I’ve been landing, or I should say crashing, in Top Gun games since the original Top Gun on the NES. I loved the original Top Gun movie growing up, but I’ll try to keep the movie quotes and volleyball montage to a bare minimum.
Top Gun: Hard Lock takes you through 15 missions as you help defend the United States’ interests in the Middle East and spread a little of the good ol’ USA in the process. You play as the newest top gun recruit, Spider, trying to gain the respect of the other pilots which include plenty of cameos from the movie. The storyline is very similar to the premise of the movie, but with a modern day setting in the Persian Golf. The script is a bit on the cheesy side, but for some reason, I think it works. Maybe it���s because Top Gun was an 80’s movie with plenty of cheesy lines and bad jokes, so it just helps give that authentic Top Gun feel.
The 15 missions have you taking on enemy MiGs, destroying enemy ships or even taking out SAM sites. As the name of the game implies, the majority of the action will be in the skies as you dogfight with an endless supply of enemy MiGs. If you get close enough and directly behind one, you will enter into a dogfighting mode called a “hard lock.” This will lock you and the enemy together with your only focus is to shoot the plane down. After a little awhile, you go into a quick time event for making maneuvers to keep your position behind the enemy, but if you lose, you will be the one in the target sites and must evade to stay alive. Getting a higher percentage on the QTE will increase your lock-on radius and believe me: missiles in this game are deadly. Getting a lock means certain doom for the other pilot. Missiles are unlimited, so you don’t have to worry about running out besides a short wait for it to resupply.
If you don’t get the hang of it at first, don’t worry; you will be doing this over and over throughout the game. While it does get repetitive, it can feel really intense as you try to keep an enemy in your sites, perform the QTE while also deploying flares and performing barrel rolls to evade enemy missiles all at the same time. And yes, they do make a “do a barrel roll” reference. It might be repetitious, but it is fun and keeps you on your toes.
The environments look good for the most part, but also are a bit on the bland side. The water in particular looks very well done with the setting sun lighting it in just about every mission. Headstrong Games probably decided on this to help enhance each object, but having the light effects reflect off everything from the buildings to the airplanes and through the clouds in the high atmosphere is a neat touch.
Multiplayer is broken up between co-op missions that can support up to 4 players and versus modes with up to 16 players. The versus modes consist of deathmatch and team deathmatch variations. The co-op modes have you attacking carrier groups, flying as escort support or defending bases. The game does make use of an online game code, so renting/buying the game used will lock you out as there isn’t a trial for the online modes.
There is no doubt that this is the best attempt at a Top Gun, but its shortcomings stop it from being a great game. Even so, this arcade aerial combat game is a fun experience. While some may see the occasional difficulty spike as a negative, I found that it helps to break up the monotonous gameplay and keep you on your toes as you must be able to perform numerous maneuvers all at once. Taking control of one of the 14 different real world planes in Top Gun: Hard Lock has taken me to the highway of the danger zone.Note: Top Gun: Hard Lock was reviewed on Xbox 360. A physical copy of the game provided by the publisher.