After Burner Climax isn't a love it or hate it proposition. The real question is whether or not it offers a new enough experience to be worth your time. I do think After Burner Climax justifies its price, but whether not you'll agree with me is more subjective than with other titles. Those that enjoyed the arcade original will love the improved graphics and similar game play. Others may find the game play too simple, and the quick barrel rolls and other motions disorienting.
After Burner Climax makes no apologies about being an updated classic. Not only does it play almost exactly like the arcade original, it even includes After Burner II's music. Climax differentiates itself from the original game by adding additional modes and scoreboards, and significantly updating the graphics. In my opinion, After Burner Climax adds just enough to the classic formula to justify the price tag.
After Burner Climax adds a completely 3D graphics engine, but retains the speed of After Burner II, unlike its earlier cousin G Loc. While there have been a few similar After Burner titles (the PSP game comes to mind), the graphics of the latest title really take advantage of the "next gen" abilities of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The missile smoke trails and explosions of enemy planes are especially good looking.
The arcade classic After Burner II had music that really evoked a Top Gun feeling. It really matched the play style of the arcade cabinet, and has always been a big source of enjoyment for me. Being a big After Burner II fan, I can't help but think of the pounding, staccato tunes of the arcade whenever I think of the series. It was absolutely the correct decision for Sega to include the music from After Burner II; without it, the game loses a considerable amount of its nostalgic feel for me.
Unfortunately, I have a rather large issue with the new music in After Burner Climax. It feels like the music would be much more at home in a space shooter than a jet fighter game. Frankly, the instrumentation seems wrong as well. It's more like a synthesizer than a rock track. Something about it just doesn't fit. Personally, I like the music from After Burner II better, so I just stick with that.
After Burner Climax is very talkative. In addition to the "Fire!" that you'd expect to hear, the announcer and a separate lady are saying one liners almost constantly. Sometimes this is helpful, like when an enemy is coming up behind you, and sometimes it's just noise. It fits the game, and does give you the sense that you're being pushed on.
After Burner has always had a very simple formula. If you're not familiar with After Burner, perhaps you've played Space Harrier - they're essentially the same game, but if you ask me there's more finesse and panache in the After Burner series. You fly straight into wave after wave of enemy planes, and you need to tag and shoot them as quickly as possible. You might as well be flying through a tube, because while you have incredible control over your plane, you don't set its direction, like you would in a game like Ace Combat. A quick flick of the joystick can get you out of a hairy situation by performing a barrel roll, and believe me you'll be doing that a lot given all of the enemy fire you'll be taking.
Climax's largest failing is that it's too short. Even with the EX mode, which extends the life of the game by encouraging replay, you'll probably power through most of the game within a few short hours; by that, I mean that you will have played through the arcade mode several times and unlocked everything the game offers in a couple of sessions. EX mode offers additional options for the arcade mode which are unlocked as you play. Most of these options make the arcade mode easier, from widening your crosshairs to holding down the cannon button for you. I really did enjoy everything that EX mode brought to the table, but honestly, it basically adds a "win button." There's also a survival mode, this does a great job of bringing home the arcade feel, it feels like those times where I had just one quarter left and After Burner was calling my name. The leaderboards for this mode really evoke respect. There are already some impossibly high scores on that board, and the leaderboards really do push you to play "just one more time."
Each mode in After Burner Climax takes you through the same series of maps. While there are "branching paths", the branches collapse after one level. In other words, the illusion of choice boils down to level swaps mid-game, like which end level you want. It's hardly worth mentioning that the game ever gives you a choice. That said, the level design can be quite challenging. Navigating a tight valley in pursuit of an enemy, or shooting your way through a series of needlessly complex tunnels gets the adrenalin pumping, and ensures that players look ahead rather than simply dodging a few missiles.
Despite the (sometimes glaring) flaws mentioned above, After Burner Climax is more than the sum of its parts. It's a very fun, very fast shooter with a lot to love. There aren't many play experiences like the After Burner series any more, and I'm happy to see the return of a game that I enjoyed so much growing up. If you're looking for an experience that grips you instantly, and a play style you'll quickly familiarize yourself with, check out After Burner Climax. Without a doubt, After Burner Climax was worth the wait and the money for the two versions I've played (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360).