Top Gun review
Top Gun seems like a strange choice for a new PlayStation Network title, but it isn’t the first time that the film has received the video game treatment. Unfortunately, Top Gun is nothing more than an average flight combat game hidden beneath its tacked-on license. Uninspired presentation, boring mission objectives, poor HUD design, and sluggish flight controls are just a handful of the major issues that prevent this game from taking off.
The single-player campaign missions contain the usual objective types: destroy waves of enemies, escort a friendly/damaged ship, destroy ground troops, etc. These simple tasks do little to separate Top Gun from similar games in the genre, but the game mechanics are equally basic. "Basic game mechanics" should not be confused with "easy to control". I would expect bad news if I was in control of a real F-16, but I don't like to struggle to play a video game. The controls are very poorly mapped: the thrusters, brakes, pitch, and yaw are all controlled with trigger buttons. This means that you will need to have at least one or two triggers held down while steering your jet (left stick), swiveling the twitchy camera (right stick), and using any other digit that isn't preoccupied to operate your weaponry. The controls in Top Gun feel like they were strategically designed to twist your fingers like a pretzel. Even when you manage to control your aircraft, the slightest wrong movement feels like it could send your plane spinning down to the ground.
Once you gain some level of comfort with the flight controls, combat is slightly less chaotic. If you pull out the camera with the circle button (which also focuses the screen toward your current target), it is possible to perform acrobatic moves in the sky. When the game is at its best, it can actually provide mild entertainment. You can choose between different kinds of short-, medium-, and long-range homing rockets, but the differences in damage are less of a factor than reload times and accuracy. The down-time between each reload process is lengthy and causes unnecessary frustration as enemies relentlessly barrage you with endless waves of rockets. I have never had so much trouble with keeping my sense of direction in any flight combat game before. As a general rule, you are in pretty bad shape if you happen to run out of missiles and flares at the same time. You can always rely on your machine guns to take out stationary units and critically-damaged fighters, but they never seem to serve much of a purpose otherwise.
The campaign never takes you out of the cockpit, which may be a blessing in disguise: I have never seen the Top Gun film, or had any interest to watch it. This game does little to change my mind with poorly-animated cutscenes that feature stand-in voice actors that deliver their lines with absolutely no effort or enthusiasm. Top Gun is not the ugliest PSN game out there; a lot of excuses can be made simply because the levels are so huge, but they are usually barren and deprived of visually-appealing details. Most of the enemy jets are difficult to spot until they are within a dangerous striking distance. Usually the planes look like tiny dots in the sky, and the fine details can only be seen on the aircraft select screen. The special effects (missile trails, explosions, flare smoke, etc.) are underwhelming by very generous PSN/XBLA standards. The HUD interface is cluttered with navigation markers, targeting icons, and distance measurements that screws up the targeting system and makes it difficult to switch smoothly.
Perhaps the most important question I would like to propose is this: Who seriously felt the need to make another new Top Gun game? Top Gun is a commonly-referenced piece of popular culture, but was there really such a demand for a PSN game based on Top Gun?
If you do decide to play Top Gun and you can handle its controls, the online multiplayer modes are actually far more entertaining than any of the dogfights with the campaign's A.I. fighters. Unfortunately, as is the case with many downloadable games, it can be difficult to find a stable match or serious players. I would say that Top Gun's online community is unlikely to flourish in the future, but it is actually more fun to play than any of the single-player missions. There is also a "Horde Mode" that puts you against endless waves of fighter jets, which is great for practice or simply screwing around without the hassle of cutscenes and Game Over screens.
With so many high-profile PSN games to choose from in 2010, it is probably best to let Top Gun fly below your radar. This is an overpriced, underwhelming, uninspired, and unceremoniously average flight combat game that does nothing special with its license or its gameplay.