After Burner: Black Falcon

SEGA's legendary jet touches down on PSP.




Version
PSP
Developer
Planet Moon Studios
Publisher
SEGA
Genre
Action



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By Dominick Hardy

Is it a bird? Is it a train? No it's After Burner: Black Falcon - soaring from the skies and bringing its own unique variety of dogfighting on rails. We've had free-form flying in Ace Combat X and a cross of free-form and restricted in the more recent M.A.C.H., but now to complete the triumvirate comes the most famous arcade-style aerial combat franchise of them all...

"Despite utilizing 3D graphics for the most part, the gameplay still follows a set path which cannot be deviated from."

Whilst previous titles in the series were simply titled After Burner I, II and III, this iteration breaks from the norm in its subtitling of Black Falcon. (The recent, hi-tech arcade sequel, After Burner Climax, is another matter of course). Surprisingly though, this is one of very few significant differences from previous instalments - Planet Moon Studios has seen that the game stays decidedly stuck in the arcade past of 1987.

Back then, sprites were king and 3D graphics were the preserve of expensive supercomputers. Necessity dictated that fully realised mach-speed virtual worlds were an impossibility, even on top-of-the-range arcade machines. 2D graphics and sprite scaling were used to good effect when propelling your F-14 forward on a fixed path, which was only slightly bigger than the game screen, thus giving an impression of limited control on the horizontal and vertical axes.

Now that technology has caught up and exceeded the ideas of the 80s though, one would presume that Sega and Planet Moon would move one of its oldest, most sparsely populated and yet most famous franchises into the 21st century with a fully 3D play world in this PSP version, but this is not the case. Despite utilizing 3D graphics for the most part, the gameplay still follows a set path which cannot be deviated from.

There are some updates to this title though, which helps if not to break from the past, at least to drag it forward a bit. Firstly, there's a choice of three playable characters to choose from - Sonic, the fast one whose secret objectives are to complete missions in record time; Bull, the aggressive one whose secret objective is to cause maximum damage; and Shinsei, the token female pilot whom aims to complete her missions perfectly.

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