Let’s get the bad stuff out the way first. Ace Combat Infinity’s payment model is as miserly, exploitative and cynical as you can get. If you want to play a lot then you are going to have to continuously pay to increase the amount of ‘stocked fuel’ you have on your account. This includes the fairly average single player campaign. You are going to have to dip into your pocket time and time again unless you are happy to wait for the three units of ‘supplied fuel’ to regenerate at the rate of 1 every 4 hours. There is no option to just buy the game. You can earn bonuses with additional contracts and challenges but these are time limited meaning they won’t really make much of an impact unless you are willing to put in a consecutive chunk of time and the money to go along with it. Credits you earn at the end of each mission are fairly paltry if you want to unlock the better planes further down the tech tree but naturally, these unlock at the same glacial pace as your credits accrue. In addition, if you splurge your money early on and open up the tech tree too wide then the randomly assigned research needed to unlock further branches is spread so thinly that you are going to have to play even more to lock it back down. Ouch.
So why do I like this so much? Because it fills an online gaming niche that I have never seen before. A kind of sportsmanlike competition. There is only one game mode which is a competitive co-op where two teams race to try and destroy more targets than the other. You can’t attack other players or even really hinder them aside from the odd opportunity to steal a kill, but seeing as the cumulative score of both teams goes towards a better grade and extra credits you probably won’t want to anyway. I have played a few rounds where I was bottom of the scoreboard but the pair of T-50s on the other team tearing around the map secured us all an S grade in no time. I lost but still kind of won. It’s liberating. The antagonism and frustration that lead to me abandoning competitive online shooters is just not present here. I don’t even mind the fuel issue. Snatching 15 minutes of gaming time used to be a problem as I couldn’t really get into a game but with Infinity the game doesn’t want me hanging around anyway. The missions may be a little repetitive but a relaxing 15 minutes in the skies is actually kind of nice. It’s like reading a couple of chapters from your favourite book before bedtime.
The irony is that if I could buy this game outright then I probably would. I bought the campaign only unlock and at £11.99 for 8 missions I don’t think it’s too bad but double that and let me play online as much as I want and I would gladly play. I am always surprised that the pay-to-play model works as a lot of gamers won’t pay on principle but I think that a very small user percentage must pay huge sums to compensate which seems a little unfair. Still, I am happily grinding my way towards that F15 that I will probably never reach and I still get a little thrill at the start of each mission when my team soars away, destroying enemy fighters and tanks in their wake. I get a great view from the cockpit of my Mirage 2000 dawdling towards its first target. But I get a nice cruise out of it. Sometimes I even do a little roll.