"In the blue skies far above me..."

The fourth game in the Ace Combat series of console flight-sims developed by Namco. The first game in the series to be developed for the Playstation 2. For those who may have been put off by the early installments in the series, I would advise a second look, as the game bears little resemblance to its rather over-simplistic forebears.

Apart from anything else, Distant Thunder is a graphically stunning game, bordering on photorealistic in places. For months before its release a promotional video was aired frequently on Game Network, showing off the astonishing quality of the graphics. The planes are shaded beautifully, with heat haze and ripples of displaced air moving across their wings. The camera movement and the subtle vibration of the aircraft adds to the visual realism.

The ground detail is equally impressive, admittedly fogging at a distance, but sporting high resolution textures and a reflective sea that actually looks like water instead of a blue patchwork quilt. Cities are complete with polygonal buildings, and although they're not anywhere near as impressive as those in Star Wars™ Rogue Leader on the Gamecube, they look convincing enough. The only place where the graphics fall down are the explosions, which are weedy ill-defined sprites.

But graphics do not a game make. The gameplay comprises of a series of missions as well as all the usual console game lifespan-extending features (such as collectible aircraft, secret missions, and a two player split screen dogfight mode). As is the nature of modern air combat, a lot of the time your targets are dots on the radar. However authenticity is reigned in sufficiently to make the game exciting and challenging.

Although the game is unlikely to appeal to everyone, it is technically solid and for once a PS2 game that is (almost) as much fun to watch as it is to play (jaggies and frequent loading pauses, which so plagued the first generation of PS2 titles, are thankfully largely absent).

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