I was pleasantly surprised at the 505 games meeting at E3. Even more surprising is this came from a licensed game. With few exceptions, it’s safe to say that licensed games are doomed to, for lack of a better word, suck. With Top Gun: Hard Lock, coming to the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC in spring 2012, that may not be the case.

Set 25 years after the events of the original Top Gun movie, the single player story takes you through 15 missions in a “modern day setting” that follows a new group of headstrong aviators fresh out of the Top Gun Academy. There are additional single player modes and 16-player multiplayer allowing you to take the dogfight to your friends online. At your disposal are 14 playable planes, featuring the beloved F-14 Tomcat of Top Gun lore. Customizable options range from the superficial (color schemes and decals) to the substantial (weapon presets and varied weapon load outs).

To its namesake, the Hard Lock mode is the main feature of the gameplay, and it looks fantastic. If you’ve played a modern day military shooter (if you haven’t played one, or even watched someone play one, you either live in a rock or a temporal vacuum), the mode is reminiscent of aiming down the sights, which limited your overall movement, but allowed you to aim more accurately. The same can be said for the Hard Lock mode in Top Gun: pinpointing bogies in this mode is so much easier, but at the cost of mobility, so balancing your time wisely between these two modes can be the difference between success and failure. Early on, targeting bogies outside of the hard lock mode is possible (though not advisable); however as the enemies progress through the game, your only way to drop them is in its Hard Lock mode.

Seeing the game in action was impressive. The shadows and dynamic lighting gave the game a realistic feel and the depth of field and the level of detail on the jets in Hard Lock mode looked gritty, visceral, and, in some ways, reminded me a little of Gears of War. From what I’ve seen, it looks like Top Gun may strike a balance between the simulation-like gameplay we’ve seen in the Ace Combat series and the arcade-like gameplay of games like Afterburner. On a side note, for those who are fans of the movie, you’ll be happy to know that the developers included the ability to do a fly-by, much like Maverick, eliciting a similar response from the air boss.

I still have fond memories of Top Gun and I never thought that I’d see another attempt at bringing this franchise to gamers, let alone one that looks so promising. The game still has plenty of time before it’s released so I’m hoping that 505 games continues to polish the game before it launches next spring.