Ace Combat is back with a focus on cinematic engagements and a more real-world military scenario. The new dog fighting mode brings the action up close and personal in this fight for aerial supremacy.
- Looks good with excellent damage models
- Multiplayer is well done
- More cinematic nature might draw in new players
- Level pacing is problematic
- Gunship targeting is annoying
- Reliance on semi-track-based dog fighting mode is a bad move
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Review:
Namco Bandai must have decided their long-running Ace Combat series needed a thorough shake-up. Flight combat has always been niche genre, and the company is clearly trying to snag new players with a focus on faster-paced, close-range combat and a more cinematic look. Assault Horizon has a lot of interesting new elements, but not all these changes are actual improvements.
Ace Combat: the Next Generation
The first difference is the lack of any anime-styled, make-believe wars and countries. For Assault Horizon, the developer hired military-thriller author, Jim DeFelice, to write a gritty, modern day tale that takes place in real-world hotspots. This time around, a UN peacekeeping force has teamed up with the Russian military to root out rebels and mercenaries who have obtained weapons of mass destruction.
To say that Assault Horizon takes a few cues from Modern Warfare would be a vast understatement. The game is shamelessly trying to emulate the look, feel, and attitude of Activision’s insanely popular shooters, with decidedly mixed results. Ace Combat starts out with a massive aerial battle over San Francisco, before moving out to more exotic locations, and virtually every new gameplay element is meant to provide a more cinematic feel.
Fight Like a Dog
This is especially true of the new dog fighting mode. When an enemy craft is close enough, pressing the L2 and R2 shoulder buttons enters the close-range combat mode. It’s a strange addition to a game that always tried to maintain some semblance of being a simulation instead of a pure arcade shooter. The dog fight mode locks onto an opponent and automatically trails them—almost like a rail shooter. You still have minor control over flight, but the focus is on locking the enemy into the HUD’s aiming circle.
Stay like in dog fight mode too long and another plane will likely attain missile lock on your fighter. This opens up evasive maneuvers that require constant monitoring of those HUD circles for movement cures and leads to some snazzy-looking aerial maneuvers. The problem is that the dog fight mode is one-step from auto pilot and requires very little skill to take down enemies or evade. Ultimately, Ace Combat now feels dangerously close to being a glorified, if gorgeous next-gen version of Afterburner.
It’s also inconvenient to suddenly press the left and right shoulder buttons simultaneously in the middle of heated combat. On the plus side, this mode really shows off the level of detail in the fighter models and damage system. Ace Combat puts an incredible focus on making sure players can see every detail of destruction. These jets get ripped apart and blown into a symphony of shrapnel, and look great doing it.
Time for the Gun Show
In contrast, the ground textures are noticeably low-res at close range. In the Apache gunship levels, this lack of resolution is especially prominent, but the game is still good looking over all. The audio is surprisingly powerful as well, especially the frequent, house-shaking explosions.
Assault Horizon works as a cinematic shooter, but certainly at a cost. Fans of the old style of gameplay will find the dog fighting mode annoying—and the game almost forces you to use it for more advanced opponents—but might appreciate the addition of the gunship. There are rail-based helicopter side-gun missions, and even high-altitude targeting sequences ripped right from Call of Duty, but the Apache missions are the most interesting.
The gunships control well enough, but are pitifully delicate. Ducking behind buildings, skirting around rebels on burned-out city streets, and taking out other choppers is fun. Unfortunately, the auto-targeting system for the attack copters is just a mess. It’s hard to aim manually, and zooming in automatically activates the targeting system, which locks out movement controls and proves incredibly unreliable about actually targeting things.
Fly with Your Friends
Another major complaint with the single-player game is simply that the levels are too long. Air combat in general isn’t considered all that exciting for most gamers, but Assault Horizon tests your patience with levels that feel like endless dog fights with little variety. The AI for both opponents and allies is mostly bare bones, although some of the enemies can be slippery to lock onto. Allies seem to seldom bring down planes on their own, which is incredibly annoying when the skies are crowded with bad guys.
On the upside, the multiplayer is surprisingly interesting because of how badly Ace Combat wants to emulate Modern Warfare. The game’s take on capture the flag, king of the hill, and team deathmatching make up for a lot of the single-player flaws. Fighting with other humans makes the air combat feel far more intense and interesting, and adding team objectives to the mix amps up the entertainment value even more.
Straight Down the Middle
Ace Combat Assault Horizon is an example of a series overhauled too much. It’s understandable why the developers wanted to add some real-world grit to series and more casual players will likely find the faster-paced, close-range dog fighting more engaging. Fans of the series probably won’t be as amused. The multiplayer, however, goes a long way to evening out the overall package. So, while the game remains highly flawed, there’s enough action online and off to make it worth a look for an aerial combat fix.