Vector Thrust, the so called "fan-made spiritual successor" to Ace Combat and the Airforce Delta series. I've been keeping an eye on this 3D cel-shaded arcade-action flight shooter, developed by 'timeSymmetry' since it first appeared on web back in 2011 and I've playing the game since the early alpha was released on Desura back in 2012.
I must say it's really challenging for a game, the A.I. is brutal, sly and can be totally unpredictable at times which is what I need in a game these days. But don't let that put you off. If the player can do something it's highly likely and most probable that the fiendishly smart A.I. can do it too. The game mechanic's are what I would consider "Sim-Lite" in certain areas, like the very extensive electronic warfare mechanic's and can be very arcade-ish at times much like in Ace Combat.
The game features a large and still expanding collection of high quality modelled aircraft, surface craft and weaponry. The many game modes tend keep me from getting bored or stressed, for an example if I get stuck in a Campaign, I'd go jump into Quick Action mode to break up the pace and try something new. And here is where I do my rundown of what I've played so far of the pre-Early Access build, which is due to be released some time on Steam's Early Access platform and I must say I'm really liking many of the improvements done to the game so far.
Quick Mission mode is good but it became a bit repetitive after a few matches due to the same style of missions appearing. I don't know if it's the seed generator or whatever generates the missions but it could do with a tweak or two, in my opinion.
How I see it Battle Scenario mode is for practising and testing your own custom missions which you can create via the built in Editors, but I had trouble loading some old mission files I created during the alpha, though I managed to get them working eventually, I had to tweak a few things in the config files.
Arcade mode wasn't available to play in the pre-EA build so I can't comment on that, But I've heard some interesting idea's on what that might entail. Now Skirmish mode is where I found myself playing a lot of. The amount of Mutators, rules and other options you can chose from which are highly funny at times and give nods to other franchises which have clearly influenced TimeS, will keep you highly entertained for hours to come.
Now Challenge Mode is where you go to unlock the vast majority of base game's aircraft by completing a series of ever increasing challenging missions for that particularly aircraft family you wish to use. I'm liking the Challenge Mode aircraft tree, it reminds me of what you would typically see in a RTS or RPG game. I would of preferred it if the missions were a bit more unique like TimeS originally planned back in the early alpha, But due to lack of manpower and time it's an understandable sacrifice.
I haven't had a chance to try multiplayer yet, it should be noted however that the game uses Steamworks for the multiplayer and it isn't included in the main Early Access branch of the game. It's part of a sub branch under the Steam Beta Properties Tab and once selected the Steam Client downloads a patch to activate the multiplayer components. Though every time I selected multiplayer no one turned up in the lobby. I don't know if that was due to the lack of online beta testers at the time or other factors at play.
The Profile menu does what you expect. It keeps tabs on your play time, stats, performance and in game accolades which you gain by achieving certain tasks in certain game modes. There is also over 150 or so Steam Achievements to acquire for those who are into that sort of thing.
The game options are fairly modifiable. There's the typical stuff you would expect of a 3 dimensional game. The Display options so far allow the use of a wide range of resolutions with V-sync and Anti-aliasing available up to 8x sampling. There's various texture and model detail levels ranging from very low to very high. Other graphical options include Bloom, Glow and Radial Blur which is typical of a Ogre Engine based game. The artistic style of Vector Thrust is in the form of three dimensional cel-shading, which in my opinion adds a unique flair to the game without TimeS needing to focus too much on texture quality, least to say he's done an amazing job with them so far. So far I'm guessing for people who aren't too fond of the cel-shading, modders will probably create realistic texture packs some time in the future to cater to their needs.
Some quick thoughts on the background music, voice acting and sound effects. Well first things first, that air raid siren in the Main Theme blending with the female vocals. That alone sends chills down my spine. The intro has a sense of urgency to it, the rolling drums and beats convey that there may be some hope at the end of whatever conflict that the player will find him/herself in. Some of the other themes are pretty good too. One of my favourites is without a doubt is a musical piece called Evan's Theme which has some classical piano work which I find relaxing. One thing I've noticed a lot of though is the early alpha music and sounds are showing their age when played alongside the new musical pieces and sound effects. I can definitely say I'm looking forward to the rest of Jose Pavli's soundtrack.
The audio options menu allows you to change the various sound options ranging from Master to SFX, environmental and BMG. The sound effects of this game are fairly typical of this genre of game. Lots of bleeps, warning sirens, explosions and the occasional sound of Dakka. The voice acting of this game is a bit lacking but it's forgiven due to it been a produced by an independent developer and that there is more important things for TimeS to focus on like the game mechanics. There is however radio chatter options which you can use which change the voice modulation mechanic built into the game what the A.I. uses to make up for the lack of voice actors.
The control options allow the player to fully remap all the controls. The player can either use a keyboard and mouse combo, a Windows compatible HOTAS or a Microsoft compatible control pad. My preferred method of input is a wired MS-360 controller due to my familiarity with Ace Combat. The HUD colour palette and camera position can be changed to suit the player preferences. It should be noted however there is other options for the you to choose from in the options config file.
During missions there is a Command Menu which you can pull up and navigate using the number keys on the keyboard mid-flight, there's no need to pause the game or such. The Command Menu allows you inform your wingmen if you have any that is, what tactics, formations and weapons to use during the sortie. There is also options which do various things to your own aircraft too, like the ability to switch off your engine mid-flight and disable the Angle of Attack limiter.
Overall I could go on and on about the game, but the things I enjoy most about Vector Thrust is the open aspect of the game and the ability to change it to your hearts content. The ability to modify everything at will within a few hours of practice is a very tempting thing indeed. And with a few weeks of the game coming out on Desura there was a large collection of mods ranging from aircraft skins, to cosmetic changes to the HUD, even original aircraft designed by 3D modeller's. So imagine what the community will be able to do with Steam Workshop support if TimeS thinks of integrating it into the game. People say the sky's the limit, well in the case of VT the sky is just the beginning!