It’s ugly, repetitive, has some of the worst dialogue in modern videogames and shamelessly cribs Ace Combat: Assault Horizon’s defining feature and turns it into little more than a collection of rudimentary QTEs. Top Gun: Hard lock should be terrible. I should hate it……..but I don’t. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it’s a masterpiece, or even that it’s in the same league as the genre king, but as an arcade-styled aerial fighter, Hard Lock is strangely hard to dislike. It’s not the kind of game that’s going to steal away months of your life and is certainly ill-fitted for long periods of play, but like the best arcade games out there, Hard Lock is hugely enjoyable in small doses and is home to that immediately accessible pick up and play mentality that is so often lacking from other games in the genre.
Falling somewhere between the absurdity of Sega’s brilliant and criminally overlooked, After Burner Climax (if you haven’t bought it already – get online and buy it now!) and Namco’s recently reinvented Ace Combat series, Top Gun: Hard Lock throws you straight into the action, obviously happy that it’s basic mechanics can be picked up on the fly (sorry!). With its simplistic controls and extremely manoeuvrable fighter jets, getting into Hard Lock couldn’t be easier. Flight is handled with the left stick and barrel rolls and speed boosts etc are handled with the right. In fact, the only thing worthy of explanation is the ‘Hard Lock’ mechanic itself. Playing out in a similar way to Assault Horizon’s close combat feature, getting close enough to an enemy will allow you to engage this mode in which you are left to control aiming as the AI takes over control of the actual flying. Here, you are required to keep your aiming reticule over the target long enough to get a lock and subsequently send a rocket up their rear end.
Rather than taking the somewhat nuanced approach found in Assault Horizon, Hard Lock sees prompts appear on screen if a lock isn’t achieved in a certain amount of time– at this point, it becomes a game of reactions with a quick enough response treating you (after a collection of impressive aerial acrobatics) to a larger aiming reticule while a particularly slow response often sees the hunter become the hunted as the roles are flipped in an instant. It’s a very simple system, one that inevitably becomes repetitive after extended play, but when experienced in short bursts, proves immediate and often intense.
As fun as it is though, it’s a shame that it has been implemented in such an all encompassing manner. Sure, there are the usual array of ground bombings to be done, and yes, you can use manual aim if you wish, but for the most part, you’ll be rinsing and repeating this single mechanic over and over again……it’s fun, but it’s not that fun.
Every game in the aerial combat genre tends to suffer from repetition and Hard Lock is no exception. With 15 campaign missions, a host of competitive and co-op online options and a ‘Danger Zone’ mode (read: wave attack), Hard Lock certainly isn’t short of content, but thanks to the underlying genre-infused issues and the over reliance upon its core mechanic, Hard Lock is unlikely to keep you enthralled for the long haul.
Like the gameplay itself, the presentation throughout is something of a mixed bag. Although set in the modern day, Top Gun: Hard Lock, like the movie upon which it is so loosely based, is clearly stuck in the more simplistic, dare I say chauvinistic, 80’s. That would be fine if the writing or delivery was of a particularly high standard, but just like 505 Games’ Crash Time series, the delivery and writing is of a consistently appalling standard. It does have a certain charm about it and occasionally tiptoes the line of being so bad that it’s good, but for the most part, the script and delivery isn’t either bad or charming enough to get away with its more questionable moments of scripting. Its idiotic charm certainly drags it along for a while, but rather unsurprisingly, it inevitably reveals itself as being simply rather bad after a few stages worth of poorly written and terribly delivered banter.
The visuals on the other had are a little harder to peg. Although quite obviously a budget development (with a pleasingly budget rrp I might add), Hard Lock does a good job of hiding its rough edges and lack of detail with its extremely grainy visual filter. While its use certainly won’t fool anyone into believing that Hard Lock is a particularly pretty game, its use is strangely befitting of a game based on an 80’s action movie and imbues the visual style with a certain cinematic styling that often brings to mind Michael Mann’s recent directorial output. It’s easy to label Hard Lock as visually unimpressive, but the more I play it, the more I find myself warming to the clever use of the grainy visual filter that helps to both cover up the cracks and instill the experience with a distinctive visual style.
With its solid online offering, enjoyable Danger Zone mode and relatively weighty Campaign, Top Gun: Hard Lock certainly isn’t short of content. Sadly, the repetitive nature of the genre and overly simplistic mechanics means that few gamers will bother to experience all that it has to offer.
Despite its wealth of content, Hard Lock is a much more appealing prospect if approached as a pick up and play arcade shooter. For quick bursts of gameplay against both AI and human opposition, Hard Lock is a much more attractive proposition. Eye-catching and ugly in equal measures, Hard Lock proves a difficult game to love but an equally difficult one to dislike. It’s not going to change your life, but at a budget price, it might well be worth a punt for those looking for something simple and enjoyable to play between bouts of more serious gaming.
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