Top Gun

A Cargo Plane Full Of Rubber Dog Shit

I'm still waiting for a good Top Gun game...
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: August 25, 2010
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Growing up, we had no cable TV, just a VCR (yes I am old) and a handful of movies, only four of which held any interest to me. So a great deal of my youth was spent watching Animal House, Innerspace, Police Academy 2, and, you guessed it, Top Gun. I am positive I have watched Top Gun more times than any other movie. It might seriously approach triple digits. Needless to say, I consider myself something of an authority on all things Top Gun. Since I am so old, I even played the original NES game (fuck you aircraft carrier landing) and pretty much every iteration of the games including this latest one. They all have one uniform thing in common (no, not homoeroticism). They are all fetid piles of poop, at least when it comes to capturing the feel of the movie, which grabbed the attention of mid-80's America, latched onto our anti-communist sentiments, and drove up recruitment for the Navy to unprecedented levels (not to mention making stars out of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer).

I'm just going to go head and toss out my design doc for the quintessential Top Gun game. It's pretty simple.

1. Take Ace Combat and set it in the Top Gun universe, starting with a big dogfight followed by a night carrier landing, then go to Miramar and fly training/simulation missions, end with a few missions in the Indian Ocean.
2. Sprinkle in assorted mini-games between missions that include motorcycle races against planes, a rhythm game where you sing along to "Unchained Melody", buzzing the tower (bonus points for how much coffee you can make the Air Boss spill), beach volleyball of course, a piano playing minigame with "Great Balls of Fire", and seeing how far you can chuck Goose's dog tags out to sea. These can be super simple, but man would they make the whole thing way immersive.
3. Don't forget plenty of cutscenes with Viper and Stinger screaming at you! And DANGER ZONE!

Sadly the newest offering from doublesix games really only tackles point 1, and even then it kind of drops the ball. What makes it even more disheartening, they got the original screenwriter to do the script for this new game, yet it seems like they farmed it out to someone who skimmed the original script (or the memorable quotes page over on IMDB) and hastily drafted this concoction.

For the purposes of this review, I'm first going to talk about the use of the Top Gun franchise, then discuss the merits of the flight combat simulator itself. In both cases, I feel like doublesix screwed the pooch.

The Franchise

This latest version of Top Gun purported to make me feel like I was in the movie, promising me that my Maverick would take out those pesky Ruskies whilst Kenny Loggins serenaded me with "Highway to the Danger Zone". The first few minutes were a good start, as the Top Gun Anthem came through my speakers and I browsed the menus, and the same intro card from the film came up, explaining the creation of the Navy Fighter Weapons School, or as the pilots call it TOP GUN. I was trembling as I selected "Prologue" and was immediately thrown into a huge hairball with more MiG's than I could shake a stick at. Sixty seconds later I was starting to feel queasy. Although I was Maverick, my trusty pal Cougar was nowhere to be seen, and the dogfight ended abruptly in midflight and went to many of the games "cutscenes" which consist of two planes flying side by side while some text appears at the bottom, and a tiny picture of the speaker with some generic voice acting would appear in the top corner. Why wasn't I attempting a difficult nighttime carrier landing? Where was James Tolkan to chastise me? Nowhere. Cutscene ends, I go to a sterile score screen, then back to the menu. Wow.

I thought that things might pick up when I got into the game proper. In addition to "Prologue" there were also choices for "Academy Training" and "Indian Ocean". I went into Academy Training, and there were 3 missions (only one unlocked) so I jumped right in. Sadly the theme repeated itself. I was dumped into another "cutscene" in the same style, where some phony Jester barked at me (they couldn't get Michael Ironside? That guy is in every game!) and then I was placed mid-air to go through some simple tutorial mission. Throughout the academy section, many parts of Top Gun were sort of replayed, only everything was all wrong and people said lines that other people should say, and it lacked all the charm of the film. For example, after any early mission, you decide to "buzz" the tower, contravening the order not to. Of course this is played out in a cutscene (for god's sake would it have been hard to let ME buzz the tower?) and the little square in the corner shows the Air Boss looking angry as he exclaims "There is coffee all over me! I want some butts!". Puh-lease!

Most every story event is handled ham-handedly and when taken out of the context of the film make no sense. When you reach the part where Goose dies in an ejection accident, it is glossed over so quickly that it is insulting. One minute you are in a flat spin headed out to sea, the mission ends, you get your score screen, then you are on the next mission while the "cutscene" shows you flying with some new RIO as a voiceover says you were cleared of any wrongdoing. Wrongdoing for what? Did Goose die? Was I in trouble? Who knows??? Top Gun also forces some scenarios on you inexplicably. When I had to fight Viper in the final academy mission, I was thoroughly trouncing him, taking off 70% of his health without a scratch, when the game arbitrarily decided I had lost with no explanation, other than that the game simply won't let you beat him the first time through (a fact which I gleaned from the trophy list).

Finishing up with the Indian Ocean missions, I can be a little more forgiving on the plot, since now they are in uncharted territory as the film doesn't really go into this. They still work in lines from the film however, but once again it goes over poorly. Iceman spends all his time chastising me for not being a team player and not following the rules, but then totally abandons me to do some lone wolfing in a crucial situation against all regulations. The plot essentially revolves around some Russian ace named "Ivan" who is treated like Viper in that you encounter him several times but simply are not allowed to defeat him until the final mission. In the end, the story is way too light and scattered and insipid for anyone who hasn't seen the films, and takes far too many poorly chosen liberties with the source material to appeal to actual fans of the film. Not only that, I did not hear Danger Zone a single time!

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