Iron Eagle, and Falcon, and Tomcat, and Raptor…Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Review
Namco Bandai’s jet fighter piloting Ace Combat series is a storied one. With a history spanning nearly a decade, with over a dozen titles, on almost every gaming system known to modern gaming. Assault Horizon has the distinction of being the first of the series to be released on multiple consoles (Playstation 3 and Xbox 360). Also of note, except for this title and Ace Combat: Joint Assault (PSP), every other game in the Ace Combat series has taken place in a completely fictional universe with over the top final boss weapons that would seem more at home in a JRPG than occupying a game that otherwise uses real current technology.
The storyline of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is typical of recent military games. Complete with the good guys getting stabbed in the back by a former ally, weapons of mass destruction, and said weapons being threatened against various cities around the world. I’ve heard it said that some people have had trouble following the story arc of this game. I guess I can credit growing up with cinema like Top Gun, Iron Eagle, and Fire Birds (Top Gun with Apache attack helicopters) giving me the ability to follow along with the sometimes convoluted action. The game mixes the typical jet combat missions with a few excursions in and Apache helicopter, as a door gunner in a Blackhawk helicopter, and of course the ubiquitous stint in an AC-130 Specter gunship.
Assault Horizon is a flight simulator in the same way that The Sims is a life simulator. Sure you go through the basic motions, but everything is greatly simplified. It’s more accurate to call Assault Horizon a flight based arcade action game. You are able to pilot many of the deadliest aircraft fielded by the air forces of the world, complete with a nearly unlimited supply of missiles and guns. You often also get the option of equipping your aircraft with a more finite supply of a secondary weapon that offers such benefits as being able to “lock on” to multiple targets or missiles that have a greater chance of hitting your intended target than do the standard missiles.
Combat takes a bit of getting used to, the controls are not what I would call intuitive. This problem is compounded by the fact that every time you break from the usual jet fighter missions to play with the helicopters or Specter gunship the control scheme changes significantly, causing you to have to reacquaint yourself with which controls are needed for whatever vehicle you are occupying. Once you have caught on though, the flow of the game is pretty smooth making switching targets, attempting to lock on and fire your weapons becomes a deadly ballet in the skies.
This dance is made more intense by a new feature to the Ace Combat series called Dogfight Mode (DFM) which you are allowed to activate when you have been able to maneuver onto your opponent’s “six.” Once you enter DFM, the camera pulls in tighter to the rear of the aircraft and the flight controls are largely taken over by the computer allowing you to focus on keeping the enemy in your sights and engaging him with your weapons. The enemies are able to engage you with a similar vigor that you are able to counter with a classic, “I’ll hit the brakes and he’ll fly right by” maneuver putting you in DFM on his tail. This is a very cinematic mode that I feel heightens the excitement of the combat.
One area that I believed could use some work was in the performance of the jets themselves. I couldn’t perceive the difference in performance between a super high tech F-22 Raptor or an older, slower A-10 Thunderbolt II. I would have liked to have been able to “feel” a real difference between each of the different planes. Other than the graphical representation of each aircraft, I couldn’t tell one from the other in the way that each handled.
Graphically, the game is strong as well. The cut scenes I feel were well done, and in game graphics were good as well. Each aircraft is faithfully reproduced and you are even able to unlock new paint schemes to personalize each aircraft. I played the entirety of the jet fighter missions in third person, behind the plane view so that I could admire the wonderfully rendered aircraft models. The skies and ground at high altitude give you a good sense of the beauty of floating miles above the earth. The terrain and ground objects were not quite as detailed at lower altitudes, but when you are a snot-nosed jockey buzzing the tower at over 400 knots, you don’t have time to admire the scenery.
Aside from my issues with the switching of the control schemes, and the fact that I couldn’t tell the difference between the performances of any of the planes, I fully enjoyed my time flying the not so friendly skies of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. The game also features online multiplayer and co-op component that I have yet to try out, but I imagine that they are quite similar to the single player campaign in mechanics and gameplay. Just with other people involved. At the end of the day, I recommend this game to anybody who has fond memories of watching all the military aviation action films of the 80’s and 90’s, or anybody who just thinks it would be fun to put yourself in the cockpit of some of the deadliest aircraft around.
Score = (850 nearly infinite missiles out of 1000). 85%
Troy “NMReign” Starrett