Video Game Review: Top Gun: Hard Lock
I want the mission where your fly a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong.
The year was 1987. It was my birthday in April and my family popped in a little VHS rental they were all excited about called Top Gun. Little did I know, I was watching the birth of a movie superstar named Tom Cruise and the 500 per cent popularity increase of the Navy. But more importantly, it taught us all something very special — playing beach volleyball is the coolest thing in the world. I knew that I may never have what it takes to be like Maverick, a cracker-jack beach volleyball player who loves fighter planes, motorcycles and Kenny Loggins. But that didn’t stop me from dreaming. Now, thanks to 505 Games, I may finally get to be like Mav after all in Top Gun: Hard Lock, available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Okay, I’m going to level with you. There isn’t any beefcake volleyball going on in Top Gun: Hard Lock at all. What we have here is a modern flight combat game that is light on simulation and heavy on arcade shooter action. You see, why worry about preserving your missiles and gunfire when the ammo automatically regenerates itself in a short period of time? This allows you to concentrate on maneuvering your aircraft with both analogs (left stick for general movement, right for spins and thrusters) and manage weapons with the face buttons. Simply aim the reticule on any target and fire at will.
The surefire way to drop an enemy is to engage them in a “hard lock.” When close enough, pressing “X” latches focus on them, automatically steering your ship while you concentrate on aiming. Keeping your reticule trained on the bad guys long enough gets the hard lock, and launching a heat-seeking missile finishes the job. If you miss the hard lock, you’ll be prompted to engage in some fancy maneuvers in the form of a quick-time event. Pull them off and you’ll get another shot at the hard lock. Fudge it and you’ll be the one trying to escape.
It’s good, simple fun that’s easy to get a grip on, but this is the flow for the entire game. Engage enemies, attempt a hard lock, QTE, bleep, boom. This would actually be great for a short arcade action title, but these controls fuel a 15-level solo campaign, a wave battle mode and online components as well. Even with some ground and sea assaults, there’s a mountain of redundancy in the air combat.
Top Gun isn’t just fondly remembered for its sassy locker room scenes and constant mentions of getting hard-ons. Nope, that film sincerely has some of the most incredible aerial combat cinematography to date. The aim in Hard Lock is to recreate that loving feeling in the modern gaming age for fans and newcomers alike. Unfortunately, it’s kind of a crash and burn in that department. The planes are modeled decently and the sky and sea textures are nice, but the entire game is mucked up with a grain filter, perhaps to be more film-like. Sadly, the end result looks like a poorly upscaled PS2 port.
The voice acting performances are good enough, but no one is getting awards for their Cruise or Michael Ironside impersonations anytime soon. That’s right, classic Top Gun characters make guest appearances as instructors, but they’re not voiced by the original cast. Actually, the story revolves around new pilots that drop as many Top Gun quotes and references as they can.
So, question: in the fictional world of Top Gun, did the recruits of Top Gun spend a lot of time watching the film, Top Gun? How else would they know about feeling the need for speed or requesting fly-bys? I’m putting too much thought into this. One good thing about the whole presentation is that the game’s music actually nails the vibe of the original score while still sounding contemporary and not gimmicky.
Hard Lock’s beefy story campaign can clock in at 10 hours and is chock full of its action blend of arcade shooting and quick-time events. Most missions will begin with a simple objective which balloons into skirmishes involving more than its fair share of multimillion dollar militarized airborne damage. There’s also a tiny peppering of side objectives like landing the plane on an aircraft carrier and mid-air refueling — a tribute to the NES Top Gun game of 8-bit days, perhaps? The lackluster way the jet crashes when failing says, “Yes” to me.
So, what’s a Top Gun game without a “Danger Zone?” Here, the Danger Zone is a survival mode wherein you rack up as many points as you can before becoming toast. You can also be someone’s wingman anytime in four-player online co-op modes, including base defense and escort missions or hit up some deathmatches, free-for-all or team based. The amount of modes and options are admirable, but, as mentioned earlier, this game just doesn’t have the depth to support all of this available gameplay.
The campaign runs a little too long, which is rarely considered a problem in games. But honestly, after completing the full mission, I doubt many people will be eager to explore the other modes. If the campaign was half the length, this would have made for a great downloadable title that wouldn’t have overstayed its welcome. Instead, this is one Hard Lock I can’t keep playing with all night. Ahem. On the other hand, this is a mid-priced retail title (US$39.99), so some might find it to be the quick fix of aerial combat they’re looking for.
So, bottom line, Top Gun: Hard Lock has zero volleyball. Zero. I’ll have to deal with this as this is my own personal issue. For everybody else, it does make for a fun arcade shooter if don’t have Ace Combat: Assault Horizon lying around. Its biggest problem is that its routine gets old fast, preventing any promise of staying power. Perhaps, its ego is writing checks its body can’t cash.