Infinite State Games has brought the fast-paced action of an arcade shoot-’em-up with a hint of adaptive realism from the simulator genre. Rogue Aces take aerial combat to a height of its own providing fluid pick-up & play controls, yet is graceful in its approach. At times it can be like ballet or figure skating among the clouds. Relating to that, it will take some practice landing particular moves. The bulk of the missions -as with its visual identity- found in Rogue Aces are repetitious, but the core mechanics and various modes offer the opportunity for the solo player to ace their game to completion.
Players will get their pilot’s license rather quick in the tutorial given to them in the beginning, but after that the game takes off. “Rogue” in the game’s title suggests more than your role being a vicious bird in the sky; missions given and maps generated are roguelike in nature, albeit nothing crazy. As with the genre, the element of making longer runs without seeing the game over screen is to be had. In fact, the tutorial is basic enough to get you soaring the skies immediately, but holds back on explaining particular features that I completely had to figure out for myself.
Rogue Aces gives complete control of mapping your inputs, however I found that the default setting worked fine as is. Like a relationship between the classic 1942 and schmups in recent years, fast & responsive movement is the key to maintaining an addicting flow. ZR supplies the player with a limitless amount of bullets to shoot and a finite supply of bombs and missiles are mapped to Y & X respectively. There are two options of movement control. By default, players can direct which way the plane moves on the screen by tilting the left analog stick anywhere within a full circle of directional input. The other option allows the plane to continuously move in relation where the plane’s sprite is actually facing; Up guides the plane counter-clockwise while Down guides the plane clockwise. Think of it as a car’s steering wheel. ZL enables a jet thrust for extra speed, but at the cost of extra fuel consumption. This is where a bit of realism makes for a fun loop.
Rogue Aces keeps limitations in check in a mindful way. You’ll be doing frequent check-ins at your own base to repair damage, restock ammunition supply and fill up on fuel. Pressing B will auto-land your plane at your base when you are near it and pressing it again after you’ve landed will take you back to the air. In a typical arcade fashion, there’s a total score where points are accumulated based on all the construction you’ve caused. Auto-landing at the starting base always costs nothing, but since the open seas can stretch for miles in either direction, additional bases which first need to be neutralized may be captured for a safe-zone that is much closer when needing maintenance. These, however, will always cost a specific amount of points to auto-land.
If you’re feeling ace, you can land manually at any time without a score penalty. Not mentioned in the tutorial, you have an adjustable speed throttle with the use of the right analog stick. Pushing up will increase the speed and pulling down will decrease the speed. In Veteran Campaign, one of the modes you unlock, there is no auto-landing or option to take off with a press of a button. Getting a feel for the throttle adds an extra layer of realistic mechanics that once you start to get the hang of it, the idea of slowly reducing speed and timing your landing is enticing just to see if you can do it.
Players will always get a set of random missions one after the other. You may start by having to destroy a number of tanks and the next mission you might have to take out carrier planes. When Upon completing the task you will be notified that you’ve done your moment’s duty, but XP and the next mission is never earned until you return to base. Even after completing the current mission on hand, players are allowed to still fly to other areas and cause more destruction. In fact one may even complete more than a single mission at a time if the player has already done the task before it was assigned to them when the game actually is meant to give you that mission. Level progress is tracked even after the game over screen.
Main objectives are always indicated on-screen by at least one yellow star and there also seems to be at least 2 fighter planes who will reluctantly be on your tail if you cannot get away. Destroying these fighter planes are a good way to become stronger as they will generally drop crates parachuting down. These contain any number of stackable upgrades from lower fuel consumption, armor, acceleration, and turn speed. The next time you start fresh again you will be given the option to equip one of the powerups at the start. Reaching higher levels will offer additional slots to begin with more than one powerup. You’ll want to be proficient at piloting if you want to make it through all 100 missions with specific boss fights scattered at intervals. Rogue Aces certainly offers that addiction of trying to make it as far as you can with one plane before using up the remaining two. If you do find yourself unable to make it to base, you could try your luck after ejecting yourself from your smoking plane to jack your enemy’s plane because that is a thing and it’s certainly a rewarding moment if not one of the most difficult thing to nail.
You can definitely feel the weight of your plane with the physics set in place. Momentum governs quick turns in the opposite direction and you can feel the hang time of gravity especially if you’ve taken damage. Rogue Aces looks samey in most of its locations, but the art is colorful and the day/night cycle in effect looks particularly nice especially during sunsets where moving in towards the backdrop of the sun slowly dims your plane creating a silhouette effect. HD rumble is particularly nice when it comes to continuously spraying bullets as every vibration tick is felt in the palm of your hands. The music itself isn’t memorable, but it does set the rockin’ tone. The sound itself is decent, however. Hearing clinks of bullets hitting hard metal does provide a sense of you causing damage. There are additional modes to unlock including a Survival mode where it’s just you and the highest score obtainable. In Frontline Campaign, there are objectives displayed on a routed map where the goal is to reach the end within a certain time. These can be nice diversions. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to do with getting the highest score in Rogue Aces and while there are additional modes to unlock there are no rewards dangling in front of you encouraging you to complete them, either. It would have been nice to see extra incentive.