Indian Ocean. Present Day.

Cool – a Top Gun game! I looove Top Gun. It was on TV only on Saturday night. I watched it for, like the 101st time, annoying my wife by quoting lines off by heart in stupid voices. I never get tired of watching those F-14 interceptors taking off on full afterburner... er, I mean reheat, then being pushed to the limit - awesome eighties guitar music and all.

So, out of nowhere, came a game for the next-gen consoles based on this cherished piece of nostalgia, published by a company I wasn’t aware of – 505 Games, the team behind the forthcoming Sniper Elite V2. I didn’t need much persuasion to check it out.

Gentlemen. Good luck gentlemen.

Well, it’s a flight sim – or more accurately an air combat action game. The game starts with your character – call sign Spider – taking his first lesson at the US Navy Fighter Weapons School – aka Top Gun. This is a nice little tutorial, giving the player the chance to get used to the F-14’s handling and weapons. You start by learning manoeuvres, then by attacking drones and then Iceman appears – he’s tough, but not impossible to beat. Then Maverick soon arrives, providing an even tougher challenge. This turns out to be a pretty good scrap – a tough furball of a dogfight. Eventually you can prevail though and Maverick encourages you to beat him and go for the missile lock needed to win the hop… I mean mission.

Negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.

Then it’s off to the Middle East – to engage in various other missions, in many different aircraft. They range from our old friend the F-14 all the way up to the new F-35 Raptor, through various MiGs, Su’s and more. The combat ranges from dog-fighting, to ground attack, defending structures, ships and more.

The graphics are pretty good – the aircraft all look accurate and it is possible to unlock all sorts of custom colour schemes, liveries and more. Pretty soon I had my F-14 covered in Soviet stars – unthinkable in the eighties! Commies flying the Tomcat? Whatever next...

Too close for missiles, switching to guns...

The sky, clouds and sunshine all look convincing and well modelled. A lot of flying takes place around the sunset and it looks evocative. The ground detailing is… ok. Some of the models can look a little ropey when flying too close – it’s an incentive not to crash I suppose.

Wimbledon Guardian: Top Gun - Xbox 360

The controls are responsive and pretty easy to learn. That said – the y-axis wasn’t inverted by default, I had to set that manually! Just a small detail and everyone has their own preference, but I did expect it to actually pitch and dive like a ‘plane out of the box...

The music helps. That guitar riff from the movie pops up all over the place as does Kenny Loggin’s immortal classic Danger Zone. They are effective in increasing the grin factor – it did make me happy hearing them used in the game.

Any of you boys seen an aircraft carrier around here?

So it plays in an enjoyable arcade/sim style, not a million miles removed from the Ace Combat series of games. The missions are pretty enjoyable and get progressively more challenging – all solid stuff. However, combat in this game is interspersed by QTEs (Quick-Time Events) – for example, if in the middle of a dogfight, an enemy aircraft evades and ends up on your six (posterior) – naturally enough, they will launch a missile. Then out of nowhere the perspective of the game will change and challenge you to, say move the L stick left and the R stick right, or push two different buttons. Do it quickly enough and your plane will evade the missile in a fairly cool looking cinematic. Do it too late and you won’t survive. There are two sides to this… it is carried off with a fair amount of style, but on the other hand it does interrupt the flow of combat somewhat...

There is a decent multiplayer mode as well – over Xbox Live/PSN/Internet but be warned, human opponents are far more difficult to kill. Ending up in a furball (constant evasive manoeuvres during a dogfight) can lead to a long battle of attrition until one of you can get a clear missile lock, or gradually chip the plane down with guns.

I hate it when she does that!

So what have we got here then? It’s… not an entirely serious game and this hasn’t been an entirely serious review. It certainly isn’t a triple-A title and I don’t think it was ever meant to be. This game can be picked up online for around £22.00 at the moment and for that money it represents an honest slice of feel-good fun. It’s far from perfect, but when the guitars kick in just as you’ve blown a MiG clean out of the sky and your ‘plane banks towards the sunset, I defy you not to feel good. So grab a cold beer, put on your Ray-Ban Aviators and turn up the surround sound. I did kind of enjoy it.


Top Gun: Hard Lock is out now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC