Preview: Top Gun and Days of Thunder: NASCAR Edition

Let's get this out of the way: I've never seen Top Gun nor Days of Thunder. I know, I know -- I'll turn my Man Card in at the door. The point I'm trying to make is: If there are in-jokes or sly references in either game, I wouldn't notice.

That said, Paramount Digital has recruited Jack Epps Jr., screenwriter of both films, so the company certainly seems serious about fan service. Setting aside their cultural significance -- emphasis on "cult" -- what I saw were two simple, playable arcade experiences.
%Gallery-96036% Rather than serving up an on-rails experience like After Burner, Top Gun offers players full freedom of movement, allowing them more control over how to approach and take out targets. Don't mistake it for a sim though, Top Gun is still an arcade game. For example, you won't be running out of missiles and your plane's "health" will recharge over time. Beyond that, the game is about dogfighting and taking out ground targets.

Watching the hands-off demo, I can confirm that the combat plays out as you would expect, shredding targets with a machine gun or locking onto them with missiles. One of the more interesting features is called CFI, or "Controlled Flight Instability." CFI allows players to pull off the kind of daring maneuvers from the film. Once activated, CFI automatically reorients your jet toward its nearest target, resulting in some crazy (impossible?) flips, loops and, yes, barrel rolls.

Single-player options include the campaign -- which follows and expands on the film, thanks to Mr. Epps -- and Horde Mode. As you may have guessed, Horde Mode pits players against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. I was told by Paramount that it becomes "damned near impossible" on the hard difficulty setting. Top Gun also features multiplayer for up to 16 players.

As for the story, I was assured that it captures the spirit of the film and has a few treats for fans. For example, Iceman and Maverick are forced to work together on some missions. Wikipedia says that these two are rivals, so I guess that must be awkward. Furthermore, Trophies serve as in-jokes. Oh, and yes, "Danger Zone" has been licensed for the soundtrack.

Top Gun is expected to hit PSN this summer. PC and Mac releases are also in the works.

The other Tom Cruise-inspired vehicle (geddit?) is Days of Thunder. Just as Top Gun is an arcade flight sim, Days of Thunder is an all out arcade racer. The version I saw was actually Days of Thunder: NASCAR Edition, which is exclusive to PSN. As the title implies, it's officially licensed by NASCAR, lending the game its branding as well as real-life NASCAR tracks. Meanwhile, the PC, Xbox 360 and Mac versions will have fictional tracks (Paramount told me to expect more twists and turns on these tracks, as compared to the traditional oval shape of NASCAR tracks).

Unlike Top Gun, I was actually able to play Days of Thunder, and the gameplay seems more or less the same as when we got our hands on it in February. You can draft behind cars in order to build up your Hammer meter, which lets you pull off a hefty speed boost. The game also features the Focus ability, which slows down time and helps you regain control or steer through a tightly packed group of competitors. When your car has had enough punishment, just pull into the pit, play a short quicktime event to refuel and repair, and then get back on the track.

Days of Thunder also has a simple upgrade system. Rather than simulation-level engine tweaks, you simply apply Performance Points to different areas, like speed, tires, fuel, etc. Don't worry about getting locked into a certain configuration either, as Peformance Points can be redistributed at any time.

It wasn't clear how much Days of Thunder actually ties in with the film (apart from all the racing, of course). I was told that it will include songs from the original soundtrack, though some of them will be new, re-recorded versions. Regardless of its inspiration, anyone looking for a solid arcade racer -- with 12-player multiplayer, no less -- might want to keep an eye on Days of Thunder. It's currently slated for a September release.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.