There are two things to know about the new Top Gun jet combat game: 1) Its creators have changed lines from its '80s Tom Cruise inspiration for the worse and 2) it'd be better if it wasn't about Top Gun.
In 1986 everyone went to see the movie Top Gun, a movie about a fighter pilot named Maverick who just might be too undisciplined to forge a lasting romantic relationship and to use one of Uncle Sam's best planes to beat the Commies. Star Tom Cruise was young and interesting and not yet kooky. The movie had enough machismo and schmaltz to reach the maximum audience. Combine the tale of an elite school for jet pilots, an eventual showdown with the Russians, a romance involving a sexy female flight instructor and the accidental death of the lead character's friend. Mix in memorably odd scenes like that beach volleyball one, that "shower" line, the flipping of the bird, and a few songs that get stuck in your ear worse than water from a swimming pool, and you've got a movie that older people will consider a classic while children of the 90s wonder when taste was invented. Youngsters, it is a period piece.
The new downloadable PlayStation 3-exclusive Top Gun video game, the latest in 20 years of efforts to make games based on the movie, is a solid jet combat flying game that will let you shoot down Russian MiG from your American F-14 (or other fighter; you can choose from several as you unlock them). You train in flight school. You tackle missions over the Indian Ocean. You are Tom Cruise's Maverick character - voiceless. You have no romance, no volleyball. You do have lock-on missiles but no ability to flip the bird. You've got multiplayer and you've got cut-scenes that tell - oh no - an extended version of Top Gun's tale. How much discussion of who can be whose wingman can you tolerate?
Pure Arcade Flight Combat:With two control sticks, some shoulder buttons and a square button waiting to be hit as soon as my jet achieves missile lock, I had a fine time flying an F14 Tomcat jet through the game's campaign missions and multiplayer. I was doing the loops, rolls and inversions needed to explode everything un-American (simulated by the Top Gun class or otherwise) from the sky, the ground and the Indian Ocean. Top Gun has a slightly simpler game system than HAWX, Ubisoft's recent compromise between arcade and simulation flight games. You can activate a time-limited fixed-position camera that enables you to pull off stunt manoeuvres, and you can enjoy the benefits of infinite ammo. Chase camera and first-person views are available, as are basic attack and defend commands for a wingman. Almost every high moment of every mission is a dogfight. That chase and eventual conquest of another plane can be redundant, but such is the nature of the genre. In Top Gun, it's usually enjoyable.
Lots of Modes: The campaign isn't that tough nor do any of its missions surprise, but this game's skies and ocean are infested with planes and ships. That pleasantly crowded feeling extends to the number of modes offered, which include an endless "horde" mode of player versus streams of jets and several online multiplayer modes for team and on-your-own competition. For a meat and potatoes game, you're served with the full plate you'd expect. Occasional flight combat fans would be satisfied.
Cheese Gone Bad: Aside from the non-trivial fact that the Top Gun licence draws attention to this game - and probably gave it reason to exist - Top Gun the game gains no creative benefit from being based on the Top Cruise movie. It is dragged down by it thanks to the pre-mission, post-mission and even mid-mission dialogue scenes that rewrite and stretch the fighter-jock chitchat from the movie in an attempt to tell, woe is us, a more complex version of Top Gun's simplistic tale. That this is done without giving your character, Maverick, a single line of dialogue, adds a difficulty tweak to the storytelling task that makes as much sense as re-releasing a rock band's hit song without the lead singer's vocals. Perhaps, though, it is better to omit than to rewrite, because video games still exhibit the ability to make a bad movie line worse. In the movie, you see, the guy who Maverick does the fly-by to, yells "God damn, son of a bitch!"
In the game, he yells, "I'm covered in coffee! I want some butts!" He does that during a second fly-by as well.
At the time of take-off the new Top Gun game is recommendable. The game is a little rough, which in this case, is shorthand for lamenting the inclusion of the movie's plot and wondering why enemies you need to shoot down will sometimes fly out of bounds, threatening to cancel your mission. But players shouldn't be expecting a top-of-the-line game from Top Gun.
This release is inexpensive enough and loaded with enough content to satisfy a PS3 gamer who wants to do a little bit of dogfighting. The game's awkward reverence for the film it vaguely recreates is as annoying as a commercial break. In action though, with the "Danger Zone" track on infinite loop, for any given 20 seconds you spend bearing down inverted toward an enemy fighter and letting loose your locked missiles, Top Gun is fun.
Top Gun was developed by Doublesix Games and published by Paramount Digital Entertainment for the PlayStation 3's PlayStation Network on August 17. Retails for $US15, downloadable only. A code for redeeming a copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the campaign on normal, tried horde and the lightly-populated online multiplayer modes which will hopefully fill up.
Confused by our reviews? Read our review FAQ.