Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Review (Xbox360)

The Ace Combat games have always fallen on the arcade side of the air combat genre concentrating on fun rather than authentic simulation. At the same time, realism has always played a big role in the experience what with the immaculately recreated licensed aircraft and the fairly faithful presentation of dogfighting.

In a move that’s bound to divide series fans, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon takes the arcade element to the extreme providing a flashier and somewhat easier experience.

The new Close Range Assault sequences always looks spectacular but might irk fans of the more realistic aspects of the series

The apparent impetus for this new direction was to bring the action closer to the player with less emphasis on what producer and executive director Kazutoki Kono described as “shooting at dots”.

The main way Assault Horizon achieves this is through the new Close Range Assault modes. When the dogfighting version of it (known as Dogfight Mode or DFM) is activated game play shifts to a tight over the wing view as you chase your target, placing flight control largely in the computer’s hands as you concentrate fire via your reticule.

Enemies can engage you in this manner too. From here you can try to shake them off in the traditional fashion or brake and pull off a special countermove that will place you behind them. These DFM exclusive moves do seem a bit too easy to pull off, turning the tables in an instant and putting you in position to deal a critical blow to your enemy.

DFM, while thrilling and fun the first few times you do it, is really more style than substance. Dogfights may be a lot more glossy and cinematic, but it also serves to draw out battles even longer. Moment to moment game play has been tweaked to encourage DFM engagements as enemies are significantly more difficult to down by conventional means.

If you’re a fan of the traditional Ace Combat experience you’ll be disappointed to hear that there’s no way to avoid using CRA. Not only do both of its forms (more on the other one later) give you a valuable leg up by decreasing missile reload times and increasing damage dealt, but certain enemies can only be destroyed during CRM sequences. Worst still is that many of these sections in the campaign are obviously scripted with the enemy invulnerable to your attacks until after a certain time.

There’s also the Airstrike Mode version of CRA which you’ll use a lot less frequently. This one mainly provides a convenient view from the underside of your aircraft to help out with air to ground strafing runs. While much less flashy it’s actually far more useful than DFM.

The game’s helicopter missions are a first for the series but as such aren’t as polished as the dogfighting

While I learnt to get along with the Close Range Assault systems I suspect many fans won’t take too kindly to it. With Assault Horizon’s addition of regenerating health you could argue that Namco have deemphasised skill and realism a tad too much.

It’s not just the CRA systems that have been added to the mix. Completely new for the series are the attack helicopters like the Apache Longbow, which you can fly during certain air to ground missions.

While these look and play well for the most part they don’t have the same amount of polish as the aircraft dogfights. My main problem is that I could never find a satisfactory camera view with the controls handling a little differently depending on which you’re currently using. The cockpit view is good for precision targeting but sluggish for moving your chopper. The default third person angle has more responsive movement but your view is often blocked by your vehicle.

More variety comes in the form of mounted turret sections from the door of a BlackHawk helicopter and the inevitable AC-130 gunship segment. While you’ll be doing these only once or twice each throughout the whole campaign they do help punctuation the action.

The story is not something people tend to care about when it comes to the Ace Combat games but it’s a significant improvement over Ace Combat 6’s strange narrative, which was half told from the perspective of a pilot’s wife. In keeping with the flashier direction of the game the presentation is pretty strong. Particularly effective is its use of 3D character models in cutscenes both inside and outside the cockpit, especially compared to the last game where you never really saw you and your wingmen.

For as many additions as Assault Horizon introduces, it definitely maintains that Ace Combat flavour. The emphasis remains on the exciting high-flying air combat that fans have come to expect, albeit it tweaked to emphasis the CRA systems. Level design remains surprisingly varied with your progress propelled by a rousing soundtrack and top notch graphics and sound.

The occasional on-rails shooting sequences round out the main campaign

At the time of writing it hasn’t been possible to play the multiplayer in any meaningful way as there simply aren’t enough players online before the game’s launch. If Assault Horizon maintains the pedigree of its predecessor in this aspect it’ll probably be good solid fun. Check back soon for an updated version of the review.

Assault Horizon is likely to be divisive among series fans. But whatever your opinion on its new direction it’s unreasonable to call it a bad game. In fact it’s still quite the opposite. What it loses in realism it makes up for with variety and a strong presentation.

Best Game Moment: It’s impossible to pin it down to just one. The game is just a constant stream of pulse pounding moments.

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By Thibby (SI Core Veteran) on Oct 11, 2011
Hmm, a bit dissapointing.