Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War (エースコンバット5 ジ・アンサング・ウォー Ēsu Konbatto Go Ji Ansangu Wō, or Ace Combat: Squadron Leader in PAL regions) is a semi-realistic flight simulation game developed by Namco for the PlayStation 2 video game console. It is the fifth installment of the Ace Combat series.
The game is set in 2010 in Strangereal and follows the Wardog Squadron, a frontier Osean squadron caught between rising hostilities between Osea and Yuktobania. Amidst the conflict, the four Wardog pilots unintentionally fulfill the prophecy of the Razgriz and uncover the sinister conspiracy pulling the strings behind the Circum-Pacific War.
The Unsung War is one of the most expansive Ace Combat games, featuring more playable aircraft and missions than any other installment, four controllable wingmen (though not all at the same time), and a large number of fully animated cutscenes. It is also the most critically acclaimed entry in the series, not counting Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies.
Main article: Circum-Pacific War
During the course of the game, the player has the opportunity to purchase 53 different aircraft, ranging from real-life aircraft to prototypes and fictional aircraft. Most of the aircraft are grouped into "families", where the more advanced variants of a particular craft are unlocked after earning a certain amount of experience with the less advanced variants.
All aircraft feature alternate paint schemes, which can be acquired by progressing through the story or shooting down hidden Ace pilots. There are a total of 32 missions in the campaign mode, but due to varying paths the player can take in the story, only 29 of these are completed in a single campaign.
As with other entries in the Ace Combat series, once the mission objectives are complete, the player is awarded with money for purchasing aircraft, as well as additional money for performing above and beyond the requirements of the mission. Bonus money can be earned by completing landing or mid-air refueling sections quickly. Unlike other entries, the player does not have to purchase special weapons, as each aircraft only has one special weapon which is provided upon purchasing the aircraft.
Main article: Difficulty
The difficulty setting affects the number, artificial intelligence, and damage threshold of the enemy aircraft in most missions, as well as the amount of damage the player's aircraft can take.
From easiest to most difficult, the settings are Very Easy, Easy, Normal, Hard, Expert, and Ace. On the hardest two difficulty levels (which cannot be played until the next-easiest difficulty on the list is completed), even a single missile from the enemy will destroy the player's airplane, whereas on Very Easy it takes several missiles.
Difficulty does not affect certain missions where the enemy behavior and the player's objective are fixed and non-dependent on actual fighting, but these are uncommon.
Main article: Wingman Command
During missions, the player can issue orders to their wingmen through the DUALSHOCK2's D-pad. Commands include engaging enemies directly in front, directly attacking the player, or to engage at will. When the latter option is enabled, the wingmen will focus primarily on their aircraft role; for example, if a wingman is flying an Attacker, they will focus their attention on ground targets. (This was changed in Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, where the player has direct control over what targets the wingman fires upon when engaging at will.)
In a similar fashion, the left and right D-pad buttons also allow the player to respond "Yes" or "No" to dialogue prompts within the missions. Usually, these serve no purpose to the game besides adding additional story elements, though some missions do rely on this system for how the mission will play out or even what mission will play next.
The Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War Original Soundtrack was produced and partly composed by Keiki Kobayashi, who previously worked on Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies. Other composers for the Ace Combat 5 soundtrack include Tetsukazu Nakanishi (who also produced the game's sound effects), Hiroshi Okubo, and Junichi Nakatsuru.
In a first for the Ace Combat series, Ace Combat 5 features a licensed song, Blurry by Puddle of Mudd, which is used and referred to as one of the game's main themes. Other major songs include The Journey Home, The Unsung War, and a remix of Blue Skies.
Ace Combat 5 also features an "arcade mode" separate from the main story. This gameplay mode, named Operation Katina, continues the story of Ace Combat 04 and allows the player to fly as Mobius 1 again to fight the new threat of Free Erusea.
The player's objective is to fly through a number of relatively short missions and defeat a certain number of enemies before the timer runs out in order to advance. In a similar fashion to arcade games (where the series has its roots), the player can achieve high scores by completing each mission as fast as possible; destroying enemies will add time to the clock. The missions get more difficult as the player progresses; however, akin to the dialogue prompts that have limited control on what missions will play during the campaign, the player has some control over the difficulty of the missions through a branching tree. Missions at the top of the tree are easier, whereas missions at the bottom of the tree are challenging.
In contrast to the gameplay mechanics of any other entry in the series, Arcade Mode restricts the player to very low ammo on missiles and special weapons (machine guns are unlimited). Wasting ammunition, especially on more difficult missions, can be extremely dangerous. Throughout the various missions, special enemy targets can be destroyed that will award the player with extra missiles or special weapons - they are identified by an "M" or "S" after their name, respectively. For example, an enemy named "MiG-21 S" is a MiG-21bis that will award the player with additional special weapon ammo.
- Callsign Blaze (real name unknown) is the player character and the protagonist of the game. Formerly a pilot trainee on Sand Island, he is selected as Captain Bartlett's fourth wingman for the first two missions of the game. After Bartlett is shot down and goes MIA, Blaze is promoted to Wardog leader and leads his squadron throughout the rest of the game.
- Kei Nagase (callsign "Edge") is the sole trainee survivor of the attack on Wardog Squadron prior to the game's events. After Bartlett goes MIA in the second mission, she refuses promotion to flight lead (offered as the most experienced pilot of the squad), instead resolving to protect Blaze no matter what.
- Alvin H. Davenport (callsign "Chopper") is another member of the squadron. While loud and disrespectful of his superiors (including Blaze, whom he refers to as "Kid" instead of "Captain" despite the seniority), Chopper proves to be a valuable asset to the team as well as comic relief to lighten the mood during tense moments.
- Hans Grimm (callsign "Archer") is the youngest member of Wardog Squadron. While still a trainee, during a Yuktobanian air raid early in the game, Grimm helps the base mechanics prepare the last working aircraft and climbs into it himself, officially joining the squadron in battle. He lacks self-confidence and experience but proves to be a talented pilot throughout the game.
- Jack Bartlett (callsign "Heartbreak One") is a renowned ace pilot who fought in the Belkan War and dedicated his life to training the next generation of pilots. He has a long history with Pops as well as an old Yuktobanian love interest, which causes superiors to be suspicious of him early on when he goes MIA after getting shot down. Following this event, Blaze is promoted to flight lead of Wardog Squadron.
- Peter N. Beagle (callsign and nickname "Pops") is an aging mechanic attached to Sand Island. He and Captain Bartlett have a history together in the Belkan War, but much of his past is secretive, prompting suspicion from the base superiors.
- Marcus Snow (callsign "Swordsman") is the commander of the OFS Kestrel's air defense squadron. He has recurring appearances throughout the game's events.
- Albert Genette is a freelance journalist who arrived to Sand Island to do a report on the unique squadron leader stationed at the base. Due to the surprise attacks, he is initially cut off from contact with other journalists to keep the attacks secret, but after war breaks out he finds himself swept up in the middle of Wardog Squadron's activities. He usually narrates the game for the player, although sometimes Chopper or Nagase will narrate as well.
- Ace Combat 5 features the largest selection of playable aircraft, excluding Ace Combat Infinity.
- Director Kazutoki Kono attempted to include a VS Mode as in the previous entry, Ace Combat 04, but it had to be cut in order to develop the Arcade Mode.