsung War‘s best features into Skies Unknown speaks volumes to how far ahead of its time The Unsung War was: everything from mechanics to aesthetic were not only faithfully reproduced, but improved upon in Skies Unknown to produce the first proper Ace Combat game since 2007’s Fires of Liberation, and the first true Ace Combat experience for PC players. Altogether, it should be evident that I had a great deal of fun going through The Unsung War, and despite the game’s age (it’s 18 years old at the time of writing), it manages to hold out very well, both from a mechanical and thematic perspective. More than once, I found myself wishing for a modernised remaster of The Unsung War. However, I understand that this is highly improbable given the state of gaming today (microtransactions are favoured over games that allow players to unlock everything through replay and skill alone), and with news of a new Ace Combat in development, one cannot help but hope that several locations from The Unsung War will be revisited in this new instalment. Ace Combat 7 brought players back to Stonehenge and Farbati, so it is possible that the new Ace Combat could give players a chance to revisit Sudentor, Stier Castle, November City and Oured itself. This is an exciting thought, and having finished something that the me of a decade ago would’ve thought impossible, I turn my attention to where I go next for Ace Combat; The Unsung War‘s final mission, The Unsung War, is set on New Year’s Eve, and I’d always felt there was something special about this particular mission’s aesthetic. In discussions with my best friend, we ended up reaching a conclusion on what this was, although to my surprise, this topic has never been explored anywhere else. As such, I do have future plans on covering the significance of a December 31 mission in The Unsung War in the context of the Circum-Pacific War and what this meant for The Unsung War‘s story. Similarly, to keep myself busy while awaiting whatever the next Ace Combat instalment is, I’ve begun looking at Project Wingman: the gameplay looks solid, and as my best friend notes, arcade flight games with bombastic weapons and entertaining stories have the makings of a summer experience. Although said friend can’t put his finger on why this is the case, I think I’ve got an answer: big, explosive experiences are the hallmark of a summer blockbuster, an indulgent and entertaining experience perfectly suited for those long and warm days of summer. Project Wingman satisfies this criteria, and in fact, I ended up picking this up during the Lunar New Year sale and will begin my journey in this experience shortly.

Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War- At the Halfway Point

“Amidst the eternal waves of time, From a ripple of change shall the storm rise, Out of the abyss peer the eyes of a demon, Behold the Razgriz, its wings of black sheath!” –Razgriz Poem, Part One

In 2010, an unidentified spy plane appears near Sand Island, prompting Wardog squadron to scramble. Rookie pilot, Blaze, accompanies Captain Jack Bartlett and two other trainees, Kei Nagase and Alvin H. Davenport into the air to intercept the plane, which unexpectedly calls for support. Although they are successful in repelling the attackers, a second spy plane shows up three days later, forcing Wardog squadron to scramble yet again. During the combat, Bartlett is shot down and declared missing. On the same day, Yuktobania declares war on Osea. Wardog squadron is sent to defend the Osean fleet, before returning to Sand Island. Hans Grimm joins Wardog squadron, and Blaze’s actions lead him to become promoted to Wardog’s flight lead. Wardog escorts the Kestrel and two other carriers, but an attack from the Yuktobanian submarine, Scinfaxi, destroys the other aircraft carriers and most of the air forces with burst missiles. This turn of events prompts Osea to accelerate the installation of a laser module on the Arkbird, a low-orbiting space craft originally intended to be utilised as a testbed for aeronautical technologies and space exploration. Yuktobanian forces launch an attack on the facility, but Wardog manages to repel them. When the Scinfaxi attacks Sand Island, the Arkbird’s support allows the defenders to focus on the Scinfaxi, and despite severe losses from the last of the burst missiles, Wardog squadron sinks the Scinfaxi. To prevent the war from escalating, Osean president Vincent Harling makes his way over to a secret peace summit with the Yuktobanian government. Although the aircraft carrying Harling comes under fire, Wardog defends him. The Osean army prepares for a massive amphibious operation against Yuktobania, and with Wardog’s assistance, deal the Yuktobanian army a defeat by destroying their bunkers and capturing their fortress. Wardog pursues the withdrawing Yuktobanian forces, and while they are able to shoot down their transport aircraft, Wardog is made the scapegoat after a terrorist attack at a Yuktobanian university kills civilians. This leads Yuktobania to launch a massive attack on the Osean capital, Oured, and on Bana City. Wardog is in Oured while awaiting a disciplinary hearing, but the unexpected attack forces them to take to the skies and engage the Yuktobanian air force. They manage to defend the airport and minimise damage to the city. To prove their innocence, Wardog next takes an assignment to destroy a Yuktobanian ammunition depot and successfully complete their task. Later, a ballistic missile attack reveals that Yuktobania has another Scinfaxi-class submarine, the Hrimfaxi. Travelling to the far north, Wardog engages and destroys the Hrimfaxi, earning them the nickname of Razgriz. Later, when Wardog is set to support the extraction of Osean POWs, Nagase is shot down, and command decides to wait until the next morning to pick her up from behind enemy line. To their surprise, when Nagase is located, she’d actually managed to turn the tables on the Yuktobanian forces sent to capture her.

Right out of the gates, my immediate impressions of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War (The Unsung War from here on out for brevity) are overwhelmingly positive. The flight controls are smooth and responsive, allowing me to direct my plane towards any target and participate in most dogfights with confidence: after beating the first few missions, I became at home with how things handled. However, it also became clear that unlike Skies Unknown, the fact that The Unsung War dates back to an older time means that some mechanics were simplified from what I’d been accustomed to. For one, enemy planes cannot equip countermeasures. In Skies Unknown, enemy pilots could sometimes put flares out if a missile would impact, but here, one needn’t worry about flares. Similarly, clouds were utilised to act as cover in Skies Unknown, and planes could ice up if they spent extended periods inside cloud cover while attempting to break an enemy lock. Moreover, laser weapons would fail to function if a target was behind a cloud. The Unsung War has none of these elements, and this actually simplifies things for players, who can focus purely on the mission at hand. Missiles are consistently useful; they can reliably hit targets between 2500 and 5000 feet, and one can chain kills in succession by rapidly switching between targets. Like Skies Unknown, having gotten through half of the missions in the campaign, I am now quite confident that my flying is sufficient for me to be successful in The Unsung War‘s second half. With a good understanding of The Unsung War‘s control scheme now that I’ve fifteen missions under my belt, one more remark that I will add is that being able to play The Unsung War has furthered my appreciation for Skies Unknown, as well. It is clear that The Unsung War had pioneered the sort of creativity that returned in Skies Unknown. Missions with special mechanics (such as phony radar contacts, flying down a narrow, specific course and special bombing runs) help to keep things novel and challenging. In this way, Skies Unknown ends up being the developers’, Project Aces’, way of thanking players for having waited this long for Ace Combat‘s return to form after almost a decade of spinoffs which lacked the original series’ finesse and staying power. The success that Skies Unknown enjoyed is also a testament to the extensive list of things that The Unsung War did particularly well in: numerous elements from The Unsung War made their way to Skies Unknown, demonstrating that this classic evidently still holds up to more modern games where mechanics and narrative are concerned.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My first exposure to Ace Combat was sixteen years ago: it was the middle of the summer, and back then, the local public libraries had a wonderful selection of books. There wasn’t anything quite like it nowadays, but previously, libraries had books on every conceivable topic of interest, from Reader’s Digest’s Treasures of China, to Smithsonian’s Universe: The Definitive Visual Guide. There was even a small section with video game strategy guides, and as luck would have it, the newly-opened local branch happened to have guides for a handful of games I’d been curious about, including Halo 2.

  • On that day, I found a copy of Brady Games’ Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, and upon perusing it, I was captured by the extensive aircraft listings. The strategy guide had been intriguing enough for me to check it out for the two weeks, and reading through it, I found myself wishing that I had a copy of The Unsung War for my PlayStation 2, which was a brand-new console at the time. Upon arriving home, I sat down and began reading through the strategy guide, which had detailed a rich world beyond imagination. Over the years, I would check The Unsung War‘s strategy guide out a few more times, but as I moved into secondary school and stopped going to the library, Ace Combat began falling to the back of my mind.

  • This changed when I came upon a link to The Unsung War‘s soundtrack during the early winter semester of my second year in university. The music was exceptional, far beyond anything available to games of The Unsung War‘s era, and instead of studying for organic chemistry, I remember spending an afternoon reading about The Unsung War‘s missions, aircraft and superweapons. At the time, I wished that I’d bought The Unsung War back when copies were still being sold at local gaming stores, but I resigned myself to watching YouTube playthroughs and reading about things, believing there wouldn’t be a chance to ever go through this game for myself.

  • All of this changed recently, and I was able to acquire a copy of Ace Combat 5: this is something that I’d long given up hope for and thought to be impossible until now. However, with a functional copy, I’ve been able to step into the world of The Unsung War for myself for the first time since checking out the strategy guide from the library sixteen years earlier. I don’t recall every detail in that strategy guide, except for the fact that Nagase gets shot down at some point, that the Arkbird plays a major role in The Unsung War‘s story and that the best missions are in the game’s second half.

  • In order to reach the second half, I needed to become familiar with the controls anew, and then beat the first half of the game. Fortunately for me, The Unsung War handles very well, and I have no trouble in getting the aircraft to go where I need it to go. Things aren’t quite as smooth as they are in Skies Unknown, the consequence of Skies Unknown being some fifteen years newer, but overall, the controls are as responsive as can be reasonably expected. After I acclimatised to the controls and had the chance to fly a few sorties, my confidence increased.

  • After repelling spy aircraft from the skies over Sand Island, Wardog is sent to assist the Kestrel, an Osean aircraft carrier that served in the Belkan War. The goal here is to fend off enemy aircraft while the Kestrel heads for open water, and the level marks the first time players get to fight over a populated area. The graphics have aged quite gracefully, and while smaller buildings are just textures on the ground, simple structures do have some height to them. Despite being far simpler than the visuals in Skies Unknown, where every building has height, the visuals still hold up quite nicely.

  • Initially, Wardog will only have access to the F-5E Tiger II, a supersonic light fighter designed by Northrop. Despite being less renowned than its larger and heavier cousin, the F-4 Phantom, the F-5 did have a strong service record, being utilised in the Vietnam War, and it was thought to be similar in the MiG-21 in terms of air performance. In fact, the F-5 was adopted as the aircraft to stand in for MiG-21s during air combat training, and it was found that in the hands of a good pilot, an F-5 could give both the newer F-14 and F-15 trouble.

  • In The Unsung War, the F-5E carries twelve unguided bombs to go with its missile payload, making it a fair all-around aircraft for beginners. The missiles of Ace Combat is one of the series’ defining features: players will carry a prodigious amount of missiles with them into combat, and while these missiles are either the AIM-9 Sidewinder (when using an American aircraft) or the Russian Vympel R-60, which are heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles in reality, Ace Combat allows the standard missiles to lock onto both air and ground targets alike.

  • I’d grown accustomed to missiles acquiring a lock at around two thousand metres in Skies Unknown, so it was a little jarring to see them acquire targets at five thousand in The Unsung War. However, as it turns out, I’d left the units on Imperial for my run. The Unsung War does allow players to freely switch between Imperial and Metric units: using Imperial units, speed is measured in miles per hour, while distances and altitudes are measured in feet. I normally have difficulty with miles, since they’re an arbitrary measure (kilometres is more natural for me), but feet is something I’m okay with, since I approximate one metre as about three feet.

  • Given that missiles lock on at around two thousand metres in Skies Unknown, I’d say they actually have a longer distance than they do in The Unsung War. However, owing to the way the older Ace Combat games work, missiles do tend to be quite reliable between three and four thousand feet, and it’s possible to fire off two missiles in rapid succession, switch over to another target, and watch as the system displays to players that their target was destroyed. This was something that became an integral part of older Ace Combat games, so when I entered the franchise for the first time through Assault Horizon, I was disappointed that dogfight mode was needed to shoot down a larger number of foes.

  • Skies Unknown marked a true return to classic game mechanics, and it became possible to once again fire off missiles at one target and switch over to the next without worrying about whether or not one’s shots would find their mark. Playing through The Unsung War, it becomes clear that many elements from an old classic would make their way into the latest instalment, and in this way, my appreciation of Skies Unknown increased. Back in The Unsung War, I continue to fly the venerable F-5E into combat. It’s one of the weaker aircraft of the game, but in the beginning, this doesn’t matter too much: the game doesn’t throw insanely mobile or large numbers of foes at the player.

  • This is fortunate, since unguided bombs, the F-5E’s special weapon, don’t have any application in missions where the combat is primarily anti-air. Special weapons have long been a feature in Ace Combat, and in The Unsung War, different aircraft will be granted different special weapons. These weapons are more powerful than the standard missile and have different capabilities, whether it be locking onto multiple targets simultaneously or tracking them with a much greater accuracy than standard missiles. Iron bombs are about as basic as it gets and simply free-fall towards their target, dealing slightly more damage than the missiles would.

  • All aircraft in Ace Combat will automatically display a gun reticule when within two thousand feet of a target. At these ranges, missiles become useless. The documentation incorrectly calls the gun a “machine gun” – this is a misnomer, since a machine gun is an automatic weapon firing rifle cartridges. The guns aircraft carry are correctly called “auto-cannon” since they fire rounds of 20 mm or larger. On lower difficulties, the gun has unlimited ammunition, making it a great way of conserving missiles when engaging targets that are too close for missiles, or stationary ground targets.

  • The mission to defend the mass driver from a Yuktobanian attack brought back memories of the mission to protect Tyler Island and destroy cargo launched from the mass driver, as well as the mission after Trigger is transferred to the penal unit and sent up to protect a phoney airbase from Erusean forces in Skies Unknown. The setting here reminds me of the former, and this mission actually did give me some trouble when I first played it, since I was having trouble finding all of the tanks attacking the launch facility.

  • One of the most notable aspect of this mission was the soundtrack: up until now, the music in The Unsung War had been pretty bog-standard, but the moment the Yuktobanian forces show up with their tanks, a flute-like instrument is added to the incidental music, creating a summertime feeling that spells melancholy and wistfulness that reminds me a great deal of KyoAni’s AIR, a 2005 anime that adapted Jun Maeda’s visual novel of the same name, about a travelling showman whose aim is to find the enigmatic “girl in the sky” by summer. The Japanese have long excelled at creating collective nostalgia in their works. Collective nostalgia refers to a nostalgia for something one has never experienced, and in particular, their music is able to do this with great frequency.

  • Once all of the tanks are destroyed, the Yuktobanian forces will launch cruise missiles in a bid to destroy the mass driver. Conventional cruise missiles are subsonic and can be intercepted, but their advantage is accuracy: cruise missiles are highly accurate and can be considered as unmanned aircraft with an explosive payload intended for a single use. The Yuktobanians are counting on their numbers to destroy the mass driver, and missiles come from all directions – if the mass driver takes too much damage, the mission will end in failure.

  • It took me a few tries to get things right for this mission, which is why it reminded me of the mission in Skies Unknown to defend the false base from Erusean bombers: it would’ve been three years ago, at around this time of year, that I’d gotten to that mission, and after getting stomped by the mission, I ended up taking a short break from things before having another go at it. This time around, I was able to push forwards, and beating this mission showed me that I was ready for whatever lay ahead in The Unsung War.

  • Once the Oseans successfully outfit the Arkbird with the laser module, its power becomes apparent: the Yuktobanian navy deploys the Scinfaxi, a nuclear-powered submarine that served as a combined underwater carrier and ballistic missile platform. With a length of three hundred metres, the Scinfaxi-class submarines are double the length of the Russian Typhoon-class, and were capable of firing the highly lethal burst missiles, which have multiple warheads that scatter over a wide area before detonating. In Ace Combat games, burst missiles are used an area denial measure by forcing players to abandon their current target and reach a safe altitude.

  • Use of burst missiles annihilates entire squadrons, but with the Arkbird in Osea’s corner, several burst missiles are shot down before they have a chance to detonate. Wardog is then tasked with destroying the Scinfaxi. While sporting impressing specs, the Scinfaxi is actually a relatively slow moving and easy target to eliminate: several attack runs will destroy its weapons, weakening enough so that it can be sunk. I ended up using the iron bombs here to get a feel for things, and their area of effect damage proved helpful in destroying several targets at once.

  • It goes without saying that the Scinfaxi is nowhere nearly as treacherous as the Alicorn: the Scinfaxi cannot submerge and only has limited anti-air defense capabilities, so it was simple enough to simply make a few attack runs and sink it. This is the first super-weapon Wardog sinks in The Unsung War, and I was surprised that players would be involved with destroying a Yuktobanian super-submarine so early in the game. This is meant to show that Wardog squadron means business, and also tangibly indicate to players that their roles in this war are essential.

  • Having gone through a few missions with the basic F-5E, I picked up the F/A-18C, which was a minor upgrade over the F-5E in terms of anti-air performance and has better mobility and speed overall. The F/A-18 is a multi-role aircraft that the Canadian air force employs, and here, I flew a familiar mission: use of the yaw controls to stay out of a radar net being employed on the ground. Between these and canyon missions, I’ve found that if one can handle manoeuvre missions in Ace Combat, they’re more than ready to deal with more challenging missions.

  • The aim of this mission is to defend a transport after guiding it past the anti-air defenses, but almost immediately, enemy fighters will show up. The object here is to protect the transport and keep fighters off it: allowing attackers to deal enough damage to the transport will result in the mission ending. For my run, I stuck close to the transport and fired on any foe that got too close. It turns out President Harling is on board this transport, and he’s en route to peace negotiations with the Yuktobanians. Standing in for Russia, Yuktobania is the main foe players engage in The Unsung War, but remarks from Grimm and Nagase both suggest that there’s no real ill-will towards them.

  • During the chaos, the transport takes enough damage so that it needs to land, and Wardog is tasked with destroying a few windmills in the plane’s path. Once this is done, the mission will draw to a close. The 8492nd Squadron will then secure Harling, but he subsequently goes missing, foreshadowing the 8492nd’s affiliations. Although war is brewing, players cannot help but wonder if the Yuktobanians are the true enemy at this stage. As things escalate, however, these thoughts are pushed out of both Wardog and the players’ minds.

  • Osean forces launch a full-scale invasion of Yuktobania in retaliation for their actions at Bastok Peninsula, and Wardog is sent out to assist an amphibious assault on the Yuktobanian coast on an overcast day. The weather in The Unsung War is definitely capable of conveying a very specific mood; modern games are nearly photorealistic, and this leaves very little to the imagination, but with older games, just enough of a visual is provided such that the mind will fill the rest in, and this accentuates the atmosphere somewhat.

  • The goal of this mission is simply to neutralise the bunkers on the ground and support the advancing Osean forces. There are very few air targets to speak of, so equipping aircraft that are primarily focused on anti-ground operations will be helpful. Since I’m running the F/A-18C here, I’m running with the AGM-84 Harpoon. The LASM (Large Anti-Ship Missile) actually proved a viable option against the heavily fortified bunkers. Normally, anti-ship missiles are most effective against ships since they have long ranges and high damage against individual targets. However, because of their flat trajectories, they are less useful in ground operations.

  • After Yuktobania organises a retreat in response to the fierce Osean attack, Wardog is sent to deal with escaping transports. This mission is complicated by the fact that Yuktobanian forces are using E-767 jammers, which confound the radar and give the impression that there are more targets than there actually are. The key to this mission is to close the distance and engage targets after visually confirming their presence, as well as focusing on the jamming aircraft themselves. During the course of this mission, radio chatter indicates that an Osean squadron has just bombed out a Yuktobanian university, and Wardog is held accountable, since officially, there is no 8492nd squadron.

  • Players will be powerless to do anything about this outcome, but earlier in the mission, can make a decision that determines whether they are sent to Apito International Airport on Oured Bay, or Bana City. Chopper will ask players if they’d heard a certain song: if players answer yes, their mission is Apito International Airport. I ended up picking “yes”, which sent me over to Apito International Airport to defend it against attacking Yuktobanian forces. The first phase of this mission was to shoot down all attacking Yuktobanian aircraft by night, while the second part entails destroying Yuktobanian tanks that had snuck in via transport aircraft disguised as civilian vehicles.

  • Even though The Unsung War is eighteen years old, I remain impressed with how gracefully the visuals have aged, and fighting urban operations accentuates this fact. Oured below looks like a proper city despite using two-dimensional textures for low-rise buildings. High rises are still rendered with 3D structures, and while these are quite simple, especially compared to what was used in Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation and all subsequent games, The Unsung War represented a dramatic jump from what was seen in Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies. While I’ve long read about the Ace Combat universe, from a practical standpoint, I’m not an Ace Combat veteran by any means (in fact, I don’t even know what this manoeuvre is called or how to perform it).

  • My first in-game experience Ace Combat was 2013’s Assault Horizon, and I subsequently had the opportunity to play Ace Combat properly on PC through 2019’s Skies Unknown. To keep up with the lore and read up on different aircraft, and their efficacy in various missions, I turn to both online resources and YouTube videos. Ace Combat Fan is my go-to resource; his content is actually how my interest in The Unsung War was piqued, being uploaded to YouTube back during a time when there were no other videos. Beyond full play-throughs of older Ace Combat titles, Ace Combat Fan also has a variety of videos on how to fly, benchmarking different aircrafts and their weapons, and even full collections of the music throughout Ace Combat.

  • I respect this level of devotion from Ace Combat Fan: were it not for people like this uploading gameplay to YouTube, the only thing I’d have of The Unsung War would be memories from reading a strategy guide. One of my best friends has expressed an interest in trying The Unsung War for himself, as well, and he’d actually been in a similar position to myself; both of us have seen the YouTube videos and read extensively about the lore, but thanks to Ace Combat games being unavailable on PC until recently, we’ve never had a chance to otherwise try the games for ourselves.

  • Altogether, I greatly enjoyed this night mission and its aesthetics. At some point in the future, I’m going to have to return and take on its sister mission, which is set in the university town of Bana City. The Unsung War‘s branching missions add variety to things, and this also provides an incentive to replay missions: hidden hangars allow players to acquire parts for the legendary Falken. This is something that Skies Unknown was lacking. However, while alternate mission routes would’ve been great, overall, missions in Skies Unknown feel a ways larger, whereas here in The Unsung War, missions feel a bit shorter to complete.

  • After successfully repelling the Yuktobanian attack, Wardog is next sent out to a munitions depot. The object here is simply destroying everything before the time runs out, and while there’s a catch (the munitions sites are located inside tunnels that can only be hit from certain angles), the mission itself was quite straightforward. This level also contains a hidden hangar for the ADF-01 Falken, a super-plane that was first seen in Ace Combat 2. In Skies Unknown, players who bought the Year One Pass would acquire this legendary aircraft for free; in The Unsung War, players must replay several missions in order to destroy the hangars, although luckily, the hangars can be destroyed on lower difficulties in Free Mission mode.

  • For this playthough, I will not be flying the Falken: although I do have it unlocked, I plan on presenting things as people would’ve seen it for the first time, and here, I begin the operation to take down the Hrimfaxi, the second of the Scinfaxi-class submarines. The mission is set in the Arctic ice floes, and unlike the encounter with the Scinfaxi, this mission sees the Hrimfaxi diving and surfacing repeatedly to launch its drones against Wardog squadron. It is here that the F/A-18’s anti-ship missiles really shine, and after locating the Hrimfaxi, the goal is simple: to put it on the bottom of the ocean floor.

  • The Hrimfaxi’s captain has access to a wide range of anti-air weapons, and burst missiles will periodically be used. I ended up using the anti-ship missiles to disable the weapons on its surface, and once all of its weapons are disabled, the targetting system will indicate that the Hrimfaxi’s super-structure is the final thing to take down. I absolutely loved this mission for its aesthetics, and as I found with Skies Unknown, every mission in The Unsung War brings something new to the table.

  • The feat that Wardog accomplishes here earns them the moniker Razgriz, the name of a mythological deity of great power unique to Strangereal. Its traits make it similar to that of the Valkyries from Norse Mythology, and The Unsung War creates a very comprehensive collection of lore in its story surrounding the Razgriz, indicating that the pilots of Osea are likened to a mythological being whose existence was misunderstood, but ultimately, was a benevolent presence. Sora no Woto ultimately utilised similar elements from The Unsung War for its backstory, and a cursory search finds that no one’s drawn the conclusion until now.

  • As it stands, my coming upon The Unsung War should be a boon to the Sora no Woto community; I’m not too fond of grandstanding, but I will say that my approach towards anime means that I offer insights that often greatly augment one’s enjoyment of a series. In this case, assuming that the Fire Maidens and winged dæmons of Sora no Woto are based off the Razgriz, it is possible to say that the events of Sora no Woto parallel Wardog squadron’s reputation in The Unsung War. The 1121st are initially revealed as protectors of Seize, come to be seen as traitors when Colonel Hopkins takes charge, but ultimately demonstrate themselves to be saviours by stopping an all-out war between Helvetia and the Roman Empire.

  • While the mythology in both Sora no Woto and The Unsung War likely were derived from real-world stories, commonalities meant that spotting the connection between Razgriz and Sora no Woto‘s angels meant that one could’ve predicted, with high confidence, how the anime would’ve ended. From what I’ve seen, this connection was never drawn. Back in The Unsung War proper, I’ve embarked on the mission to rescue Osean prisoners of war from Glubina, a snowy and mountainous region of Yuktobania reminiscent of Siberia.

  • The operation is dependent on Wardog providing cover for the Sea Goblin helicopter team, and in the end, they are successful. During the operation, Nagase begins to believe that Bartlett might be amongst those being rescued, and becomes sufficiently distracted that she is shot down. Although she is able to bail, when one of the helicopters attempts to rescue her, the poor visibility causes it to crash, forcing the retrieval to be postponed until the next morning. The next mission deals with Nagase’s recovery, and utilises a signal system to guide players to the spot where Nagase is.

  • This system was reapplied to the hunt for the Alicon in The Unsung War‘s DLC missions, and having had familiarity with how that worked, I had no trouble in finding Nagase. For the final two missions in The Unsung War‘s first half, I’m rocking the F-15C. This air superiority fighter boasts solid all-around stats for air-to-air combat and equips the semi-active air-to-air missile, which is a long-range radar-guided missile best suited for engagements at range.

  • Once Nagase is rescued, the mission draws to a close, and with this, I’m now halfway through The Unsung War. Even though we’re just getting into the game’s best parts, I was thoroughly impressed with the sheer variety there is in The Unsung War, and at this halfway point, I’ve already seen the destruction of two superweapons in the Scinfaxi-class submarine. Coupled with the fact that the game takes players from the remote Taiga characteristic of Siberia, to the heart of Oured, and everywhere in between, The Unsung War has been a blast. I am very much look forwards to finishing The Unsung War, and for the time being, I should be on track to wrapping this game up before the month is over.

At The Unsung War‘s halfway point, I now appreciate why The Unsung War is considered one of the best in the franchise: besides solid gameplay, the story has proven to be very captivating. Mission briefings and banter between pilots and command are an immersive mode of exploring the story, explaining to players very clearly what their goals are, what’s at stake, and what their accomplishments are in the grand scheme of things. It is clear that war is brewing between two superpowers, but neither superpower seems to desire open conflict, and some of the Ace Combat world’s most devastating war machines are brought out to bear. In The Unsung War‘s first half, players already get to sink two of Yuktobania’s most powerful weapons, the Scinfaxi-class submarines. The Arkbird is unveiled, both as a symbol of peace that Kei idolises, and as Osea’s latest superweapon. The stakes of an all-out war prompt players to take to the skies and do what they can, providing incentive to keep pushing forwards such that they can see what happens next. The combination of world-building and exposition through events that players experience allows The Unsung War to add depth to the Strangereal universe in a then-unprecedented scale, giving the Ace Combat world a much more immersive feel to things than previous titles had done, and it is for this reason that even now, The Unsung War remains a fan-favourite. In fact, a part of me wishes that this game would be given a full remaster: when Skies Unknown released, PlayStation owners also gained access to an HD version of The Unsung War, but beyond this, it would be great to have a standalone version of The Unsung War on PC. I have heard that a new Ace Combat is in development, and beyond the fact that it will be built using Unreal Engine 5, not much more about this project is known. For me, I’d definitely love to see a return to Belka and Osea as seen in The Unsung War: these areas of the Ace Combat universe are iconic, and certainly worthy of being remastered with all of the improvements available to both computer graphics and hardware available today. In the meantime, I’ve got another whole half of The Unsung War to experience, and if my memory isn’t mistaken, this is the half of the game to look forwards to (which is saying something, considering how consistently enjoyable the first half has been).

007 Agent Under Fire Review and Reflection

“Well, I like to do some things the old-fashioned way.” –James Bond, Skyfall

When operator Zoe Nightshade is captured by Identicon Corporation while investigating allegations of weapons smuggling, James Bond infiltrates their Hong Kong facility to rescue her and recovers a courier case. While eluding Nigel Bloch, head of Identicon, in a vehicle chase, Nightshade is killed and the vials are retrieved. However, Bond manages to catch up to them and recovers the vials, which are found to contain blood samples of world leaders and that of ambassador Reginald Griffin, who is working in the British embassy in Bucharest, Romania. Bond discovers that the vials are related to Malprave Industries in Switzerland and arranges to visit their facility. Upon realising he and CEO Adrian Malprave had previously met in Bucharest, Bond attempts to escape the facility, obtaining photographs of Malprave’s plans. He learns that Dr. Natalya Damescu had left Malprave Industries and is under the protection of the British embassy, as she possesses knowledge of their plans. Returning to the embassy, Bond fends off the terrorist attack, including their leader, and picks up a data chip pointing to Poseidon. Bond next travels to an oil rig in the South China sea in pursuit of Bloch and follows up to an underwater cloning facility. After destroying the lab, Bond escapes and encounters the real Zoe Nightshade: the Nightshade at the Identicon facility had actually been a clone. The two board a British aircraft carrier and discover Malprave’s plan to clone the world leaders and replace their originals in a bid to take over the world. Returning to Malprave’s facilities in the Swiss Alps, Bond rescues the world leaders and defeats Bloch in a showdown before escaping with Nightshade, while Malprave dies when her base self-destructs. This is 007: Agent Under Fire, a 2001 first person shooter that was the first James Bond game for sixth generation consoles that featured an all-new story and return to the style that GoldenEye had pioneered.

Agent Under Fire never quite hit the same heights as GoldenEye did, being criticised for flimsy AI and short missions by period critics. Indeed, the game hasn’t aged as gracefully as its successor, Nightfire: Agent Under Fire holds the players’ hands throughout all of the campaign missions, and there’s very little room for exploration and discovery. Moreover, the storyline is, for the lack of a better word, tacky. The notion of creating clones of world leaders as a proxy by which to rule the world is roundabout and ill-conceived: the same outcome would be better achieved by manipulating the media (Tomorrow Never Dies), controlling fuel transport (The World is Not Enough) or investing in super-weapons to challenge the world’s militaries (Die Another Day). Similarly, use of clones opens the floor to deaths that suddenly lack impact or shock, and brings about storytelling clichés that diminish the weight of Bond’s actions. However, where the story is lacking, Agent Under Fire excels with its gameplay. In particular, the integration of gunplay and using Q Branch’s sophisticated gadgetry to advance was particularly smooth, and one could go from hijacking crane signals to destroy an entire group of guards back to sniping distant foes at the press of a button. GoldenEye had a comparatively unwieldy gadget system, but capitalising on the controller’s D-pad to cycle between weapons and gadgets, as well as mapping different buttons to weapon and gadget use simplified things considerably. Moreover, while Agent Under Fire is a first person shooter, the game also features driving segments that allow players to get behind the wheel of Bond’s gadget-laden super cars. Racing around modestly open maps to complete objectives offers a pleasant change of pace from the on-foot combat, and altogether, while Agent Under Fire‘s story might not win any Newbury awards, the game completely succeeded in demonstrating what was possible from a James Bond game on the most advanced consoles of the time.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Agent Under Fire opens in Hong Kong harbour, on a facility that looks like something straight out of a science fiction novel. Set under a golden sunset, the mission would come to set the expectation of what sort of atmospherics would accompany a James Bond game, and here, I equip the P2K, which I’ve unlocked the golden version of for scoring well on this mission. The P2K is modelled on the Smith and Wesson SW99, but unlike its real-world equivalent, the P2K is limited to a six-round magazine (and the real version accepts 10, 15 and 20 round box magazines).

  • As the evening light casts the Identicon facility’s interior in orange-yellows, I fight my way through guards en route to the submarine pen. Along the way, I pick up the infamous Koffler and Stock KS7 (Heckler and Koch MP5), which was a bit of a joke amongst players of the time. In FAQs dating back to 2001 and 2002, the KS7 is described as the worst gun in the game, whose inaccuracy and weak damage meant that it would often take an entire magazine to take out one enemy. Agent Under Fire has a wide range of weapons, and throughout campaign missions, Bond will have access to all of the weapons featured in the game.

  • Unsurprisingly, the most powerful and versatile weapons are found towards the end of the game. As I near the last segments of the first mission, I find an SSR-4000, which is based on the SIG-Sauer SSG 3000. On a per-shot basis, the SSR-4000 is the most powerful and accurate weapon in Agent Under Fire, being a bolt-action rifle with two zoom levels. The weapon’s slow firing rate and small magazine is typical of a bolt-action rifle’s, being balanced to favour long range combat. In the campaign, enemies equipped with the SSR-4000 also have a laser sight, allowing players to quickly work out where they’re aiming and return fire or get to cover as appropriate.

  • Agent Under Fire has a disproportionately large number rail-shooter missions, in which the game automatically drives a player around, and the only aim is to fend off enemies. While the concept of rail-shooters have been maligned owing to titles like Call of Duty, back when they were introduced, they did represent a fun way to have a high speed shootout where players could focus purely on shooting. In Agent Under Fire, the rail shooter missions follow the same approach: Bond is equipped with an RPK, modified SPAS-12 and occasionally, an anti-vehicle option.

  • While Agent Under Fire fails to account for the fact that Hong Kong has left-hand traffic, the game otherwise does a phenomenal job of capturing the Hong Kong aesthetic. Roads are perhaps a bit wider, and traffic is considerably lighter than things are in real life, but the apartment buildings and neon signs are spot on. As Bond beats an escape, droves of Bloch’s men follow in pursuit, making use of cars and limousines alike in a bid to head off Bond. Rail shooting missions feature an impressive ammunition pool, and unless one were to keep their finger on the trigger for the whole of a mission, it is unlikely that one will run out.

  • The CH-6 rocket launcher is named for the fact that it can fire six shots before reloading, and it is immensely effective against vehicles. Owing to its power, it is only available in the second mission, and here, I’ve got the Golden CH-6, which has a bottomless reserve of rockets. With this unlocked, one can pretty much just stick to the CH-6 and decimate all vehicles on the road.

  • Bond subsequently picks up his own vehicle, the BMW Z8: this vehicle was first seen in The World is Not Enough, and its presence in Agent Under Fire speaks to the fact that the game was originally meant to be PS2 and PC versions of the Nintendo 64’s The World is Not Enough, but midway through development, the PC version was scrapped, and the PS2 version was changed into Agent Under Fire. In Agent Under Fire, the Z8 is equipped with two forward-facing machine guns, unguided rockets and homing missiles. Thanks to an unlock, I have unlimited missiles, which renders the mission considerably easier.

  • Racing through the streets of Hong Kong in a weapon and gadget laden BMW proved quite fun: once Bond re-enters the city, likely Central, the main objective will show up: a special van carrying the stolen vials will appear, and Bond must use an EMP pulse to disable it without destroying the samples. The Q-pulse is instrumental for this, and players must drive up beside the van in order to use the Q-pulse, which has a short range. More points are scored if players can disable the van sooner, although care should be taken not to fire the EMP when one is out of range: the EMPs are in short supply and must be picked up by driving around the level.

  • The fourth mission is a strictly non-lethal mission, and the only time where Bond uses a dart gun. Regardless of difficulty, the darts will knock out guards with a single shot, and in the quiet of the British embassy in Bucharest, the aim is to sneak in, figure out what happened to Reginald Griffin, and get out. Stealth missions in swanky locations always remind me of Christmas – back in the day, one of my relatives always hosted the annual Christmas parties, and my cousin, would invite us to spend the evening playing Agent Under Fire‘s multiplayer after dinner wrapped up while the adults conversed. My cousin favoured cooperative play, and we would challenge ourselves by fighting the bots on maximum difficulty and aggression.

  • In subsequent years, I would come to own a GameCube of my own and beat Agent Under Fire‘s campaign for myself. I occasionally still partake in the multiplayer with maxed-out bots for old time’s sake, and nothing gives more hilarity than squaring off against the Griffin clone on Town. Back in the campaign, I enter Griffin’s office to find him dead, and confront the Griffin Clone, who requires a full magazine of dart gun rounds to take out. Once Bond collects information from Griffin’s computer, it’s time to leave the embassy by taking the elevator back to the main floor and simply walk out the front door.

  • The mission at Malprave’s Swiss headquarters sees Bond pose as a journalist, but his cover is blown shortly after, and he is sealed in the reception area. The mission’s title, “Cold Reception”, is a play on words: the reception is unfriendly, and the setting is chilly, so this becomes a bit of a double entendre of sorts, which the James Bond franchise is known for. Once Bond is sealed in, hitting a switch on the desks will open a side passage that allows the mission to progress. The key here is to hit the switch on the desk to the right of Malprave’s portrait: the others will sound an alarm. Time is limited, so players should keep an eye on the clock.

  • After the classic espionage manoeuvre of photographing classified blueprints, Bond sneaks into a server room and downloads Malprave’s data for analysis before escaping. Agent Under Fire‘s game mechanics haven’t really changed: twenty years later, games like The Division still have similar objectives, and while the modes have changed (ISAC replaces the Q-decryptor and Q-remote), the end results are the same. Here, I’ve picked up the SPAS-12, the Frenesi in-game. It’s a pump-action shotgun that excels in close quarters, although it is limited by a low firing rate. The multiplayer incarnation has an alternate fire mode that allows it to fire in a semi-automatic fashion, sacrificing damage for the ability to make quick follow-up shots.

  • At Agent Under Fire‘s halfway point, Bond fends off terrorists attacking the British Embassy in Bucharest. This mission was provided in the demo version of Agent Under Fire back at the local toy stores back in the day, and I vividly remember dying after walking into the path of a sniper’s laser sights every time a controller freed up. This mission has the same aesthetic as that of Nightfire‘s second mission, requiring that players fight their way through a relatively classy setting. With the P2K, I ended up using manual fire to carefully place my shots and aim for the head: headshots are a one-hit-kill, and allow one to pick off enemies with relative ease. Body shots are highly ineffectual even on low difficulties, and although the manual aim (the precursor to today’s ADS mechanics) was tricky, when things connect, it allows one to save on ammunition.

  • I’ve never been much of a marksman on the console, and so, when the opportunity presented itself, I immediately picked a KS-57 off a terrorist. The KS-57 (AK-47) is an iconic assault rifle, but in Agent Under Fire, it’s a relatively weak weapon with improved accuracy and stopping power compared to the submachine guns, but is otherwise eclipsed by other assault rifles. Here, I enter a bathroom with a suggestive hologram, concealing a secret entrance that opens into the next area. Fanservice has never really been a thing in the games that I prefer playing, and having seen what contemporary graphics are capable of now, moments such as these are absolutely tame compared to what’s possible nowadays.

  • After reaching the rooftops, Bond rappels over into the next building with the Q-claw, rescues the embassy’s staff from the terrorists and enters the building’s basement, where he confronts the Jackal. The first time I fought the Jackal, I was unaware of how the game’s mechanics worked and died instantly. Later, I realised that the Jackal doesn’t actually take damage, but instead, retreats on the catwalk to a different position after taking enough fire, and eventually will fall after trying to fire on Bond from above a ventilation fan. The Jackal is armed with the Windsor FSU-4 (basically the Colt M16A2 with the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher), and in the mission, the Windsor Viper (Colt Anaconda) can be used, as well.

  • With the Jackal defeated, the last step of the mission is to destroy an AH-64 attack helicopter. Agent Under Fire makes it easy for Bond to do so: there’s four mounted machine guns on the roof, and while their ammunition is limited, empty the boxes on two of those guns will do significant damage to the attack helicopter, to the point where a few magazines’ worth of fire from the FSU-4 will destroy it. For folks looking for a shoulder-fired solution, there’s also an MRL-22 rocket launcher and extra rockets lying around. It goes without saying that one should give plenty of space between themselves and the attack helicopter if opting for the MRL-22 approach: the splash damage is very much lethal to Bond.

  • While the Jackal had been carrying a data chip, the terrorists manage to extract it, and Bond heads off in hot pursuit in his iconic DB5. The DB5 is equipped with the same capabilities and equipment as the Z8, so operating it is no problem. Like Hong Kong, Bucharest’s streets offer players with a degree of freedom in how they wish to go about reaching their target, and these segments of the game handled very smoothly. With my unlimited missiles, I had no trouble recovering the data chip, but after the DB5 is totalled following a daring jump over a canal, Bond switches over to a tank in a manner reminiscent of GoldenEye.

  • The tank segment of the mission is a rail shooter, which makes no sense considering that Bond is also the one operating the tank: this tank resembles the Russian T-90, and in-game, is equipped with a MGF-34 main cannon, as well as a minigun. I imagine the weapons were named and chosen purely for cool factor: the real T-90 is armed with the 2A46 120mm smoothbore cannon and a 12.7 mm Kord HMG, whereas here, it looks like it’s got an M134, which is an American weapon and therefore would not be equipped on a Russian tank. While the mission itself isn’t logical, it’s also a fun ride through Bucharest as Bond tears apart hordes of Malprave’s forces.

  • In 2001 and 2002 FAQs, writers wondered why the splash damage from the tank’s main cannon was so minimal despite the weapon working well against vehicles. Per my remarks in Rogue Agent, since it’s been two decades since then, I doubt that reaching out to the FAQ writers would be effectual, but the answer is simple: the MGF-34 is firing kinetic penetrators rather than HE rounds. I understand that at the time, gamers assumed that tanks would always fire high explosive shells owing to how developers intended tanks to really be used in single-player campaigns and therefore, didn’t need balance. In today’s games, things have become rather more sophisticated, and different rounds are implemented to have different functions.

  • The data chip that Bond finds takes him to an oil drilling platform in the South China Sea as he pursues Bloch. Agent Under Fire marks the first time I’ve fought on an oil rig, and I admit that this mission was masterfully designed: Bond has the option of charging in loud, using a side passage to stealthily reach a mounted 50 calibre gun, or sneak closer to the side railing and take out the sniper, then seize the sniper for himself. I went the route of the mounted gun, and after decimating everything, including an attack helicopter, I proceeded across the now-quiet deck with the Calypso submachine gun in hand. The Calypso P750 is based off the Calico M960, whose unique helical magazine allows for a very high ammunition capacity. In-game, its high RPM makes it an excellent close quarters weapon.

  • The second half of the mission entails climbing progressively higher in the oil rig. Bond begins in the pump room and must use the Q-jet, as well as a pumpjack, to escape. Enemies begin dropping the FSU-4, and while it’s been fun to use the Calypso, the FSU-4 is better suited for long range combat. A few snipers can also be found, and they’ll whittle players down very quickly if not dealt with. Climbing the ladders to higher platforms, Bond can use the Q-remote to drop enemy snipers without trouble, and an MRL-22 rocket launcher can be found, allowing one to drive off the attack helicopter that shows up, if need be.

  • Forbidden Depths is the last of the rail shooting missions, and Bond is equipped with both the pump action shotgun and RPK. Beginning with an absurd amount of RPK ammunition means that players shouldn’t have any trouble dealing with the enemy forces. The mission is one lengthy tram ride through the tunnels to Malprave’s underwater cloning lab: Agent Under Fire really took the idea of an elaborate lair to new heights, and the cloning lab is an example where the designers were really free to build levels as they appeared in their imaginations.

  • The only other Bond game with such imaginative environments was 2004’s GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, which took things even further. While racing through the underwater tunnels, Bloch eventually joins Bond and drops mines that must be shot at to avoid damage. The trams will eventually reach a terminal that begins sinking into the lava below, necessitating use of a camera-guided rocket launcher to stop. With this rollercoaster-like mission over, Bond’s finally reached the underwater base. This is the only mission where players will have a chance to use the PS100 and the UGW.

  • The exotic components in Malprave’s cloning lab has a distinctly sci-fi feel to it: simpler graphics back in the day meant that increasingly creative means were used to convey a high-tech asthetic, and games have come a very long way since then. Today, games like Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and even Division 2 do a more realistic presentation of what ultra-sophisticated labs would look like. Here, as I fight through the research labs, I wield the PS100, a personal defense weapon modelled on the P90. The PS100 is the best weapon in the submachine gun category: while sporting a smaller magazine than the Calypso, it is more accurate and makes short work of enemies.

  • Once Bond’s through sabotaging Malprave’s cloning facility, it’s time to beat a hasty exit: Bond’s deactivate pressure stablisation and tempreature regulators, causing the base to go critical. I’ve picked up the UGW here: this assault rifle is the second best in the game, dealing reasonable damage and mounting zoom optics that allow for medium range combat. The UGW is based on the Steyr AUG A1 with the Swarovski optic, and here, I fight my way through the submarine pen en route to my exfil. Blowing up enemy lairs has long been a staple of James Bond movies and games alike, and in this area, Agent Under Fire delivers.

  • Once the underwater cloning lab is destroyed, Bond returns to a British carrier on the Mediterranean Sea and clears it of Malprave’s forces: it is here that Bond learns what Malprave’s plans were. While it’s fun to fight on an aircraft carrier (I would not do so again until 2010’s Crysis), the story in Agent Under Fire definitely left something to be desired, resembling a hastily-written Bond fanfiction whose goal was to incorporate as many iconic Bond experiences as possible at the expense of coherence. Malprave’s plot is implausible as it is ludicrous. Nightfire completely improves on things, sporting a superior, cohesive and engaging (if still familiar) story that made every mission’s contribution to the campaign more obvious.

  • After reaching the deck and reluctantly freeing a member of the crew, Bond heads off to rescue Nightshade again. This final segment requires caution, since she’s surrounded by depth charges that will explode should anything hit them, sending players back to the last checkpoint. Agent Under Fire utilises a lives system: players have only have two attempts to clear a mission before running out of lives, after which they would need to start over from the beginning. In the end, Bond is able to save Nightshade and stop the clones of the world leader from getting out by shooting down a helicoper they’re in. The British carrier has 50-calibre machine guns on deck, and unlike the 7.62 mm mounted guns, the 50-calibre guns do not run out of ammunition.

  • As evening sets over the Swiss Alps, I begin the final mission, dubbed “Evil Summit”. The biggest challenge about the first area are the snipers, and fortunately, off in a storage room, players can grab their own SSR-4000 for some counter-sniping. After acquiring the program to unlock the access way, hordes of Malprave’s soldiers will flood the platform. They’re armed with the Koffler and Stock D17, which is based on the Heckler and Koch G11 caseless rifle. The D17 is the single best weapon in the game, with a high RPM, accuracy and magazine capacity.

  • Upon picking up the D17, there’s no real reason to use any other weapon. Having the D17 makes this last segment mangeable: the goal is to rescue all of the captured world leaders. After clearing the central control room, Bond must enter four missile silos and rescue the remaining leaders, who will see themselves out. Once this is done, all that’s left is to fight Nigel Bloch. While Bond appeared to have killed him in an earlier mission, it turns out this was his clone. The fight against Bloch plays out similarly to the fight against the Jackal: Bloch is technically invincible and upon taknig enough fire, will simply move to a next area.

  • After pursuing Bloch through a ventilation system, Bond picks up a spare MRL-22 and uses this to defeat Bloch in a scripted sequence, bringing the game to an end. Because of how boss fights are written in Agent Under Fire, I found them to be quite unsatisfying. However, for the most part, Agent Under Fire is a solid game that demonstrated what was possible on a sixth generation console, and the sequel, Nightfire, would return as a refined, polished version of Agent Under Fire.

Indeed, Agent Under Fire would receive a sequel not a year later in Nightfire: using polished concepts from Agent Under Fire, Nightfire proved to be an improvement over its predecessor in every way. The balance of gadget usage and sure aim was further polished, and the game retained a balance of on-foot missions and vehicular segments. However, the story was superbly-written, this time around, and the Nightfire even had James Bond with Pierce Brosnan’s likeness. The learnings of Agent Under Fire were evidently applied to Nightfire, and in this way, Agent Under Fire might be seen as a proof-of-concept, using the Id Tech 3 engine to explore different mechanics. The mish-mash of concepts, while feeling distinctly disjointed in Agent Under Fire, still worked very smoothly. The gunplay remains impressive, and alternate fire modes allow some weapons to be more versatile. Vehicular segments handled well. With gameplay concepts proven to be viable, Nightfire was therefore able to incorporate a better written story, superior visuals, stronger voice acting and a more iconic soundtrack into its experience. Consequently, while perhaps not the most imaginative or memorable James Bond title, Agent Under Fire nonetheless remains an enjoyable experience for its gameplay and aesthetics: the story doesn’t really make much sense, but it does give players a chance to visit a wide range of locales, from Hong Kong and Bucharest, to a classic underwater lair and the Swiss Alps, all the while doing classic James Bond stuff. Furthermore, while the campaign is quite short, Agent Under Fire features one of the best multiplayers ever to grace a James Bond game, and replaying the campaign missions for high scores will allow players to unlock improved gear, as well as more multiplayer options. Agent Under Fire‘s multiplayer is a work of art, worthy of a separate discussion, and even now, provided one has a few extra controllers available, one can still invite some mates over for some classic, 2001-style TDM hailing back to a time where games didn’t need an internet connection or lootboxes for fun to be had.

GoldenEye: Rogue Agent- A Review and Reflection

“How does it feel to be on the receiving end?” –Aaron Keener, The Division 2: Warlords of New York

After an assignment leaves an MI6 agent without his right eye, the agent is sent for an assessment simulation with James Bond and fails after he leaves Bond to “die”. Dismissed from MI6, the agent accepts an employment offer from Auric Goldfinger, who has scientist Francisco Scaramanga fit him with a cybernetic eye. The agent takes on the moniker GoldenEye, and helps Goldfinger secure the Organic Mass Energy Neutraliser (OMEN), a weapon capable of breaking down organic matter at a molecular level. After fending off Dr. No’s soldiers, GoldenEye is sent to Hong Kong and assassinate Dr. No – despite being betrayed, GoldenEye manages to take out the traitor and escapes with Pussy Galore. Despite having moved the OMEN to his casino in Las Vegas, Dr. No’s forces continue their pursuit of the device. GoldenEye fights through the casino and reaches a vault housing the OMEN, successfully defending it, but fails to stop Xena Onnatop, who was leading the operation, from escaping. Goldfinger has GoldenEye infiltrate the Hoover Dam and tasks him with eliminating Onnatop. He succeeds in killing her, and Goldfinger sends him to the Octopus to locate Dr. No’s base. Determining Dr. No is hiding out at Crab Key, Goldfinger sends GoldenEye on a one-man assault on the facility and kills Dr. No, but Goldfinger realises that GoldenEye is far too dangerous to be left alive. He detonates Crab Key’s reactor and leaves GoldenEye for dead, but GoldenEye escapes. Pussy Galore reveals Goldfinger has taken control of the Lair, and Scaramanga provides GoldenEye with a special computer virus to disable the Lair’s defenses. After clearing the Lair out, GoldenEye confronts Goldfinger – despite being trapped, the computer virus activates and overloads the OMEN. Goldfinger is disintegrated in the process, and GoldFinger manages to evacuate alongside Pussy Galore. Meanwhile, Ernest Stavro Bloefeld takes an interest in GoldenEye after sharing a conversation with Scaramanga, deciding to simply wait and see before making any decisions about how to best deal with GoldenEye. This is GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, a 2004 first person shooter that was a spinoff of the popular James Bond series of video games. Despite being unrelated to the James Bond franchise as a whole, and suffering poor reception as a result of the plot and gameplay mechanics amongst video game critics of the time, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent was commercially successful amongst players.

During my play-through of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, I found the game to handle very similarly to Halo 2: dual-wielding is very much a part of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, and the fact that players can only hold onto one active weapon at a time means that even more thought must be given towards what one takes with them. Equipping the rocket launcher for anti-vehicular combat leaves one ill-prepared to fight soldiers, and two-handed weapons actively prevent the player from using grenades. While I found the mission objectives to be unremarkable, the levels themselves were very well designed, and fighting enemy forces was always a thrill because of how many different ways I could approach the firefight. I could sneak behind cover and pair the MRI vision with the Mag-Rail to pick foes off from behind cover, methodically pick enemies off with the AR-4, or charge in with a pair of HS-90s blazing, using the shield to absorb all damage. GoldenEye: Rogue Agent thus was a thrilling game, and I had a great time going through the game right up until I finished Crab Key. After reaching Goldfinger’s Lair, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent takes a turn for the unfair after the OMEN XR is introduced – in the player’s hands, the OMEN XR is a semi-automatic weapon firing slow-moving plasma orbs that disintegrate enemies in one hit. The weapon’s great firepower is offset by the low projectile velocity and the small capacity, so the OMEN XR is not the end-all solution to all combat scenarios. However, in the hands of an enemy, the OMEN XR is a devastating weapon capable of vapourising the player even if they are at full health and armour. Because of how common enemies carrying the OMEN XR are, the final segments of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent were downright unfair. Any sort of carelessness will send players back a long way, and the final fight of the game has players squaring off against four named enemies, each of which equip their own shields and shoot with devastating accuracy. Consequently, on my run of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, I actually had started the game back in April, but after reaching the Lair, I lost interest, and it was only late in October that I decided to give it another shot; as it turns out, I’d been a stone’s throw away from finishing the fight, and after defeating all four of Goldfinger’s remaining enforcers, I had finished a game that I’d been longing to play since I heard about it back during 2004. Despite the frustration with the final mission, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent overall is an entertaining game, and I found that the period reviews for the game to have misunderstood and misrepresented what the title had been trying to do.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • One knows they’re dealing with an old game when the screenshots are 4:3. I only have one screenshot of the opening mission, and I remember starting this after things had slowed down during April: I’d just finished watching Koisuru Asteroid, and Battlefield V was reaching the end of its lifespan. At the time, I was still on the fence about Warlords of New York, and with the global health crisis both introducing a lockdown in my area, as well as knocking anime out left and right (Houkago Teibou Nisshi and Oregairu were both delayed), I had quite a bit of extra time around to make a dent in my old backlog. Right out of the gates, I was impressed with the way GoldenEye: Rogue Agent handled the dual-wielding system; players can freely swap out weapons in their left and right hands.

  • My favourite weapon for most of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent was the AR-4 Commando, a facsimile of the HK 416. In GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, the AR-4 is equipped with an optic that provides magnification, and while it can be inaccurate when fired on full automatic, burst-firing the weapon allows it to reach further ranges with fair accuracy. With a 30-round magazine and capable of holding its own at close and long range, the AR-4 is the best weapon in the game, fulfilling the role that Halo 2‘s Battle Rifle did.

  • GoldenEye will always start with the SPEC-9, a 9 mm pistol modelled on the USP Match. As I make my way through Goldfinger’s lab here, I find an interrogation room with a laser identical to the one that Goldfinger had used in Goldfinger: there, Goldfinger had captured Bond and was about to deal some damage when Bond mentioned Operation Grand-Slam. Subtle call-outs to Bond films appear throughout GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, and being a Bond fan myself, it was nice to recognise the different references. Here, I’m rocking the Mk. II Detonator, which acts as a miniature grenade launcher with impressive range and damage.

  • The HS-90 (FN P-90) is the most common weapon in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, and can always be relied upon in a pinch. With a high rate of fire, large magazine capacity and reasonable accuracy, the HS-90 can be paired with almost any weapon, rendering one capable of handling close and medium-range combat without any trouble. Here, I’m rocking the Jackal in my left hand: modelled after the Desert Eagle, the Jackal only has an eight round magazine but hits like a truck. Different weapon combinations work with different efficacies, and in general, one can’t go wrong with the HS-90. I’ve noticed that a lot of guides from 2004 call the HS-90 a “machine gun”, and indeed, some folks use the term “machine gun” and “automatic weapon” interchangeably.

  • This is certainly not the case: an automatic weapon is any weapon that can fire multiple rounds without releasing the trigger because the weapon has a mechanism (either using the recoil or gas from an earlier round) to chamber the next round. A machine gun is a purpose-built weapon for firing full-power cartridges (such as the 7.62mm NATO round) in a sustained manner. Technically, the P-90 isn’t even a submachine gun (weapons that fire pistol calibre ammunition): it’s a personal defense weapon (PDW), a class of weapons that fire small-calibre ammunition shaped like an intermediate cartridge. I imagine that contacting the writers of these FAQs to offer revisions would be an exercise in futility, since all of them date back sixteen years, and their email accounts likely no longer exist.

  • The mission in Hong Kong is set on the rooftop of a fictional restaurant/public bath of sorts: to be clear, no such building exists in Hong Kong in a site where the IFC and The Centre are simultaneously visible along with the Hong Kong Bank of China Tower. While the site has been heavily fictionalised, it was nice to see Hong Kong appear in a video game. In this mission, enemies speak Cantonese, and there are various signs in Traditional Chinese around the level. GoldenEye traverses the rooftops by way of zip-lines, and fortunately, while using said zip-lines, one can still fire their weapons.

  • While GoldenEye can pick up body armour to provide an additional layer of defense from enemy fire, unlike traditional 007 games, GoldenEye has regenerating health. Health begins recharging as soon as one is out of combat for a while, similarly with the energy shields in Halo 2, and what’s more, like the Halo 2 energy shields, GoldenEye’s health will make an audible indicator when it is recharging. Despite the sophisticated mechanics in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, the HUD remains relatively simple: ammunition is displayed on the lower side of the screen, and the left hand’s status is also displayed, whether it be zooming in, throwing grenades or firing the left-hand weapon if one is equipped. Health is indicated on the right, armour on the left, and the active Eye Power sits on the centre of the screen.

  • Early in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, the Eye Powers are not particularly useful, and I got through entire missions without using them. In Hong Kong, I alternated between the AR-4 and the Harpoon RL, a fictional pump-action rocket launcher that is devastating against infantry and vehicles alike. During the fight with Dr. No’s VTOL, there was, fortunately, an endless supply of the Harpoon RL on the rooftops to take advantage of. While powerful, ammunition for the Harpoon RL is relatively rare, and so, after dealing with vehicles, my first inclination is to switch back to the AR-4 or HS-90.

  • Of the abilities in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, the polarity shield is probably the most versatile and useful. It absorbs incoming damage, and when engaged, allows players to down any enemy, even named enemies, with a single melee attack. GoldenEye does have access to melee strikes in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, just like in Halo – the melee offers a means of dispatching nearby enemies without expending ammunition, and GoldenEye is able to even use enemy soldiers as a shield. This ability is useful for helping one to absorb incoming fire: it is brutal and absolutely speaks to GoldenEye’s ruthless methods. Most first person shooters do not have this as a feature, and it wasn’t until this year’s Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War, where a game utilises this mechanic.

  • During the fight in Goldfinger’s Las Vegas Casino, I picked up an M134 Mini-gun (the Predator MG). Like the Harpoon RL, it slows down player movement, but capable of holding 200 rounds (with an extra 200 in reserve), the Predator MG is a beast at close quarters: the rounds are individually powerful, and the weapon has a high rate of fire. At longer ranges, spread becomes problematic, but in the narrow confines of the casino, with its card tables and slot machines, the Predator shredded enemies, allowing me to quickly reach the vaults.

  • Goldfinger’s vaults have a very clean feel to them: Bond villains always seem to have a distinct sense of aesthetics when it comes to interior design, and here, I fight through the corridors en route to the OMEN. Having now been given the polarity shield, it was here where I found that GoldenEye: Rogue Agent‘s Eye Powers add a new versatility to the game. In Halo, the idea of a deployable armour ability only arrived with Halo: Reach. Altogether, there were many features in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent that were well ahead of their time, and one must wonder what gaming journalists were thinking back in the day.

  • The Hoover Dam mission has a very late-spring, early-summer feel to it, being set during the evening. The mission reminds me of those days late in the term when the school year was ending, and the days were lengthening. When GoldenEye: Rogue Agent first came out, I was a middle school student, and I’d just beaten 007: Nightfire. Back in those days, the internet was nowhere nearly as advanced as it was now, and I found out about the game only because I had been looking up walk-throughs of Nightfire on GameFAQs and came across the new title. After reading the various weapon guides, I became intrigued with the game. One of my friends did have the game and found it enjoyable, although he remarked that Nightfire was better all around as a Bond game. Having now beaten both, I’d agree here: even now, Nightfire set the standard for what Bond games should be.

  • I’ve heard rumours that there is a new Bond game in the making – Bond titles like 007 Legends, from Activision, have been horrible, and the bar isn’t particularly high to surpass those games, but compared to classics like Nightfire, Agent Under Fire and GoldenEye 64, any new Bond game will have quite a bit to live up to. Back in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, I blow up a helicopter with a well-placed round from the Harpoon RL. The road on the top of Hoover Dam was the first section of the game I had any trouble with – since I started out with a half-empty AR-4 magazine, I was short of ammunition. It took a few tries to beat this segment: once I worked out where more ammunition could be found, dealing with enemies became much simpler.

  • I ended up picking up a Longbow SR (AMP TS DSR-1), a bull-pup bolt-action sniper rifle that excels at long-range shooting. It’s the only weapon in the game suited for extreme long range combat, and its unmatched stopping power is reigned back by a low rate of fire, small magazine capacity and the fact that ammunition for it is extremely rare. With its high magnification scope, it surpasses the AR-4 for long range combat, but my lack of skill on a console means that I prefer automatic weapons, which are more forgiving to use where controllers cannot offer the same precision as a keyboard and mouse.

  • After making my way through the interior of the Hoover Dam, I come across the generator hall. I’d actually visited Hoover Dam when I was in Las Vegas some sixteen years earlier: I remember that vacation best for the luxurious buffets that the hotels on the Strip offer, as well as the excursion to the Hoover Dam. The interior is actually rendered faithfully, and towards the end of this mission, I would fight Xena Onnatop. Were it to be a melee-fight, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent would have doubtlessly proved boring – to keep the gameplay fresh, and at the expense of narrative, Onnatop only toys with GoldenEye before grabbing a nearby VTOL, and so, one can to shoot her down in a fight, as opposed to resorting to quick-time events (incidentally, quick-time events did become popular for a while in the early 2010s).

  • The Octopus is an underwater auction house of sorts for GoldenEye: Rogue Agent‘s enemy factions. Only accessible by submarine, the location holds a computer that happens to have the coordinates of Dr. No’s personal base. Shortly after arriving, I immediately picked up the AR-4. The observant reader will notice that I’ve not made too much use of the Mamba 12G: this double-barrelled shotgun is a fictional weapon that is devastating up close, but is stymied by a low firing rate and long reload time. It is most effectively paired with the HS-90: when burst fired, one can annihilate nearby enemies with the Mamba 12G while fending off more distant foes with the HS-90.

  • During the course of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, there are two weapons players will encounter, usually in the most inopportune times when ammunition is low. These weapons are the Venom 200ML and the Tesla EM. The weapons are equivalent to Halo‘s plasma pistol in terms of efficacy: the Venom 200ML only slows down opponents, and is utterly useless, while the Tesla EM can punch through polarity shields and deal some damage against named enemies, who are usually shielded. Unlike the plasma pistol, they do not have a dedicated utility, and when one runs out of ammunition, it is preferable to stick to the SPEC-9 and hand grenades rather than pick any of these toy guns up.

  • Conversely, the Mag-Rail is probably one of the most effective and entertaining weapons to use in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent; ammunition for it is comparatively rare, and the weapon requires a moment to charge up before it can fire, but the projectile can pass through walls and take out opponents on the other side. Paired with MRI vision, one can stay behind cover and pick off foes so as long as they have energy for their Eye Powers and ammunition for the Mag-Rail. The Mag-Rail is best paired with the HS-90, allowing one to deal with enemies at close to intermediate range.

  • The penultimate mission is set on Crab Key, Dr. No’s iconic base from Dr. No. While it’s not totally faithful to the Crab Key in the movie, the general aesthetic is captured, and much like how Hoover Dam reminded me of those days late in May, Crab Key reminds me of the summer. This is hardly surprising, since Crab Key is located in Jamaica. Since the Octopus mission, I’ve been conferred the so-called “Magnetic Induction Field”, which uses magnetics to pick up and throw enemies around. While the most entertaining of the Eye Powers, it is very power intensive and usually leaves one vulnerable in a firefight. I’m guessing that it acts on the metals the enemy’s armour is composed of, since there is no way for the eye to generate enough power to have a tangible effect on the body, even in a fictional setting.

  • Before I pushed my way towards the heart of Crab Key and its reactor, I took one last look at the scenery. The visuals in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent were passable for its time: Halo 2 and 007 Nightfire both had better graphics, and I wonder if a part of the development budget went towards the voice acting and character models: GoldenEye: Rogue Agent features the likeness of Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman, Harold Sakata, Joseph Wiseman, Christopher Lee and Famke Janssen. As it stands, while the visuals were nothing eye-popping, the game’s main appeal lay in having faithful renderings of classic characters, the level design and gameplay mechanics.

  • At this point in the mission, I’ve emptied out my weapons and so, had to fall back on the SPEC-9. I’ve skipped quite a bit of the mission here: players must make their way through several fortified areas and defeat Dr. No’s tanks, go down into an excavation and push deep into Dr. No’s base in order to confront him. GoldenEye: Rogue Agent‘s graphics were on-par for what was available at the time, but these areas of the game were a little less inspired than the other parts of the mission, and so, I’ve opted to skip past them.

  • The fight with Dr. No was simple enough: after using the remote hacking ability to disable the safeties on the reactor, the reactor will overload and electrocute Dr. No. The challenge here was getting in range to carry out the hack, during which I did not have access to the polarity shield. It took a few attempts, but in the end, I got it done. With Dr. No down for the count, GoldenEye’s quest for vengeance is complete, although Goldfinger suddenly betrays GoldenEye, claiming he is too dangerous to be left alive. It would appear that Goldfinger had only allowed the employment of a former MI6 00-agent to eliminate his rival, and with the rival dealt with, this leaves Goldfinger to take centre stage.

  • The final mission is set at the Lair, a massive base located in a hollowed-out volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The interior is faithful to the original Volcano base as seen in You Only Live Twice, but is smaller in scale and lacks the launch pad. Players won’t spend too much time here, since the goal is to sabotage Goldfinger’s rogue operation. While GoldenEye is only armed with the SPEC-9 to start things off, enemy soldiers will soon drop what is one of the most infamous weapons ever to be featured in a James Bond game.

  • For the past fifteen or so years, I’ve only ever read about the OMEN XR at GameFAQs: gamers of 2004 described it as a dangerous weapon for its ability to vapourise enemies in one round, making it obscenely powerful; the OMEN XR is only limited by a low muzzle velocity and small capacity, and FAQs don’t mention what these limitations entail. Technically, this is a miniaturised version of the OMEN Goldfinger plans on using for his quest to dominate the world, being able to fit into a firearm’s form factor. While the OMEN XR appears great on paper, its low rate of fire and muzzle velocity means that in practise, the weapon is utterly useless at longer ranges.

  • When it does connect, the disintegrations that the OMEN XR causes are amusing, however, and at close quarters, against small number of enemies, the OMEN XR works just fine. However, in a serious situation, the OMEN XR is more of a liability than an asset, and the weapon’s overwhelming power against individual opponents does not leave it better suited for dealing with groups of enemies. Having taken a look around, it would appear that the internet actually does not have any screenshots of the OMEN XR in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent proper. This post rectifies that in full – I do believe that I now have the internet’s only screenshots of what the OMEN XR looks like from the first person perspective.

  • While amusing, the OMEN XR is ultimately impractical, and my preferred setup during this final mission was to pair the HS-90 with either the Mag-rail, or the Mk. II Detonator, which respectively allows me to engage enemies from behind cover and effectively deal with groups with a well-placed shot. I believe the Mk. II Detonator fires the same detonators seen in Tomorrow Never Dies: despite its small form factor, it is capable of causing serious damage, making it one of the best weapons in the game. The AR-4 is all but absent in this final mission, so having a HS-90 around is essential for survival – enemies equip the OMEN XR, and in their hands, the weapon fires in bursts of three that make even an ordinary soldier exceedingly lethal.

  • The interrogation room from Crab Key, as seen in Dr. No, is inexplicably transported over to the Lair. Players will simply need to pass through this room, retrieve the virus, and then continue on towards the next part of the mission. The first half of the final mission was moderately challenging, but the second half is diabolical. Every other soldier is equipped with the OMEN XR, and being hit will instantly kill the player. The polarity shield can absorb one of these rounds, but since soldiers fire in bursts of three, one cannot simply rush out and expect to tank all that damage. Making things more difficult, ammunition for the better guns is scarce, so one must really pick their shots well.

  • The simulation rooms were tricky, but fortunately, Goldfinger’s betrayal means that some of the soldiers will fight on GoldenEye’s side. They are moderately effective, and can help act as decoys, drawing fire off GoldenEye and allowing players to move into position for a better shot. Named enemies will show up in each of the three simulation rooms, and once all are cleared, players will continue fighting into the base to reach Goldfinger. Checkpoints are rare, and deaths are extremely punishing here: besides the OMEN XR soldiers, enemies make use of the Venom 200ML and Mk. II Detonator, which slows players down and can cause massive damage.

  • On my first play-through, I’d cleared the conference rooms and meeting areas out, and reached the final part of the base, but had to call it quits that evening back in May. When I learnt that I had been a gruelling boss fight away from finishing the game, I lost the will to continue, and GoldenEye: Rogue Agent sat unfinished for five months. I subsequently spent May and June in Battlefield V, caught up with Warlords of New York in July and spun up my own World of Warcraft server in August: it wasn’t until late last month that I decided that I might as well return and finish the fight. What awaited was diabolical: it took me some forty minutes to kill the named enemies here, but after I finished, I was left with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.

  • I grabbed an OMEN XR off the floor, cleared the remaining soldiers out  and watched the closing cutscene to GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, where Goldfinger attempts to kill GoldenEye but fails. With GoldenEye: Rogue Agent in the books, I’ve now completed a game that I’d been wondering about for the past decade-and-a-half, and while the final mission was brutally difficult, overall, I found GoldenEye: Rogue Agent to be a surprisingly enjoyable game. The gaming journalists of the time got this wrong, and looking back now, what was considered to be a “mediocre, unimaginative” game from EA still is leaps and bounds ahead of modern games like Fortnite. Back then, games didn’t have loot boxes: enjoyment boiled down entirely to skill, rather than emote dances. I note that today marks the sixteenth anniversary to the release of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, and it seemed appropriate to mark this date with a revisit of the game, hence this post.

In retrospect, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent was actually ahead of its time in the areas that period critics found lacking. The story of an MI6 agent going rogue allowed the game to explore a side of the Bond universe that was never dealt with in the films and suggests that the villains of the James Bond universe are not more effectual than they are because all of them have their own aspirations and plans for the world; these plans do not entail cooperation, and the reason why the villains have not already overcome the world’s governments is precisely because they are too busy quarrelling with one another. Bond films have always presented the villains as threatening the world, one at a time, and GoldenEye: Rogue Agent offers a suggestion as to why this is the case. As it stands, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent‘s story, while doubtlessly written to simply maximise the amount of exotic locations players can shoot through, is still reasonably entertaining, on top of the insight that being a bad guy in the Bond universe is a tough occupation. Besides providing the justification needed to blow stuff up in cool places, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent‘s gameplay was actually ahead of its time. The dual-wielding system was as sophisticated as that of Halo 2‘s, which would have released a mere thirteen days earlier, and unlike Halo 2, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent also incorporated the Eye Powers. GoldenEye can use MRI vision to spot enemies from behind cover and walls, hack into remote devices and disable enemy weapons, project a shield that temporarily renders him impervious to damage, or even pick enemies up and throw them. The weapons systems, together with the Eye Powers, give players tactical options during combat and encourage creativity in dealing with the enemies that GoldenEye: Rogue Agent throws at the players. The enemy AI was also fairly responsive for its time: they react in real time to the player’s actions, whether one picks up different weapons or engages different Eye Powers. Altogether, between the strong art and animation for its time, plus having a robust dual-wielding system and the Eye Powers, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent actually proved to be exceptionally innovative for its time, especially with the idea that players were not playing the good guys. The game has a very distinct personality from more conventional James Bond games, and every aspect of the game, from the visuals, to the soundtrack, conveys a sense of deadly professionalism and determination, quite unlike the suave, classy air that James Bond had been associated with during that time period, prior to Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond in 2007’s Casino Royale, which redefined what being James Bond meant.

007 Nightfire Review and Reflection

“I’ll credit you with persistence Mr. Bond. Persistence and failure. There are NATO launch sites on Earth which could challenge the arsenal on my island. Those bases will be incinerated…by turning these defensive missiles into massively offensive ones.” —Raphael Drake

007 Nightfire is an appropriate way to kick off a new class of posts under the “Ye olde Arcade” section, where I will review older games for old times’ sake. Released in 2002 for Playstation 2, Xbox and GameCube, 007 Nightfire is the first-person shooter I owned — at the time, I only played shooters at a cousin’s house during Christmas dinners, and I only had the Super Nintendo console. Enjoying GoldenEye 64 and Agent Under Fire thoroughly, I was thrilled to receive 007 Nightfire as a birthday gift. An original story, 007 Nightfire follows James Bond through his investigation of Phoenix International, a multi-national corporation who is suspected of weapons smuggling. Coming head-to-head with its owner, the industrialist Raphael Drake, Bond learns that Phoenix International has been clandestinely stockpiling nuclear materials for Operation Nightfire: the reorganising of the world under Phoenix International in order to create a world ruled by Drake’s corporation. Fighting through Drake’s private paramilitary groups on a secluded Pacific Island and in an underground launch facility, Bond infiltrates a shuttle, boards the US Space Defense Platform and destroys the nuclear missiles to save millions of lives before taking Drake on in a one-on-one in a space battle that was crafted and honed well before Call of Duty: Ghosts would return to a similar environment some eleven years later.

Possesses a 007 with Pierce Brosnan’s likeness, a novel narrative, its own theme song and is ultimately one remarkably well-executed adventure, making it perhaps the best 007 game ever made; coupled with its excellent graphics and smooth gameplay, this is an excellent instalment in the series that acts as a worthy successor to GoldenEye 64. Aside from technically solid elements, 007 Nightfire is also rifle with callbacks to older James Bond films. Bond’s switch from combat gear to an evening suit to infiltrate Drake’s party is inspired by From Russia With Love. The Aston Martin is clearly the same vehicle from Die Another Day. When Bond visits Tokyo to obtain information from Alexander Mayhew about a missing guidance chip, he visit Mayhew’s Japanese mansion and Phoenix’s Japanese branch, in a manner similar to that of You Only Live Twice. The Aston Martin’s ability to transform into a submarine is from The Spy Who Loved Me, and the ultimate showdown between Bond and Drake is reminiscent of Moonraker. Other elements, such as Fort Knox and the Golden Gun (Goldfinger and The Man With the Golden Gun), also make a return in the multiplayer: this game is packed with references to older James Bond films and is an absolute blast to play through for existing James Bond fans.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Until I review DOOM, I believe that 007 Nightfire will be the oldest game I’ve ever reviewed on this blog. Playing through 007 Nightfire brings back plenty of memories, and as such, the figure captions for this post will be one long trip down memory lane for me. I will offer some suggestions on the gameplay here and there, although how useful those bits of information will be will be up for discussion, since I do not imagine this game is played with any great frequency.

  • The first thing that made 007 Nightfire so enjoyable were the atmospherics: after a chase through the streets of Paris in the first mission, the second mission has Bond infiltrate a party at Drake’s castle in Austria. The snowfall and castle by night evokes a plainly Christmas feeling, even though there is a total absence of Christmas decorations at Drake’s castle.

  • Here, I wield a suppressed Accuracy International AWM with a winter camouflage (Winter Covert Rifle), one of two bolt-action rifles in the game. I imagine that these long-range weapons are outfitted with a straight-pull bolt, since Bond never zooms out in order to chamber a new round after firing. It’s an excellent weapon for long-range combat, and can be used to pick off Drake’s guards without drawing too much attention to oneself.

  • The Walther PPK (Wolfram PP7) is Bond’s starting weapon on most missions. Firing 7.65mm rounds, it deals little damage and has a low capacity, meaning that it will often be replaced by other weapons that are found. However, it’s not entirely ineffective — one of the PPK’s advantages is that it can be suppressed, making it useful for dispatching lone enemies without drawing attention to oneself. Beating the game will unlock the Walther P99 (Wolfram P2K), a more powerful weapon with a larger magazine capacity chambered for 9 mm rounds.

  • Special actions, known as “Bond Moves”, can be performed in 007 Nightfire (as was possible in its predecessor, Agent Under Fire). These actions allow Bond to move through areas more easily, or dispatch a large number of opponents at once in an ingenious fashion. When performed, they confer a scoring bonus that contributes towards the end-of-mission medal, which unlocks multiplayer skins.

  • The interior of Drake’s castle is well-designed, featuring warm lighting and an aristocratic atmosphere befitting of an industrialist such as Drake. It’s the perfect place for a Christmas party, and I’ve often spent time exploring, wondering what such an area might look like by day. Subtle attention to detail in the different levels make the game highly pleasant from a visual perspective, giving it a very polished feel.

  • After retrieving the guidance package and meeting up with Zoe Nightshade (a character returning from Agent Under Fire), it’s time to leave the party. I’m wielding the Heckler and Koch MP5K (Deutsche M9K) with a 21-round magazine, and later, I’ll pick up the AT-420 Sentinel, a fictional shoulder-fired multiple rocket launcher with TV-guided missiles to take on Rook’s gunship. To avoid self-inflicted damage, it’s advisable to shoot out the windows of the gondola first.

  • The gameplay in 007 Nightfire was incredibly diverse for its time, featuring both rail-shooting and driving missions in addition to first-person shooting. The third mission is the escape from Drake’s castle via heavily armed snowmobiles. Armed with both heavy machine guns and rockets, this mission is highly enjoyable, standing in stark contrast with the PC version of 007 Nightfire, which I’ve also played and is an inferior game in every way to the console versions.

  • While it seems a little strange, vehicles can also pick up Kevlar vests to become armoured. After a harrowing chase down the mountain side, Nightshade pilots the snowmobile through a mountain lodge filled with guests before destroying one of the pursing helicopters to end the mission.

  • Equipped with smoke, EMP rounds, boosters, guided missiles, unguided rockets and forward-facing machine guns, Bond’s Aston Martin is a fantastic vehicle to drive. The upgraded missiles can lock onto up to four targets at once, allowing for Bond and Nightshade to reach the extraction point with relative ease. Civilian police cars participate in the chase, although harming them will result in an immediate mission failure.

  • I lock onto one of the helicopters and prepare to blow it away with the guided missiles in order to clear the extraction site here. While an excellent vehicle in all regards, one of the features that I missed from Die Another Day is the adaptive camouflage (in effect, a cloak for the vehicle). It’s explained as making use of cameras to project an image they see onto the other side of the vehicle to give the sense of invisibility. I imagine that adding this ability to the vehicle would make it overpowered, and furthermore, isn’t strictly necessary in terms of gameplay.

  • The fifth mission, set at Mayhew’s Japanese home, is another example of the excellent level design in 007 Nightfire: subtle details, such as the furnishings in the interior or the layout of the gardens outside, are simply spectacular. Here, I’m equipped with a Desert Eagle (Raptor Magnum) chambered for the .375 calibre round. Compared to its .5 calibre counterpart, this one is more accurate and has a slower rate of fire.

  • 007 Nightfire is where I first encountered the SPAS-12 shotgun in a game, and it could alternate between pump-action and semi-automatic fire. Excellent for close quarters combat, it’s particularly effective in the narrow corridors of Mayhew’s mansion.

  • Here, I wield the Ruger MP9 (Storm M32), which offsets its weak bullet damage with a high firing rate and magazine size. How did I take the screenshots for this post? A magician does not reveal all of is tricks is all I have to say on the matter. I did try to make some of these screenshots consistent with those from my old website’s review, and have since replaced them. I’ve discontinued updates for the old site, although the 007 Nightfire images merited a return: I believe they are the only images that remained that I did not capture myself, since I lacked the means to capture screenshots when I wrote that post.

  • The mission to infiltrate the Phoenix International building in Tokyo gives the game a feeling similar to those of the older Metal Gear Solid games, and for this mission, Bond is initially to make his way to the top floors of the building to plant a worm into the computer servers. Only civilian security guards are encountered, and the mission will end if they are killed. To aid players, Bond is equipped with a specially-modified Heckler and Koch P11 (the Korsakov K5 Dart Gun) that fires tranqualiser rounds. To conserve on limited ammunition, it’s also possible to stun guards with the key fob or simply punch them out.

  • The offices for the Japanese branch of Phoenix International feels like the headquarters for Konami, Square Enix or other Japanese game publishers: both missions set in the Phoenix International building in Tokyo give the sense that they were designed and published by Japanese developers with respect to the level design, feeling like something straight out of older PS2 games, such as Metal Gear Solid, despite the fact that Eurocom developed the console version of the game.

  • The seventh mission deals with a derelict nuclear power station undergoing decommissioning along the Japanese coast. It marks the first time I’ve played a shooter set in a haikyo, and the abandoned area serves as a fantastic location for Drake to conduct illicit research on prototype weapons even as he leads a group of reporters in a tour of the area, suggesting that his goals are philanthropic in nature.

  • The standard AWM (Winter Tactical Rifle) is the best weapon in 007 Nightfire for long-range combat. Chambered for the .308 round, it’s well suited for taking out distant enemies in the seventh mission: enemy snipers are prevalent on the map, and can deal serious damage to Bond. The best tactic is to stay hidden and pick off enemies one at a time, always keeping one’s back to a wall. Later, armour piercing rounds can be equipped.

  • The eighth mission sends Bond back to the Phoenix International building after his capture at the nuclear power plant, and is a backtracking mission that places emphasis on going loud. I’ve got the SG-552 carbine here: there’s a suppressed variant of it in the second mission, but here, I’ve got access to a full automatic version equipped with optics. The go-to assault rifle in 007 Nightfire, ammunition for it is reasonably common.

  • I’m wielding the AT-600 Scorpion rocket launcher against an endless horde of enemies in the Phoenix Building’s lobby. With the objective being to escape, it’s also the perfect time to boost one’s stats at the end of the mission: unlike the Sentinel, its rockets are heat-seekers. There’s also a Mikor MGL (Militek MGL) in the level with twelve available 40mm grenades (six in the chamber, six in reserve) that can be likewise used to unleash explosive chaos. Exiting the lobby completes the mission and leads to the introduction of Alura McCall, an Australian operative.

  • The ninth mission entails piloting Bonds Aston Martin as a submarine to infiltrate Drake’s island facility. I never could get past this when I first played the game some twelve years ago, but of late, perhaps armed with the wisdom and experience of a graduate student, I’ve managed to beat this level now. A combination of a steady piloting and caution will allow for this level to be completed, and it was very enjoyable to delve deeper into a well-designed facility I’d not seen previously.

  • Aside from avoiding patrols, making use of guided torpedoes to damage surveillance infrastructure, and deploying limpet charges on the underwater missiles, there’s also a section in the ninth mission where Bond must destroy an active submarine. Its torpedoes are devastating, but one trick to make this fight easier (if lengthier) is to stay in the shadows and hammer it with guided torpedoes until it is destroyed.

  • The tenth mission is another driving mission, and I recall watching The New Woody Woodpecker Show during this time period. Produced from 1999 to 2002, it was well-animated and rather comical; Woody Woodpecker himself is voiced by Billy West (Futurama‘s Phillip J. Fry). I rather miss the show, and English-language releases have been even more rare than Kevin Gillis’ The Raccoons.

  • Consisting of three distinct acts, the tenth mission of 007 Nightfire is one incredible ride through a tropical island. After commandeering a heavily-armed SUV and destroying automated turrets en route to an airfield, Bond and McCall take to the skies in an ultra-light armed for a rail-shooter. The pulse weaponry and rockets are superbly effective against ground-based and air-based targets. I prefer using the rockets for harder targets, switching to the D1400 pulse weapons to finish other opponents off.

  • The final act of this mission is in a stationary turret, armed with a powerful anti-tank cannon and what appears to be a directed energy pulse weapon for anti-air targets. The enemy tanks, aircraft and a submarine will always spawn in the same order, making this section of the game reasonably straight forwards to complete. Coming up next in “Ye Olde Aracade” will be a talk on Enter The Matrix, which I played for both GameCube and PC. I have an opinion on that game contrary to most reviewers, and will be looking to write about that one as time allows. Regular programming resumes with the sixth episode of Brave Witches, which I will aim to publish by Thursday or Friday.

  • The penultimate mission through the interior of Drake’s facility is downright epic. The initial goal is to follow Kiko stealthily through the facility to reach a server room, and Bond is equipped with a crossbow for ultimate stealth. Disabling the alarms and cameras helps greatly, and subsequently, once the servers are offline, it’s time to settle a score with Rook, Drake’s henchman. Rook is incredibly durable and can tank direct hits from the M29 OICW’s high-explosive 20mm grenades. Known as the AIMS-20 (Advanced Individual Munitions System) in-game, the OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon) is the best assault rifle in the game, firing 5.56 mm rounds in bursts and also mounts an integral grenade launcher, as well as an infrared scope.

  • The OICW’s best feature are its grenades: smaller than those of the MGL, they are not affected by projectile drop to the same extent and can be used to deal serious damage even at a distance. After defeating Rook, the Phoenix Samurai Laser Rifle can be acquired. The most powerful weapon in the game, it has unlimited ammunition and is quite lethal, although I prefer the OICW for this mission owing to how plentiful ammunition for it is.

  • The final stage of the penultimate mission is to survive two consecutive shuttle launches and fend off two waves of attackers, including two ninjas. At the end of the fifth mission, a ninja shows up to assassinate Mayhew, forcing Bond to engage him. I found that a single headshot (or two body shots) with the AWM would work quite well, but in this mission, the under-barrel grenades can eliminate the ninjas on very short order. Once they’re down, Bond sends Kiko to her death and boards the shuttle for the final mission.

  • 007 Nightfire got the concept of space missions down before Call of Duty: Ghosts existed, and the final mission, titled “Equinox”, is a superb exercise in aiming and persistence. Players must destroy the coupling on the missile gantries, which will send them off course, while simultaneously fending off soldiers who are also armed with the Phoenix Samurai laser rifle. The weapon has good optics and an alternative fire that compresses energy into a powerful ball: its firing sound is identical to the Photon Cannon, a multiplayer-only power weapon available in Agent Under Fire.

  • Once all the missiles are sent off course, Drake himself comes out to fight Bond mano-a-mano. He’s wielding a Scorpion rocket launcher and can tank several laser shots: the heat seeking missiles makes him quite devastating, so it is imperative to keep moving. The first time I beat this mission, I managed to push Drake into the Space Defense Platform’s laser, killing him instantly, although now, my aim is sure enough for me to hit him using the Phoenix Samurai laser rifle. Even after he’s dead, one must keep moving to avoid any missiles still in the area, but once Drake’s lifeless corpse is shown in a cutscene, players can breathe easy, having finished 007 Nightfire‘s campaign.

As far as I am concerned, 007 Nightfire is the greatest James Bond shooter ever made: even today, the gameplay and design of the game is quite solid when compared to some modern shooters. Clearly, 007 Nightfire has stood the test of time, and I’m finding that the game is just as fun now as it was when I played through the game during a lazy summer vacation during my time as a middle school student. Back then, I had a tremendous amount of difficulty beating the submarine mission, and only completed the game recently. The reviews on the campaign’s short length are spot on: it does come across as being quite short, although there is plenty of replay value in trying to collect all of the medals and unlock all of the multiplayer skins. In an ordinary review, I would give 007 Nightfire a strong recommendation and suggest that players check this game out. However, 007 Nightfire is fourteen years old now, and picking up the game for a Playstation 2 or GameCube could be quite tricky. With that being said, it is nonetheless a solid game, and anyone with the game for an older console could probably find it quite entertaining, if a little tacky, by contemporary standards.