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Ace Online / Air Rivals Review: A Breath Of Sci-Fi Air In A Land Of Fantasy Games


Ace Online / Air Rivals Review: A Breath Of Sci-Fi Air In A Land Of Fantasy GamesI haven’t done much reviewing lately, and it’s time to fix that. I’d write about RIFT betas, but my latest posts were all about RIFT, like the ones with
RIFT beta screenshots, so i have to write about something else. And “something else” this time is ACE Online. Also known as Space Cowboy Online, Ace Online International and AirRivals, the game was made by MasangSoft Inc. and first released back in 2006 – it had a lot of publishers since then, right now they are GameForge4D (Europe) and Suba Games, LLC (North America). Whether it is a good game or not – we shall find out, but at least this game stands out of the mass, because it’s being described as free to play PVP Sci-Fi MMO 3D Space Shooter. That’s right, spaceships instead of elves – so even if it’s a grindfeast, at least it’s not a standard one!

What really takes this game apart from everything else, is the nature of its gameplay. When you create a character you must choose “Gear” to fly – a flying (or not) machine that will represent you though the biggest part of the game. Yes, you also must pick up a human character, but they aren’t customizable at all – you just pick up this or that pilot, with the same face and clothes as every one other pilot of that kind has, so they all look like clones. But Gear is another thing, this is where customization comes – instead of armor, helmet and sword you would pick in a fantasy-type game, here you must upgrade your Gear’s engines, weapons and other systems. As you progress through the game, more and more stuff gets available to you. There is a level system like in every other RPG game, but instead of a progressing character you get your Gear progressing with each new level.

Ace Online / AirRivals / Space Cowboy Online review There are two different factions available to the player, but at the beginning of the game the only difference between them are the maps you get to fly on from the start, and you will be given a chance to change the faction. The story between these factions is not really clear to me, i guess this isn’t the game’s best point of selling. Another such point is the game’s graphics. It’s been released in May, 2006 – and wasn’t AAA title even back then – so by now its graphical systems are a bit outdated, to say the least. Textures and models are very humble, and i also had experienced some bugs with Ace Online’s visuals (see my screenshots) – these one comes often and, considering the game’s age, obviously isn’t going to be fixed.

Ace Online / AirRivals / Space Cowboy Online review Besides 3D graphic that is used for Gears, cities and the world itself, there is a portion of 2D images used to represent characters. And it’s done in manga style. Every time you do a mission, you’ll see that manga style guy (your boss) or a manga girl with big boobs (don’t know who she is, but she shows up from time to time and also tells you when the mission have succeeded). Actually, the most beautiful part of the game is 2D art drawn for loading screens and into movie (it is a static one, made of slide show, like they had in Eve Online several years ago).

The game’s sound i liked more than its visuals. There aren’t that many sound effects you may need in a game where everything is flying around – but the music was good. It gets repetitive with time, but if you’re not playing more than for just a couple of hours in a row, it is just fine. Some sort of electronic plus rock plus i don’t know what, but it added a bit of edge to the fighting and I’ll totally save it for my games OST collection.

Ace Online / AirRivals / Space Cowboy Online review Ace Online’s main gameplay consists of 3 parts: your faction’s city, grinding maps and PVP. The city is where your human clone character roams to shop, repair, unload their cargo, find social activities and gamble for stuff (I’ll get back on that gambling part later). When you just start a game, you find yourself in a city taking on a mission that will teach you to fly and shoot stuff. After that, you’ll have to fly forth and back to the city for some time, but later in the game you won’t need to come back to the city every time you need a new mission. When you leave the city, you get into your Gear and fly out to some map.

I’ll talk about the maps a little bit later, and now let me tell you that the most interesting part of the game is flying itself. Ace Online controls are easy to master, mostly you guide your Gear with the mouse, the keyboard buttons are needed to strafe and raise/lower Gear’s speed, and somehow it reminded me of Microsoft’s Freelancer space shooter game and its controls. Most of the gaming time you’ll spend flying, and even if you’re just doing some grinding (and this game needs a lot of grinding!) it’s not so boredom-filled as it is in fantasy MMOs.

Ace Online / AirRivals / Space Cowboy Online review When you grind in some fantasy-style game, you just press several buttons over and over again, but when you play in Ace Online, you have to do something different each minute – because those beasts you hunt for experience won’t just stand around, they’re flying too, trying their best to escape you. And to get them you really need to do a lot of chasing, plus you have to remember not to get crashed into some canyon wall or a tall tree. Most maps offer such spots where you can fly through with your Gear flying sideways (one wing towards the sky) or fly vertical down to the ground besides a tall stone wall, which is fun in itself.

Ace Online / AirRivals / Space Cowboy Online review Those maps i talk about are standing for what in other games is considered to be “world”. In Ace Online, the world is divided into pieces of a map – and not a really large ones, i tell you – where you can fly from border to border. The weirdest thing that really sucks is that you can’t just endlessly fly from one map to another, when you reach a border you do it visually. It’s totally weird to see a flying Gear bouncing off the air because there is no more way to go. And what did creep me out is that a lot of missions are going around map’s edges, so i did a lot of off-border bouncing while chasing some elusive flying stuff. If you want to get to the other map, you have to find a gate that will warp you there. But at least there are all kinds of maps available, including terrestrial and moon maps later in the game.

Ace Online / AirRivals / Space Cowboy Online review When you take on a mission it almost always tells you to go and shoot something. There are missions where you need to find a certain stuff and bring it back, or just fly over to some spot and get back again, but most of the time you’ll be shooting stuff. The stuff is weird too. Ace Online is full of giant flying spiders, bees and bird-like stuff. And you’ll be shooting them with missiles. Yeah, baby, thank for asking about my day – i was shooting giant fucking space bees with missiles a whole afternoon! And at the lower levels these bees can get your metal ass handed back to you in no time. Well, no wonder some giant bees can easily crash a Gear, if it can’t even fly through an invisible air wall between those maps!

Ace Online / AirRivals / Space Cowboy Online review Another part of the game is PVP, a system called “Nation Wars” in Ace Online. Each one of two nations – Bygeniou City United (BCU) and Arlington National Influence (ANI) – accumulate “National Contribution Points” (NCP). Each time an enemy’s Gear is shot down, the killer’s nation gets 1 NCP. The more NCP nation gives, the more profit in economical and other matters it gets. Also, there are other means to get more NCP than killing single pilots – every month players choose national leader among themselves, and this leader chooses when a Mothership is spawned somewhere deep in enemy’s territory (it will despawn in several hours if not destroyed).
Ace Online / Air Rivals Review: A Breath Of Sci-Fi Air In A Land Of Fantasy GamesDefending your Mothership grants not much except for preventing enemy from gaining bonuses for killing it. There are also Strategic Points spawned around random maps at random times, which also gives a valuable reward when destroyed. Also, for killing/defending Motherships and Strategic Points players can gain War Points that are used as a special in-game currency to buy rare and valuable stuff. Apart from Nation Wars, players can duel 1-vs-1 or formation-vs-formation (a gang of players with a leader), or brigade-vs-brigade (“brigade” is what guilds or clans are called in here).

Ace Online / AirRivals / Space Cowboy Online review Okay, I’ve told you about maps, flying, PVP and missions. Now, what else do you need to know? There is some really annoying stuff that made me go nuts – every time you finish a mission, there’s a loud nasty voice telling you about it (thank you captain obvious!) with no way to turn it off. You can’t fly over map borders. You can get only one mission at a time. And you need a LOT of grinding to get going in Ace Online. A LOT. And it starts early in the game, also. A very standard situation at lvl 17 – kill 60 mobs A and 60 mobs B, then kill 140 mobs A, then kill 140 mobs B… No matter the flying it still gets boring in the end, and you can’t pass on the grind and just level on story missions until you’re strong enough for PVP – because, there’s simply not enough of the story missions for that.
What also i did not like, is the money-sucking strategy of Ace Online. Okay, if some players want to buy weapons and stuff for real cash, that is okay, after all, maybe they just don’t have time to earn that stuff. But in Ace Online if you want to get some cool weapon, you have to gamble for it. There are stats with suffix and prefix that add extra attributes to an item, and to get them you have to buy a gambling card. Then you go to a special gambling machine, just like in real life, and try out your luck. If the gamble wasn’t what you wanted, you need to buy another card. And it goes on and on until either you’ve got what you wanted or you’ve completely spent, because those gambling cards are sold for real cash.

Also, if you want to upgrade you item, you can enchant it (yes, in a Sci-Fi game there’s still enchantments out there), applying up to 5 enchantments on one item. Applying 6th one you have a chance of destroying the item, unless you bought enchant protection cards that will let only the 6th enchantment be destroyed, not the whole item. And when you’ve done every upgrade you wanted, you can turn that item into Legendary by buying even more cards for cash. Or you just can go and gamble for the sake of it, because you can gamble not only to upgrade your stuff, but to get something completely new too.
Well now, I’ve told you practically a little bit everything you’ll find in this game. What do i think of it? I have some mixed feelings, to tell the truth. I don’t care much about old graphics, because a good game is not about the graphics if it has something else worth enough of playing. But if this game is good? I like the flying and PVP dogfights, and the music was cool too, but these gambling and grinding took away a lot of fun i might have had otherwise.

It is fun to take some weight off your nerves by shooting stuff and other people every once in a while, but i don’t feel like playing it constantly every day or even every week (for that matter). I can’t say it’s a bad game, i just didn’t liked it enough, maybe – if you are considering to play Ace Online/Air Rivals, then play it and see for yourself.

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