Namco Bandai’s Ace Combat series is now 18 titles deep, offering arcade style flight simulation and plenty of action along the way. Infinity is the series first foray into the ‘free to play’ market and is currently exclusive to the Playstation 3.
I don’t tend to have much luck piloting vehicles in other games (see basically any Battlefield game) so Infinity seemed like a great, and free, opportunity to give the genre a try. When you load up you’re peppered with hint boxes and advice on how to get started – the writing on these is tiny for some strange reason but it’s definitely worth reading them all and make sure you always check the Notification section for bonuses/unlocks – you’ll thank me later!
So I settled in and got started on the tutorial mission, which would show me the basics and let me get airborne. In Infinity you view your plane from a third person viewpoint, just behind it, and for a quick moment I was whisked back to my Master System days with After Burner! Thankfully this game is almost as easy to control, the majority of the work is done on the left stick (the right stick controls the camera so you can look to the side/behind) with R1 accelerating and L1 slowing you down. You can add speed to turns by also using L2 and R2 to ‘Yaw’, or in layman’s terms, move side to side.
Your initial weapons are a machine gun (fired with X) and missiles (which can lock on to targets and are dispatched with O). You have a radar on the bottom left of the screen but I found I rarely needed to use that because you have an extensive overlay on your HUD. You can press triangle over an enemy to set it as your ‘objective’, which means an arrow will appear on your screen if the enemy moves out of sight. I found this really helpful as it very quickly allows you to get your bearings and relocate whichever plane or ground troops you were tracking previously.
I actually died during the basic tutorial, which didn’t bode well for entering full combat. Thankfully there is a mix of single player campaign missions and online action so I was eased in with a solo campaign mission to start.
Now seems like the best time to discuss the mechanic that makes Infinity a ‘free to play’ title: Fuel. To do any mission you need to use at least one unit of fuel (you can use more to increase your points multiplier) and there are two kinds of fuel; Supplied and Stocked. Supplied fuel is time based, you get 1 unit every four hours, with a maximum of 3 units allowed. Stocked fuel is awarded for in-game feats or completing the challenges you can select to accompany missions.
You can also buy Stocked fuel at £0.79 per unit with other deals available on PSN. As I mentioned in my opening, do check your notifications – when you start the game you are gifted 10 units of Stocked fuel but you won’t get it unless you read the notification.
Once I had done some Campaign missions it was time to hit the online arena. Thankfully for me, Infinity sees two teams of up of 4 players each both fighting not each other but a series of computer controlled planes and objectives. There are plenty of people playing the game, which is great and it was never difficult to find a room but if the room is set up for 8 players (and most are) you could sometimes be sitting there for 3 or 4 minutes waiting to get a full contingent so that you could start.
As you don’t play directly against other people it means even us less skilled players can have success, and fun, against the enemy AI. I was often last but still had an enjoyable time, although I did sometimes feel I’d dragged my team to a defeat being the only one with such a low score. I preferred it when I got matched with a room full of new players! During both campaign and online missions your point score is transferred into Credits. As well as buying new planes or upgrades with Credits, they are also required to unlock the single player campaign missions.
As someone who is not very good at these types of games my initial fuel load of 3 Supplied and 10 Stocked lasted me 2 1/2 hours, which I think is a pretty good length of time to decide whether you want to invest further time or money in the game. Other, more skilled, players may get further into it without hitting a wall.
With the Credits also needed to unlock campaign missions it meant, without spending money, that I had to wait at least 4 hours to have another crack at anything other than the Test Flight (which earns you no Credit or Fuel). Most of the free to play stuff I’ve experienced (Blacklight Retribution for example) limited your weapons/abilities rather than your time, something that I vastly prefer to what Infinity does.
However, I fully understand that the game needs to be supported and there are plenty of options here if you exhaust your initial free Fuel and can’t wait to play more. Ace Combat Infinity is definitely a fun game but I feel the 2-3 hours I spent with it was enough for me.