Top Gun: Hard Lock sadly is yet another licensed game that misses the mark on what made its source material so much fun and that of course results in a game that’s simply mediocre if not below average for the aerial combat genre. For flight genre enthusiasts Top Gun really doesn’t present an exciting experience thanks in part to combat that lacks an immediate punch and visuals that are serviceable but don’t necessarily measure up to what has been previously released. Top Gun: Hard Lock could’ve been a fun if not slightly goofy flight action game, but in the end it’s simply a game that lacks any true character and could’ve been quickly forgotten about if not for having the Top Gun moniker slapped on.
+ The jokes are so bad that they’re funny for the wrong reasons.
+ You can create your own meta story based on how bad the dialog is.
+ Trophies/Achievements are easy to acquire.
- Visuals are really bland and lack any unique and defining characteristics.
- Not having the same spirit as the Top Gun film makes the story completely unnecessary.
- Action is limited in its set pieces and fails to present an edge of your seat experience.
- No Iceman makes Ian a sad gamer.
As a gamer and a video game journalist I like to play as many games as I can get my hands on. Doing such a thing often leads me to stumble across a few hidden gems while in other cases I simply subject myself to a terrible game merely to see how bad it truly is and maybe get one or two easy Trophies or Achievements in the process.
Those who follow Shogun Gamer also know that once in a while I like to get goofy and review games that may not be in the norm, whether it’s stuff like Man vs. Wild: The Game, Cabela’s Survival: Shadows of Katmai, or even a Wii trivia game based on the Twilight film series. Having a bit of free time in between diligently waiting for Max Payne 3 I decided to have a go at Top Gun: Hard Lock, the 2nd attempt this generation at making the great but perfectly cheesy Top Gun film into a suitable video game experience.
Based on what the Top Gun film did twenty-six years ago and the reverence people have for the film (who doesn’t love Maverick, Iceman or the silly but lovable windshield stain that is Goose?), a Top Gun game should be something that wins people over even if it’s a bit rough around the edges. Even more, with the lack of sim or arcade based dogfighting games this generation there was an opportunity for Top Gun: Hard Lock to make a mark for itself and potentially cater to an audience that’s simply starving for a good aerial combat game. But of course as per the seemingly supernatural cosmic force that oversees the video game industry Top Gun: Hard Lock is a forgettable if not abhorrently bland video game that in a lot of ways is the perfect example of how not to make an aerial combat game.
Ok, so unless you have Justin Bieber or One Direction songs in constant rotation on your MP3 player you should know what Top Gun is. If not then you should do yourself a favor and watch the movie on Netflix as it’s a perfect cheesy 1980s flick. But the basic jest of the film is that it starred Tom Cruise, pre his Xenu craze, as a hotshot pilot trying to make a name for himself and shake off some of his emotional baggage. Besides being a decent flick Top Gun went on to be known for its somewhat not so sublte manly overtones, which were brilliantly explained by Quentin Tarantino in a somewhat faux commentary in a movie, and being the perfect encapsulation of all things 1980s in a movie that was part action flick/part romantic drama. One would think Top Gun: Hard Lock would have a few of the familiar or well-known traits from its cinematic source material but sadly that isn’t the case as the game feels like a 1998 aerial combat game slapped with the Top Gun name.
As an aerial combat game that doesn’t lean heavily towards an After Burner Climax like experience (i.e. arcade goodness of the highest level), Top Gun: Hard Lock simply isn’t a fun or well executed game. In the wake of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon the aerial combat genre has gotten a slight boost as far as what’s capable and the production levels we as gamers can expect and sadly Top Gun: Hard Lock comes across as an early prototype version of Assault Horizon minus all the fun and sharp visuals. Playing Top Gun it was hard not to immediately compare it to Assault Horizon as both feature aerial battles and even the same targeting mechanic as well.
As much as I would’ve liked the title to be some sort of tongue-in-cheek euphemism, Hard Lock instead refers to the central targeting mechanic of the game. Just like Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, gamers in Top Gun can set their sights on an enemy in a slightly on-rails scenario as they try to keep the enemy within a circular targeting reticule. Keeping the enemy within the targeting reticule will ultimately result in a Hard Lock in which I could fire my missiles and see a poorly executed final kill animation complete with my plane unnecessarily going into slow motion to “heighten” or “highlight” the enemy kill I just made. As a mechanic the Hard Lock feature is pulled off in a competent way as far as control, length of time in the mode, and things like that but it just lacks the excitement and overall effectiveness that it ought to have. Instead of feeling like I was engaged in an intense dogfight and that I needed to keep my Hard Lock up for as long as I could to make the kill I just felt like I was controlling a toy plane and that the battles had no real consequence or level of urgency at all.
A taste of the aerial combat provided in Top Gun: Hard Lock.
Part of the unfulfilling sense I had while partaking in aerial combat was that the game simply isn’t that nice to look at and because the missions and general gameplay structure aren’t that much fun. In the world of aerial combat games there are two ways developers can make a game: 1. go the sim route and have players use a freaking manual so they can read all the gauges inside their jet cockpit or 2. They can go the arcade route and throw realism out the window in favor of complete fun. Top Gun: Hard Lock definitely has some arcade sensibilities but it doesn’t feel like they were pushed enough at all. I didn’t have unrealistic expectations for the game as I didn’t want one of my jets to control like something out of Warhawk, but the combat has no real impact to it at all and there’s no visual flair to enhance things.
Say what you will about Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, but the game did a brilliant job at enhancing aerial combat and making it feel visceral or at least like it had a bigger impact to make the player feel encouraged and simply happy when a bogey went down. Seeing oil simulate or evoke the feeling of blood may have been a bit much for some to see in an Ace Combat game, but at the end of the day it enhanced the fairly “boring” nature of some aerial combat games in which an enemy explosion is simply a tiny orange dot seen a few miles in front of you.
With Top Gun: Hard Lock there’s really no spirit or general excitement in how the game constructs its battles and how each enemy encounter plays out while in Hard Lock mode. Every once in a while I had to “change” things up by evading enemy fire while engaged in Hard Lock mode, but such a thing was easy and in some cases a bit distracting as seeing two massive icons pop up on screen representing the Left and Right analog sticks kind of broke the mood of doing an intense 1 on 1 dogfight. What’s worse about the evasive maneuvers aside from the annoying on-screen prompts was that my co-pilot or some annoying chap would yell out each evasive maneuver when I had to do one. So just imagine hearing someone say “break right!” almost non-stop through the entirety of the game. Yes, it’s as annoying as it sounds and I did wish my head would smash against a cockpit window just like Goose in the original Top Gun.
Visually Top Gun: Hard Lock doesn’t have the might of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, but even without the full backing of a massive team and budget the end results we have in Top Gun could’ve been far better than what we were given. Outside of lacking unique damage models of effects for when enemies go down, the general level of detail found in Top Gun almost looks akin to a late era PS2 game done up in HD. Things may look ok here and there, but key elements are simply serviceable instead of being amazing, which one would think would be the case in an aerial combat game since there’s not much to render aside from a few ships and environmental structures/features. Basic things like the skybox and land textures aren’t wholly impressive and in a few cases I expected a Google Earth logo to pop up since they looked a bit low-res and lacked any true defining detail to them.
Earlier I gave a brief rundown of what the original Top Gun movie was about for all those younglings out there who never saw Tom Cruise face off with Val Kilmer before he got fat and slightly crazy. For what it was Top Gun was a fun movie and one would hope that such an attitude would translate into a video game seeing as how games are now on the same levels as movies on a thematic level. Sadly Top Gun: Hard Lock forgoes any attempt at building an enjoyable story as it instead follows two original characters that I couldn’t care less about as they engage with an unknown enemy piloting a unique jet. Far from being as absurd as something like Stealth, the story in Hard Lock is goofy albeit unintentionally since hearing things like “Do A Barrel Roll!” made me chuckle but were said in such a way that it was serious and wasn’t meant to be a joke.
Certain nods are made to the original Top Gun film throughout the game, but even an appearance by the legendary Maverick, the character Tom Cruise played in the film, fails since we just see Maverick’s jet and hear a voice that certainly isn’t Tom Cruise. I know that a low-level video game probably wouldn’t attract a major movie star to lend their vocal talents, but in Top Gun Hard Lock we don’t even get a character profile icon for Maverick that kind of looks like Tom Cruise, kind of like how games in the late 1980s/early 1990s would unofficially model game characters after actors. So in the end Top Gun: Hard Lock is lacking anything that resembles an authentic Top Gun feel as it doesn’t have mildly bad 1980s pop ballads, men breaking out into a sexy but competitive volleyball game, and it doesn’t have a protagonist we can relate to.
I never imagined video game dialog would ever be this bad.
The combination of poor voice acting that sounds like it was voiced by the development team and the lack of any true spirit makes for a game that should’ve forgone any sort of narrative in favor of going the arcade route and simply blowing stuff up and having fun – except that the game itself isn’t fun enough to allow such a thing. The rather dull single-player campaign is supported by a multiplayer mode and a single-player mode similar to Horde Mode, but neither really elevate the core enjoyment factor since the existing feature set is so dull and ultimately repetitive.
Top Gun Hard Lock is a game that had the chance at being an enjoyable aerial combat game in a genre that is essentially barren but in the end it’s a game that’s simply is just there and accomplishes nothing. Fans of Top Gun will likely be disappointed by the narrative and the lack of any edge or thrill to the combat, which you know is one of the most important things in a game that revolves around aerial combat. The game is playable in the sense that I could hold my controller and not run into an annoying glitch every five minutes, but when it comes to being fun Top Gun: Hard Lock stumbles to such a degree that I wanted to press the emergency eject button fairly early in my experience.