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PSP  header logo

After Burner: Black Falcon

For: PSP

This one can be a bit of a maverick

Product: After Burner: Black Falcon | Developer: Planet Moon Studios | Publisher: Sega | Format: PSP | Genre: Action, Shooter | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
 
After Burner: Black Falcon PSP, thumbnail 1
First impressions count. It's the reason why you would wear a suit to a job interview. And the reason you wouldn't when going to a hardcore punk gig.

After Burner, the original game from 1987, was all about first impressions. In fact, those prepared to look beyond its fancy graphics, captivating soundtrack and then-incredible hydraulic-powered arcade cabinet would soon realise that was all it was – a mediocre game dressed up to deliver quick thrills but very little substance.

Odd, then, that this Black Falcon update does little to impress on first flyby: the graphics are far from spectacular, the music is barely memorable, and the production values are… Well, we'll come back to those.

At least the premise – climb into the cockpit, fly off down a relatively narrow play corridor and proceed to shoot everything in the sky, on the land and sea – remains faithful to its ancestry.

If you're unfamiliar with the series, it really couldn't be simpler: your plane is equipped with a reticle that you use to pass over any target available (handily, these are highlighted for you) in order to achieve lock-on. Once you do, simply fire off a missile by pressing the corresponding button or a rocket, should the enemy be ground or sea based – anything too near your aircraft can be dealt with the cannon.

Yet, while this is pure fire-and-forget arcade stuff, it's worth remembering your ammunition is limited. That doesn't mean you have to wait until you reach the re-supply points (levels are often broken up into three or four sections, with quick stops replenishing both ammo and health) to stock up on weapons, however; shoot down a sequence of three or more baddies and you get the chance to collect a power-up, which can take the form of ammo as well as health, slo-mo moments and points.

Points are good, partly due to the fact they determine how quickly your character – one of three available at the start and each centred on a particular personality trait (see our PG Tips below) – ranks up, which in turn increases your choice from the 19 varied, real-world planes eventually available to you before each mission.

But because points are effectively cash, they also enable you to purchase upgrades for your craft (in addition to buying the craft itself). As such, expect to be spending plenty on boosting your firepower (quad-firing missiles, ship-busting rockets and fuselage-tearing cannon come satisfyingly to mind, though upgrades are tied to rank, too), as well as on improving other attributes, such as your afterburner and payload. And if you fancy livening things further, you can always tweak your jet's appearance with a selection of bodywork add-ons and liveries – the stock car or Friesian cow options are particularly memorable.

Cosmetic changes aside, this in-game expenditure works out as a worthwhile investment because the more you shoot down, the more you earn. And within the context of such a shooting fest the results can be particularly lucrative, not least because in addition to the main objective of each of the missions (which revolve around the central narrative of retrieving 13 secret planes stolen by the Black Falcon terrorist group, and essentially entails catching up with each of the perpetrators and blowing them up at the end of a level), there are bonus objectives involving such tasks as destroying a set number of radar placements, submarines or bombers in return for extra cash.

Now, no one's disputing blowing stuff up isn't fun, of course. And when things heat up in Black Falcon – and they soon do – firing off four missiles and quickly repositioning your jet (which always responds beautifully to your thumb's commands) to take out two tanks before performing a barrel roll to avoid enemy fire while the spinning horizon is mostly obstructed by explosions is undeniably thrilling.

It's just that, having stretched the mission count (22 plus two unlockable bonus sorties), things get repetitive very quickly – and literally, given that the stages are quickly recycled.

That in itself isn't a serious criticism – this is first and foremost a superficial arcade offering, after all – but throw in some sloppy attention to detail and definite lack of polish in the form of missing audio cues, 'cinematic' events (the result of you successfully hitting a bridge or oil depot, for instance) which are vastly underwhelming first time around, let alone the third, meagre cut-scene narrative support (though what is there is both humourous and competently produced) as well as a general lack of vibrancy and vitality you'd associate with an addition to the After Burner canon, and a substantial of the game's potential impact is inevitably lost.

But that's the only major drawback, really. Okay, in Normal difficulty there are occasional spikes (that don't seem present in Easy) but these tend to test your resolve rather than frustrate.

For the most part, After Burner: Black Falcon delivers an experience certainly more enjoyable than the first minute of play would suggest but, tellingly, it doesn't manage to entirely shoot down initial impressions, either.
 
After Burner: Black Falcon
Reviewer photo
Joao Diniz Sanches | 6 April 2007
A linear and repetitive experience, though one that certainly isn't short of occasional frantic moments of arcade greatness. But mediocre production values do restrict its potential and ultimate appeal
 
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