You would be hard pressed to find many Playstation-era franchises that have been around as long as Ace Combat has. Namco and Project Aces have been releasing games in the venerable jet fighter series fairly regularly since Air Combat first hit arcades in 1992 and then the Playstation in 1995.
Ace Combat Assault Horizon is the first multi-platform release for the series, as well as the first recent console entry to take place in the real world, bypassing the fictional "Strangereal" continuity used in previous AC games. In an effort to bring in new players, new “Close Range Assault” game mechanics have been added to the gameplay.
Does Assault Horizon fire up the afterburners, or does it stall out?
SPLASH ONE BOGEY
20 Minutes Into the Future – Assault Horizon drops the “Strangereal” world used as the setting in previous AC games in favor of the real world. Ace Combat’s story (penned by military author Jim DeFelice) follows members of the 108th Task Force, a U.N. military force initially tasked with stopping a rebel group in Africa. The story does a good job of pushing the action along and the ‘real world’ setting makes it more engaging than anything that ever happened in Strangereal.
Looking Good – Ace Combat does an excellent job of presenting the player with a virtual world that isn’t too far removed from the one we live in. Graphics are sharp, and the human characters manage to (mostly) stay out of the uncanny valley.
Under Control – Two control schemes are available in Assault Horizon. The default scheme is for novices; turning the L stick left and right will make the jet turn. A more true-to-life option is also available where moving the stick to the left or right will actually roll the jet. The novice option actually works fairly well for playing through the Story mode, at least.
Up Close and Personal – The gameplay in aerial combat games featuring fighter jets are sometimes described as “fire at the dots.” Ace Combat gets around this with two new “Close-Range Assault” gameplay mechanics. Enemy aces will dodge most missles fired at them, so the player must get close enough to them to get into “DogFight Mode” by pressing the LB and RB buttons. In DogFight mode, the player can move the targeting reticule, fire guns and missiles and even adjust air speed but the aircraft flies on its own, making for dramatic moments as you try to get a lock onto an enemy while flying through canyons and around buildings. In “Air Strike Mode” you fly to a waypoint, lock onto it, and again press the LB and RB buttons. The game effectively turns into a rail shooter at that point as you use your machine guns and missiles to take out large groups of ground targets.
More Than Just Jets –Assault Horizon adds assault helicopter and bomber missions to Ace Combat for the first time. There are rail shooter sections where you take the role of a Black Hawk door gunner and missions where you pilot an Apache Longbow and support ground troops. Bomber missions have the player going on bombing runs and there is even a mission where you take the role of an AC-130U gunner. In addition to making the gameplay more diverse, the new vehicles were just as fun to play as the fighter jet sections. Missions can include multiple craft and can be quite long.
We Are Go for Online Takeoff – Ace Combat Assault Horizon features several online gameplay modes such as Deathmatch, Co-Op, and even team-based modes for players looking for real-life aces to play against.
Dramatic Closeup is Dramatic…and Annoying – On occasion, the game will zoom in for a few seconds to let you revel in the destruction of a target. It was pretty neat to see it the first few times, but as missions grew more difficult and hectic, I found those moments, however brief, to be annoying because they interrupted the gameplay. I was more anxious to get to my next target instead of watching a plane or tank blow up for the umpteenth time.
Because MOAR! – This is admittedly being nitpicky, but I was hoping for some challenge missions after having played Challenge Mode in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy for the Nintendo 3DS. Sadly, they are not to be found.
Ace Combat Assault Horizon introduces new gameplay mechanics, vehicles and mission types to the venerable series, successfully adding depth and variety. The new mechanics force the player to get up close and personal with enemies as opposed to the ‘fire and forget’ gameplay veterans may be accustomed to. The new vehicles and mission types are as enjoyable to play and as well executed as the rest of the game, and having the game take place in the real world makes the game’s story easier to relate to and get immersed in. While I don’t know how fans of the series will react to this game, I can say that Project Aces have successfully taken a bold step forward for the series.
*This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game with a review copy provided by the publisher.*