The Ace Combat series from publisher Namco Bandai and developer Project Aces has been providing fighter jet action for almost twenty years. Assault Horizon Legacy is the latest iteration of the series and the first to be released for the Nintendo 3DS, the series having skipped the Nintendo DS entirely. Instead of the typical "ripped from the headlines" storyline, the game takes place in an Earth-like world dubbed "Strangereal" by Namco.
I have always been more of a space shooter fan myself. I started out with Star Raiders on the Atari 2600, moved on to the Wing Commander series on the PC and now enjoy Starfox on Nintendo's systems. Assault Horizon promises "precision touch screen targeting," "new attack and evasive maneuver controls," and "fleets of real-world aircraft." Having never played an Ace Combat game before, I was looking forward to this one. So is Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy a top gun, or is it left swabbing the carrier deck?
Polished - Considering how some devs have been "phoning it in" with blah 3DS titles like Bust-A-Move Universe and Driver: Renegade, I was also a little nervous about this game. I am glad to report that Namco Bandai and Project Aces put some effort into this game and it shows. The game looks and sounds great; the orchestral score, sound effects, voice acting and even the 3D combine to make Assault Horizon very a immersive game to play.
Barrel Rolling - To keep things from getting too frustrating, Ace Combat streamlines some of the dogfighting. As you stay within a certain distance of the currently locked-on enemy aircraft, a meter starts to fill and once it reaches the half-way point, you can press Y to do a pretty slick looking attack maneuver that puts the enemy in your sights. It isn’t a guaranteed kill, especailly in the harder levels, and staying close enough to your target to fill the meter is a challenge in itself.
Real Jets - Despite not taking place in The Real World, the game features real-world aircraft that are purchased with credits that the player earns as missions are completed. There are a wide variety of planes to choose from, though the selection will be limited at first. You may also have to replay quite a few missions to earn enough credits to get some of them, too.
Living in an Immaterial World - As mentioned previously, Assault Horizon Legacy takes place in the fictional world of “Strangereal.” The world of Strangereal is vastly different from our Earth (or Earth-Prime if you prefer). The planet itself consists of different landmasses populated by differently named peoples in differently-named countries. The juxtaposition of real-life jets and weapons into this completely fictional world just didn’t work for me.
Touchscreen Controls Crash and Burn - The 3DS’ touchscreen can be used to lock onto enemies and launch missles, which sounds like a good idea. In practice, it does not work because you still have to use the face buttons to change weapon types, execute evasive and attack maneuvers, not to mention accelerate. Going back and forth between the touch screen and buttons is confusing, and I occasionally lost the 3D effect as I went from one to the other. Frankly, I would not bother with the touchscreen at all, the Circle Pad and buttons worked just fine.
Unlock, Rinse, Repeat - While there are plenty of goodies to unlock as you play Assault Horizon Legacy, earning them is a pretty drawn out process. They are slowly unlocked as you play, with better performances making more planes, weapons and upgrade items available. After you unlock an item, you have to purchase it, which makes the process take longer. While you do have one pool of credits that accumulate with each completed mission regardless of mode, the game can quickly become a grind for those “play to 100%” gamers out there.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy is a polished, enjoyable air shooter that will have you humming "Danger Zone" as you turn and burn through its missions. While it was hard for me to care about the goings-on in the world of ‘Strangereal,’ I was having too much fun to care. My initial playthrough of the Story Mode on Normal difficulty clocked in at just over four hours. The challenge modes and unlockables do add some depth to the game, but the sheer number of unlockables and the amount of effort needed in order to get all of them is a bit much. While I found the touchscreen controls to be worthless, the default configuration works just fine. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy for the 3DS will provide hours of exciting aerial action for veterans and rookie pilots alike.