You take the role of Garuda 2, part of Gracemaria's military air force, and head of the Garuda Squadron. In this position you get access to a variety of planes, and can customize their loadout using unlockable weapons. The planes are a mix of real, such as the F-22 raptor, and fake "concept" planes that feature more fantastic designs. Weapons follow the same path with a mix of real missile types, and fantasy based super weapons.
The game's single player campaign is divided into 15 missions that last on average 30 minutes. Within a particular mission will be a set of objectives such as destroying a certain number of enemies, or taking out a target, or escorting a VIP. While there will be one or two central objectives, there are a larger set of optional objectives that change how the mission can evolve. Replaying missions and completing the different objectives is key to unlocking all of the game's medals and achievements.
Controlling the plane is accomplished either through the standard Xbox 360 controller, or hardcore players can use the Ace Edge flight stick that comes bundled in the collector's edition. The controller has two different modes: Normal, and Novice. The Novice mode is intended for beginner players offering easier and more streamlined controls at the expense of flexibility. The left thumbstick handles all forms of movement with the game automatically adjusting your roll angle. Normal mode gives you more control allowing you to perform advanced rolling and flipping maneuvers. And with Namco's liberties with realism you can perform more extreme acrobatics to get a better position on your enemies.
Multiplayer comes in a variety of competitive modes, with one co-op mode available. Free-for-all, Team battle, are the standard deathmatch modes found in most multiplayer games. The Siege sees each team trying to destroy the other team's targets and enemy allies. Co-op is limited to two maps that play similar to the single-player missions but are not part of the actual campaign.
Ace Combat games take place in the near future with Fires of Liberation being held in the year 2015. Made up countries are used as locations, but the countries are based on real world places. Namco uses satellite imagery from the Japanese Space Foundation as maps and terrain data to populate the levels. The story is told through real-time cutscenes that play between missions. These cutscenes follow people on the ground that are affected by the war happening between the various factions and countries and take on a more cinematic angle. For people that don't care about the story, the cutscenes can be skipped at any time.
The regular version of the game retails for $59.99, while a special collector's edition is available for $149 that includes the Ace Edge flight stick.