I've been a fan of air combat games for quite a while, having played Top Gun and After Burner on the NES, Ace Combat 2 and 3 on the PS1 and even Ace Combat: Skies of Deception on the PSP. So while the cover art for Air Conflict: Aces of World War II screamed "shovelware" with all the ferocity of a Stuka dive-bomb siren, I kept myself cautiously optimistic and decided to give the game the benefit of the doubt. After all, I really didn't mind Top Gun so much back in the day, and so beg to differ with the protestations of an angry video game nerd of some sort despite their being absolutely hilarious.

Greeted with pleasant-sounding 40's-era lounge music at the title screen, I was immediately given a sense that the game's developers, Graffiti Entertainment, wanted to immerse you as deeply as possible in the dark days of World War II. This is evident in the substantial polish the developers lavished on the music and sounds in this game. The dramatic, almost movie-like, music accompanying the missions you fly is played by a real band and recorded at rather high quality. The sounds of machine-gun fire, propeller engines and bullets striking metal are all top-notch as well, making it easy to concentrate on the action. Unleashing a volley of hell and hearing the distinctive ring of your salvoes perforating your target's fuselage and wings answer back is extremely satisfying, making the dogfights in Air Conflict the most enjoyable part of the game. Unfortunately, where the sound excels, the other parts of the game just don't seem to follow suit, unlike your decorated World War II veteran great-grandpa's game of Solitaire.

Air Conflict lets you choose from four factions: the British Royal Air Force, the US Air Force, the Nazi German Luftwaffe or the Soviet Military Air Forces. The only difference between these choices, really, is the sorts of planes you can fly. The differences between planes are merely cosmetic - do you want to look like a Messerschmitt or a Spitfire? There's very little, if anything, distinguishing the performance of one plane from another, revealing the choice of planes to be only about two: a fighter and a bomber.

Correspondingly, there is very little in the way of variety in between missions. The missions will be given different names, of course, depending on your faction such as "Patrol over the English Channel", et cetera, but they are easily broken down into a couple of archetypes: patrol, escort and bombing run.

Patrol missions will have you flying through boxes that disappear well before you actually fly through them. Sometimes enemies will come out to fight, and sometimes they won't, making patrol missions the most realistic of the bunch.

Escort missions have you finding a way to somehow keep the enemy from destroying a particular ship or building or set of bombers. The problem with the escort missions is often two-fold: your wingmen are complete idiots who are often unable to do their fair share of the dirty work because of their poor AI, and there are far too many enemy aircraft to take out on your own and too few bullets to even make a good attempt. It doesn't help that by the time you take out half of your attackers, the other half have already taken out the target you were supposed to defend from them.

Bombing run missions are exactly that: you climb into a bomber and try to bomb a particular enemy structure or naval unit before getting shot down. The problem with bombing runs is that you have no way of telling where your bomb is going to land, and so you just have to drop a bunch and hope that something hits the target.

The lack of variety makes the game very boring very fast, and the imprecise controls and overwhelming unfairness will frustrate most players, even veterans of the genre. But I can handle that. There's one thing I can't handle about a game like this, and that would be its horrific load times. It generally takes a minute and a half to get from the menus and mission briefings to actual game play. This would be quite all right if, on failing a mission, crashing or being shot down the game just started the mission over again. Instead, however, the game takes another minute or so to kick you back out to the main menu and then forces you to start another mission. Yes, another mission - you can't replay the mission you just failed, so you have to go back in and start the next mission. You can hardly figure out which mission to choose because the text in the menu is microscopic and almost seems as though the user interface was designed for a console game before being shovelled onto the PSP instead. Another minute and a half later, you're doing something completely different without having had a chance to figure out just what went wrong last time. Unlike console games with long load times, you're often on the bus or the subway with your PSP, and so you can't really go away and do something else for the unhappy intermission, like make a sandwich. What's the pay-off for these vacations in purgatory? On average, a mission will give you from two to five minutes of gameplay. You'll be waiting for the game to load ten minutes out of each hour.

While the effort put into making Air Conflict comfortable and atmospheric in terms of the quality of its music and sound seems to pay off, the lack of effort put into basic gameplay mechanics, mission variety, a sense of story or narrative, or fixing oppressive loading times stalls this game before it even gets off the ground. Despite my attempts to treat this game fairly, it seems to come off as about as much of a half-hearted WWII themed Ace Combat rip-off as its name would suggest.