---Multiplayer Review. TL;DR - if you played campaign and hated it, try Multiplayer before returning/trading/selling it.
After having finished the singleplayer campaign, I decided to go straight into Multiplayer. WOW! Now, this is Ace Combat!
There are four different modes. I went for Capital Capture (first option). In this mode, you are split into two teams of 8. Your ultimate goal is to destroy the enemy's HQ before yours is destroyed. To do so, you need to destroy ground targets, and there are typically neutral bases to capture that you can spawn off of. You can choose the aircraft you fly - Fighter, Multirole, Attacker, Helicopter. Fighters are somewhat useful since they gain air superiority, but too many and your team lacks offensive capabilities.
You can initiate DFM and chase down opponents just like normal mode. However, the people you play against are so much better than any AI - in the story mode, especially on Elite difficulty, it seemed like aircraft were UFOs - they could zoom all over the place at a whim. Not so much in multiplayer. There is a negative - a couple of times, I was dragged into the ground while in DFM. Whether that was intentional or not by the enemy pilot, I do not know. It was hella annoying, though!
You have "skills" that you can unlock, which are like perks for CoD. You can equip up to 8 skills at a time. You can unlock skills by earning points - either playing online multiplayer, co-op, or free missions. You unlock points faster by playing multiplayer. The top slot skill can apply to all members of your squad, which makes for some nice combos.
You can fight in the same maps as singleplayer - Moscow (chopper only and really fun), Miami, Dubai, Washington, Paris. It gives a great feel to the game, though I did get shot down once while I was appreciating the beauty of Paris from the sky, having visited that city just a few months ago.
What makes the game so fun is the interaction with others, though. For example, one guy was flying the Mig-21 Fishbed. Yeah that's right - one of the biggest pieces of crap in the game. DFM makes it competitive, though, since it can keep up with some of the faster and more maneuverable craft. I find it actually gives Mig-21 an edge, since if the pilot counters your DFM, you are suddenly plodding along at super slow speeds. Easy pickings.
Last night, we got pissed at this guy in an F-22 who kept killing all of us. When the match ended, I called him out in typical Ace Combat fashion. "Go dance with the angels!" The whole lobby erupted with laughter. On another occasion, someone was BLASTING Ace Combat 5 music into the microphone. I didn't care though because I felt so epic playing with the operatic music in the background (it was the final mission BGM).
The only negative I have found is more with the interface than anything else. First, there's no way to compare your results with everyone else. No idea about kills, points, etc. I guess it's good for the people who fly and die, but I'd like to know how I did compared to others. Also, you do have access to a breakdown of your points, as well as # of kills, but once you move on to the game lobby, that screen goes away and there is no way to bring it back. One thing I do really like about it though is there are 4 different "ace" slots where people are recognized. One is for most kills, I think another is for point leader, a third is for going the longest without being shot down. I don't remember the last, as most of the games I was either top kills or longest alive.
I had such a blast playing this game. Suddenly it's worth more than just $20. Worth $60? Not sure, but now I feel $50 does it justice. I had so much fun that I started spam inviting people on my friends list. None of them have the game, but I wanted them to know how awesome it was. Sorry, PJ, but I targeted you early on since I saw your interest in here.
For those on the fence, rent it and ignore the campaign. Go into multiplayer. Hell, I'm not even sure if I care about BF3 as much now since I had so much fun last night. Twists, turns, and all the excitement that comes with it fills the gap between the BF3 beta and release quite nicely. And there's nothing like dropping a nuke on the Eiffel Tower at the end of a round, so EVERYONE sees it at the end