PSN Review – Top Gun

September 2, 2010 Written by Ray Conley

In 1986, the movie Top Gun probably couldn’t predict the effect that it would have on American film culture. In this fighter flick, actor Tom Cruise lived the exciting life of Navy aviator Maverick while taking on the Russian MiG fighters to the iconic tune of “Danger Zone.”  The movie generated quite a buzz and had military recruitment offices working overtime to register new recruits with pilot fever. Fast-forward 24 years later, does the PSN downloadable title soar with the same magic and nostalgia of its film predecessor? Or does it crash and burn in “great balls of fire?”

Paramount Digital Entertainment attempts to recapture the essence that was once felt from the movie Top Gun. They even brought in the original screenplay writer, Jack Epps to put some life to the dialog and make you feel like the legendary “Maverick.” Sadly even with their “top guns” behind its development, it seems like that this fighter jet doesn’t gain the air-speed it needs to get off the ground.

You’ll immediately recognize that Top Gun handles just like an arcade flight-sim straight from the carrier. As you make your way through the very short campaign (around 4 hours), you will first get to choose your class of fighter jet – along with a choice from three different missile load outs. Each fighter shows different statistics that may have some sort of play in how you manage your strategy, but while you’re up in the air, the differences aren’t really that discernible. You’ll also not have to worry about rationing your munitions, as you will have infinite machine gun ammo and infinite missiles with a timed-delay to recharge them after you’ve spent your payload. The fighter is also equipped with a regenerative health bar that replenishes if you manage to avoid heat for a few seconds, which may help take the edge off on the harder difficulties. But if your AI opponents manage to score a kill, you’ll respawn at the latest checkpoint that are placed throughout the campaign so that you won’t have to suffer the mission from the beginning.

Your fighter will also come equipped with your standard afterburner to scurry out of tight situations, but don’t scuttle too far. If you wander too far from the battlefield, you’ll be greeted with warning barriers that will order you back to the action, or you’ll pay the price for going AWOL. You will also be equipped with a minimized HUD that gives you your basic needs to accomplish taking your target out of the skies: air-speed, altitude, and a targeting reticule with a beeping indicator for target lock-on. Commands can be issued to AI squad via the D-pad, but those actions are limited to attack, defend, and hold formation orders, which your squad sometime seems to ignore. Also don’t worry about realistic flight mechanics while you’re tangled in a mid-air fight, as they have been extremely minimized so that you can focus on the dogfight.  So those of you expecting to find a true-to-life flight simulator may want to look elsewhere.

Most of the missions will have you switching between your two weapons: missiles and guns. The only targets that you’ll be facing are Russian fighters, bombers, and a few ground targets on land and at sea. After a few play throughs on the earlier missions, you’ll find yourself being tasked with similar objectives during the later chapters, which makes the game feel somewhat repetitive.

The presentation isn’t anything to write home about either. Sadly, the visuals aren’t up to par with today’s standards in next-gen gaming. While the jets are modelled after the real fighters of our times (the F-18 and F-16 to name a few), the texture and detailing look like they could have used more attention. Kills aren’t registered with the most memorable of explosions either. Normally, we would expect particle effects and physics being animated when you’re shredding your opponent with hot lead, but you’ll see the same rendered explosion again and again. The lack of crisp terrain detail also brings down the excitement, but don’t worry. Most of your combat experience in the single player is spent over Indian Ocean, where you can tell more love and care was given to get the light reflections somewhat decent.  However since most of your attention is spent searching for your next kill, the lack of detail may not even be an issue while cruising at Mach 2.

Between levels, you’ll be entertained with cut-scenes that attempt to fabricate a story so that you’ll at least have a sense of purpose.  Unfortunately, you may find yourself hitting the skip button to avoid the terrible voice acting and cheesy implementation of memorable movie dialogue. Each of the personalities are characterized by static facial images with zero animation, and while they are delivering their lines, you may feel somewhat embarrassed having to watch each scene play out. It really is hard to believe that Jack Epps actually contributed to the screenplay of the game when compared to his stellar work on the actual film – you wouldn’t think that the same person worked on both.

In spite of the lackluster campaign, the multiplayer component is where the action really picks up. You can join different modes of Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Top Gun (last man standing – or flying in this case) and a bomber escort session. If you can find people to play with, you can pack each game session with up to 16 pilots, which can really increase the chaos and confusion. The human element of this game mode should keep things fresh and challenging while you test the accuracy of your skill in the cockpit. If you find yourself on the other end of the cross-hairs all too often, then you can always retreat to the single player mode for more training.

Those looking to reminisce about the famous Top Gun film may find themselves a little short-changed with the material that’s provided, but there are few scenes that really sink you into a sense of nostalgia, albeit rather few and far between. For example, you’ll be dog-fighting to the 80’s tunes from the movie during most of the campaign missions. In the last mission, they finally let you jam to a cover of “Danger Zone,” which is by far the one of the best songs that gets you in the mood to take on the whole Russian Air Force, but sadly it’s only for one level. With the short arcade thrills that are available for single player, the multiplayer is where this title really shines if competitive play and leader boards is your game style.

If you think you have what it takes to be the next “Top Gun,” you can take to the skies for $15 on the PlayStation Store. However, if you decide not to take the gamble on this game, perhaps a video rental of that classic movie will give a much better feel for the real “Maverick.”

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

Very short and repetitive campaign mode

Visuals are outdated accompanied by terrible voice acting

Aggressive and challenging multiplayer

6 out of 10