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by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Over G Fighters, Rated Teen, Xbox 360 & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he nose of the F-18 Hornet is long and pointed, and when I pull back on the throttle, it pierces the clouds like a needle. Engaging the afterburners, I surge upwards at a thunderous velocity. In front of me, the nose of the plane prods the air. I stop pulling and ease the throttle forward. The nose drops, cutting a gash through the sky. I pitch downward. The clouds slide upward. Then the horizon -- a glorious interruption -- rises, and the ground approaches. Blood is rushing up into my head, clouding my eyesight with crimson. In the growing redness beneath me, I see the jet that sent me running sunward in the first place. Propelled by a force stronger than gravity, I launch a missile into the empty sky between us.


In the moments before my enemy explodes, my vision clears. The screen loses its redness. The ground comes fully into focus. Even from several hundred virtual feet in the air, it looks as though a digital photo of dirt has been enlarged until each pixel fills an acre. Sections of it are pimpled with ceaselessly repeated trees. This wasteland stretches for miles beneath me, roughly undulating. I bank left, and the sun catches my aircraft from behind. My shadow crawls across the game's bland landscape like a detailed, miniscule ant. Each wobble of the joystick sends the plane's shadow rocking as though it belonged to a toy in the hand of an enormous, invisible child.


Over G Fighters rarely transcends this play-set aesthetic. Aircraft from forces around the globe have been included for me to sample. The planes don't operate with much variety. They merely have different ratings in a Rock-Paper-Scissors-type power struggle. Each plane has some advantage, some weakness. Getting through the game's missions is usually a matter of picking the proper air toy (am I dive-bombing boats, or fending off helicopters?) and sticking the correct organic enhancement -- a wingman -- into the cockpit to complete the setup. These characters have skills that modify my plane's abilities, and they're indispensable in hectic missions. But despite their presence next to me in dozens of dogfights, not one of them ever emerges with an identity. They merely help me combat "evil," which is invariably depicted as a blip on my radar and perhaps as a distant aircraft blossoming into a cloud of smoke as I turn and fly away. Mission accomplished.





THE GOOD: Modern mechanical warfare tends to happen in long stretches of waiting interrupted with short bursts of fighting. Over G Fighters honors these intense battles by breaking them up into a campaign of quick, optional missions. The result is a combat flight simulator that never indulges in geeky accuracy long enough to become irritating, or to show how simplistic it really is.





THE BAD: Despite being an Xbox 360-exclusive game, Taito's Over G Fighters has the slipshod look of a PlayStation 2 title. The graphics undermine the game's scenario of fighting anarchy around the globe: One continent looks the same as the next, and cities are industrial tangles that make civilian casualties unavoidable and unrecognizable.





THE BOTTOM LINE: As satisfying and simple as fistfighting in the sky.

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