The history of arcade flight games
The flight action game is a misunderstood creation, often confusing reviewers, players and even designers alike. Some consider it an extension of Flight sim game and others a sub-genre of it's own. Unlike true flight sims which have remained almost exlusive to PC since their inception, Flight Action games have their roots at the Arcade; the home of thrill a minute gameplay.
Arcade classics such as SEGA's Afterburner, which although restricting players to only 2D movement (making it a corridor shooter more than flight) would give players a taste of things to come. One could even say that shooters like Konami's 1942 were equally as important to the development of Flight Action as a genre, since Afterburner itself is essentially what 1941 would be like in 3d.
It would take the release of Namco's Air Combat in the Arcade (and later Ace Combat on Sony Playstation) to show what the genre was truly capable of, sort of like a Falcon 3.0 of arcade flight. Giving players plenty of ammunition and enemies in a flight environment that anyone could pickup and play. Or rather sit down and play, since picking up the mammoth Ace Combat arcade machine would be no small feat!
15 years later and Ace Combat is still the king, with over 10 million sold world wide , yet the genre as a whole is struggling with only sporadic releases; what went wrong? Unfortunately Flight Action games often suffer from 2 major problems. The first is a severe lack of mission variety, since there is only so much you can do in a plane. In fact most missions can be categorised as either destroy a target, defend an objective or escort missions, or a combination of these. Flight sims can get away with this because the emphasis is not on the mission but on the simulation. Deja vu symptoms lead to a lot of flight action games feeling very similar.
The second problem facing flight action games is the very fine line between action and simulation that developers have to walk when making a flight action game. Too much detail and players preferring action are alienated, but at the same time if there is not enough detail sim fans will shun it. Jet Fighter is a famous example of trying to please both and ending up pleasing neither.
For a niche genre, some great flight action games have come out over the years and there is plenty to keep any ace pilot busy. Join me as I take a look back at flight action games through the years; time to kick the tires and light the fires!
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Part 1: Early days Console developers make do while arcade machines break new ground.
Part 2: 3D for all Arcade tech comes home thanks to Sony and Sega's 32-bit consoles.
Part 3: Smoothing out edges: With more power under the hood, gamers are freed from restrictive draw distances.
Part 4: Future of flight: War gets prettier and even more personal with scarily realistic graphics and online multiplayer.