Either Keith is a hell of a lot better at playing games than I am, or he was being very kind by glossing over Battle Engine Aquila's difficulty level. Before I say anything else about the game, let me say this: it's hard. So hard, in fact, that I had doubts as to whether I actually possessed the skill (and patience) to bring the game to completion.
Battle Engine Aquila is based around a highly rigid mission structure similar to that found in the Star Wars-based Rogue Leader series. As Keith mentioned, there are usually some bonus objectives in each level that lead to alternate (and tougher) missions, but fail any of the main objectives and you've got to try the whole thing again. Initially it might not sound very challenging, but instead of fierce opponents' weaponry taking you down, the difficulty comes from failing goals that aren't clear about what you're supposed to be doing, especially with regard to where and when. I had to repeat the game's toughest mission somewhere around twenty times because my forces were "taking too many losses" although I couldn't figure out where the trouble spots were, or what to do about the problem. It was an incredibly frustrating experience to say the least, although I think it's to Battle Engine Aquila's credit that I was invested enough to hang in there until the end.
In truth, there's a lot to like about the game. The land/air abilities of your ship work very well to establish a unique feel to the fighting, and to say that the game is "action packed" is a real understatement. If you ever find yourself in the mood to sit down and blow things up for an hour or two, this game has you coveredand then some.
Although you've got to do a crazy amount of fighting personally, Lost Toys really did an excellent job of making you feel like a part of a larger force instead of the typical "lone soldier against all odds" so common in videogames. Also, quite the opposite of Keith, I found that the CG cutscenes did a great job of holding the game together. The dramatic bits kept me motivated enough to forge onwards even though the difficulty was quite discouraging at times.
However, despite my affection for a game that so clearly did not love me back, I do want to outline a number of things working against it.
Despite sporting some very nice visuals (especially the ship design and strong use of reds and blues) the level design needs a complete overhaul. From start to finish, you'll be fighting on a series of hilly green islands dotted with small installations. The plot justifies this by saying that the world's water level has risen and land is scarce, but looking at the same basic area for the duration of the game gets old, fast. I often found myself wanting some urban sprawl, a forest, or just about anything else that would break up the monotony.
The missions could have been used more variety as well. For a powerful, agile craft capable of tackling both land and sky, it's a shame that the developers couldn't come up with something a little more creative than the straight-ahead blast-fest that it is. Don't get me wrong; the action is intense and well-done. I just think it wouldn't have hurt to include other types of objectives to keep things fresh. Adding more mission flavor is even more necessary given the limited diversity in environments.
The final point I'd like to make (and another area where I diverge from Keith) is the HUD and onscreen information. He's entirely correct in saying this setup is essential to a pilot's success, but I was not as satisfied as he was with the layout. The bars indicating remaining flight time and ship "health" are transparent, and easily misread when looking at them overlaid on top of all the onscreen chaos you encounter. Additionally, the radar display is small and quite cluttered. It's hard to tell what's going on amidst the jumble of dots representing enemies, and it was often more reliable to swing the camera around and use my eyes.
Battle Engine Aquila is a very strange game. Examining the component parts, it seems as though it would be exactly the kind of heartless, low-rent affair you'd want to stay away from but this is actually not the case. It's flawed, obscenely difficult at times, and suffers from creative deficiencies rooted at its very core, yet it manages to overcome all of these obstacles and establish itself as something unique and surprisingly compelling. The excitement of strafing enemy tanks from above and then landing to finish them off with a frontal assault works extremely well, and added to the satisfying feelings of battlefield teamwork and a passable story, Battle Engine Aquila becomes a title to check outjust be aware that you're signing up for one rough tour of duty.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.