Ace Combat: Joint Assault drops the fictional world and wars between Emmeria and Estovakia to bring the series to our Earth. Real-life cities like London, San Francisco, and Tokyo are where this game’s missions take place.
And the missions are pretty much the same as other Ace Combat games. Eliminate all of the enemy planes. Stop the railgun from firing. Destroy a giant sky fortress by looping around and hitting different zones. You’ll see that last one a couple of times in Ace Combat: Joint Assault. The Valahia, the terrorist organization you’re fighting, have a fleet of fortresses in their garage for players to loop around and shoot down. Players also get a fleet of planes to fly. Ace Combat: Joint Assault has over 40 licensed jets to choose from, if you earn enough money to unlock everything. Aside from being able to equip different sets of weapons (ground vs. air, for example), the differences in handling until you get the top grade aircraft are subtle. All of the planes will make the F-4E Phantom II you start with feel like a scrap heap, though.
The core concept of Ace Combat games is making players feel like they’re an ace pilot. So, you can evade missiles with ease and take down fighter jets with a few machine gun bursts. The game’s campaign is difficult, though, especially the unrelenting final fight. Maybe that’s not the right word for it because the PSP game can also be easy, if you work with an online squad. Unbalanced? That might be a better choice.
Namco Bandai designed Ace Combat: Joint Assault primarily for multiplayer. All of the campaign missions can be played online and when you have three other fighters gunning down jets Ace Combat: Joint Assault becomes much easier. Less monotonous too, thanks to the creative relay missions. These missions split four players into two maps. What you and your partner do in your mission affects the two players in their map. While many made-in-Japan PSP games only support ad-hoc cooperative play, Ace Combat: Joint Assault fortunately has infrastructure too. After you run through campaign mode you’ll have enough money to unlock tons of upgrades to prepare for versus mode. That’s where the action is… sometimes. Ace Combat: Joint Assault splits infrastructure mode players onto four servers. Usually, only one of them is active. That’s hasn’t really been an issue since battles, even ones with pilots that appear to be from other countries, don’t have much lag.
Another change is Ace Combat: Joint Assault doesn’t have many buildings to wind through. You may have seen screenshots like this one of Tokyo, but…
…levels are more like this, flat fields with Mode 7-like ground.
On second thought, that’s a good thing because zipping through buildings would be hand cramping maneuvers on the PSP. The controls are squashed on the handheld with the d-pad, analog stick, shoulder buttons, and face buttons in use. Ace Combat: Joint Assault needs a second analog stick, which the PSP doesn’t have.
Maybe, since the PSP doesn’t have the same button configuration, Namco Bandai could have taken the series in a bold new direction. Broke from the strict simulation mold, so to speak. While the co-op missions are neat, Ace Combat: Joint Assault ends up feeling like another Ace Combat game. Its so similar to the main series, but on a smaller screen. And, unfortunately that means Ace Combat: Joint Assault has to hold the same standards as the console games, but as a scaled down PSP game. Kind of hard to live up to that.