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Aces of the Galaxy

You better belt up. It’s time to exterminate the Skurgian race and destroy the unchallenged reign they hold over the great unknown: space. Even the darkest, most isolated corners of this star-sprinkled black canvas are prone to infestation from these dangerous defenders. Lurking within this bleak and uncharted mystery is an entire civilisation hell-bent on eliminating your threat and beginning their own. It really is a dog eat dog world. Wait, did I say world? Make that universe.

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As you all know, if an alien threat needs to be dealt with, man is the most reliable remedy. We’ve been protecting our land for centuries and no matter how minimal the odds may appear, we’ve always triumphed above the rest. Be it giant blood sucking tripods, the Locust Horde or even the old-school rampaging zombies, we know how to get the job done with a credible amount of style. Aces of the Galaxy does exactly that once more, as Sierra takes it back to the old-school in brilliantly executed fashion.

“Sierra takes it back to the old-school in brilliantly executed fashion”For many gamers, controlling a single space ship in an attack against hundreds of ferocious enemies certainly is not a new premise. The majority may even slate it as overused or unoriginal as, since gaming has gone mainstream, these titles have been readily available to play in abundance. From Space Invaders to 1942, the formula is definitely well worn and, one would think, squeezed of potential. It comes as a surprise then that this title is a breath of fresh air amongst a genre that has reeked of staleness for many years now.

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As the Xbox Live Arcade promises two new titles to download each week, it takes something pretty special to entice many gamers to pay for the full download. This is even more apparent if the title is similar to many others available on the virtual market. For the first time in months, it seems Xbox Live Arcade has produced a game that is definitely worthy of trying out, if not paying the price for. With a mixture of simple controls and sheer speed, Aces of the Galaxy provides a superb collection of heart-stopping and thrilling moments throughout it’s single player mode.

When beginning the adventure, players will have the choice of two spaceships to tackle the approaching hostilities. It’s obvious to see what has influenced the design of these ships, as they both echo the appearance of fan favourites from the Star Wars series. In fact, influence from other films and games can be spotted throughout, as enemies and even the excellent colour scheme used will remind many of the 360’s biggest exclusive title, Halo 3. This is by no means a bad thing, as it allows Aces of the Galaxy to create a galaxy that is familiar to many on the console, and also pays homage to many gamers favourite films and titles.

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“Influence from other films and games can be spotted throughout”As you take off, the visual impact of the title will begin to shine. For a Live Arcade title, the slick and stylish appearance is irresistibly gorgeous. Playing this through a HD television is a wonderful experience as a wealth of colour bursts from the screen with undeniable charm. This isn’t your average port of a mediocre game; this is a well thought out, lovingly produced and nurtured project from the developers. Taking a behind the ship view, controls are responsive and instantly easy to master. By alternating use of the chain-gun, torpedo launcher and the Rez styled cluster attack, players will begin to tackle the influx of enemies with brute force. Throw in the ability to barrel roll out of the way of incoming attacks and this begins to take shape nicely. Playing as an almost entirely on rails quest is a bold move from the creators, as many gamers these days crave freedom from the titles they play. This is totally acceptable when working your way through the battle however, as it allows the player to focus entirely on the two main objectives: slaying and surviving.

Of course, attacking your enemies is a huge part of succeeding. There is no chance that peace is going to strike up any time soon, so you better learn how to deal with those pesky bastards. At times, you will have to eliminate a lot of them as well. Tactics come into play as there are moments when avoiding the enemies attacks and holding back your own is the key to success. Decisions need to be made in the blink of an eye as the barrage of alien ships are likely to fill most of your screen with everything they’ve got. The speed is unrelenting and superbly maintained during the dogfights that unravel, especially once you enter the sound breaking warp gates. These orange holes sling the player into a frenzy of gut busting direction changes that mimic the set up of the world’s greatest roller coasters. Oddly, during the fastest sections, enemies begin to become consistently streamlined to the centre of the screen, meaning huge combos can be built without changing the direction of your bullets. Destruction takes over quicker than a bullet in a china shop, highlighting that there is more to dodge than the fire of your foes.

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After the first mission players have the choice to take one of three paths. These all offer slightly different experiences and change the hazards that need to be overcome. Although this is the case, enemy design and pattern remains largely the same, ramping up the difficulty towards the tenth and final mission. In a great addition to the title, each individual route incorporates its own dangers that need to be passed. Gamers can chose between tackling the “Dark Star”, “Asteroid” and “Ice Nebula” routes, all providing decent challenges on the tougher difficulties. The latter two are definitely the most interesting; working your way through a number of asteroid belts and giant blocks of ice is exhilarating to say the least. Add to this the inclusion of mine fields and shrapnel of the larger destroyed ships and the screen begins to become a whirlwind of life threatening potential. The scale of the design only helps to make this one of the best experiences available over Microsoft’s ever growing download service.

“The scale of the design only helps to make this one of the best experiences available over Microsoft’s ever growing download service”Unfortunately, this game begins to falter when playing through on Xbox Live. I say “playing”, what I actually mean is “trying to find someone to play with”. After two hours of searching for an ally, I managed to get nowhere. This is sorely disappointing, as I was relishing the challenge of tackling the Skurgians via the Live service. It seems the online mode has died before it even began; a fact that proves how many gamers are not willing to try out new and unknown titles. Luckily, local co-op is included and makes for a decent experience with a friend. Proceedings are prone to become a little confusing at times though, as you continue to barrel roll out of the way of incoming attacks and into the same position as your partner. Fortunately, friendly fire doesn’t destroy the experience, meaning the focus is once again channelled onto the two main gameplay mechanics.

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Despite the disappointment of the online mode, Aces of the Galaxy is a brilliantly crafted montage of many of gaming histories most successful titles. Paying homage to those who paved the way, it’s surprising that this feels so fresh and acceptable on today’s market. If anything, this game is proof that a beautiful exterior and simply updated formula can provide such a thrilling experience from an unoriginal concept. The battle to eliminate the Skurgians is certainly worth taking, just don’t expect to complete it with a friend. It seems single seated spaceships are the in thing once again, years after its dominance with older gamers was at its astronomical height.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2007.

Gentle persuasion

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