2nd November 2011 - Ace Combat, previously known as Air Combat, is one of the most prolific flight series in gaming, with 12 instalments donning the name. Always keeping up with the latest trends and technicalities, Ace Combat games are the essentially the benchmark for action/slight-sim games. But with more and more new dogfighting action games hitting the market, the series needs to venture to new heights to keep up with the crowd. Does Assault Horizon stand proud with the industries other big hitters in the genre, or is this long-running series starting to show its age?
Ace Combat games have always been about the planes. They touch on other gameplay elements, but it’s the fast and very furious plane combat that steals the show. Such a trend continues with Assault Horizon. Gameplay features use of the likes of jet fighters, bombers, helicopters and more. But it’s the jet fighters that bring the smackdown.
The story here is underwhelming and totally clichéd. Despite having a seasoned author in the form of Jim DeFelice helming the script, Assault Horizon fails to spark any real interest, and plays out more like a bad Hollywood film than a genuinely well thought war story. But the over-dramatization of possible events and international relationships as the Russians betray the alliance of the US is the kind of thing expected in an Ace Combat game.
The campaign puts you in the seats of the world’s best military flying machines, with some extreme firepower at your fingertips that feels great to utilise. The controls are solid, and fit in perfectly with the combat, which is usually a flight sims’ biggest design issue. Thankfully, Assault Horizon keeps the mission pacing wonderfully in tune with the way the game plays and feels, but like I said, it’s the jets that steal the show – and only the jets. The helicopter missions are under polished and feel more like a chore than an actual enjoyable gameplay mechanic. Even less can be said about the missions in which you don the likes of an AC-130. Despite every second game since Modern Warfare featuring one of these bad boys, Assault Horizons feature of one is bland, boring and for lack of more appropriate words; utter crap. To put it simply, everything but flying the fighter jets in Assault Horizon just doesn’t feel right, or at home in an Ace Combat game if it hopes to compete with the likes of HAWX.
The best new feature is the inclusion of the DFM, or Dogfight Mode. This allows you to lock your plane onto enemies’, and from the camera position to the speed, allows for some of the most enjoyable and intense jet fighting moments in any flight sim game on the market. This really sells the gameplay side of things and ties together all the game does well; fast flying, loads of firepower and pure, unadulterated action. Enemies can lock onto you too, which when in the heat of the larger battles, can make some truly memorable moments and will have you on the edge of your seat. This is the stuff the game should have focused on, and maybe if the missions didn’t stretch past half an hour each as the game gets on, causing some deep feelings of repetition, could have really saved the title.
What I was most surprised of however, is the multiplayer. Where I thought it was going to be a tacked on, run of the mill online mode, its actually delivered quite well. With 4 standard modes, the likes of which you find in nearly every online enabled game, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon manages to keep it fresh with its tight controls and intense dogfights. It takes a lot of skill to overcome the competition when bullets and metal start flying, but its extremely satisfying when you get on a good streak or pull off some awesome evasive manoeuvres.
The tagline – Make Metal Bleed – not only sounds cool, but defines some of the best visual moments in Assault Horizon. Particularly when in DFM, the way planes take hits, fire missiles and generally look as they fly around the airspace blowing one another to hell, looks brilliant. And with the help of some gritty camera effects and great jet models, the dogfights are spectacular in every sense. Speaking of which, while the jet models are spot on, highly detailed and varied, and everything looks as good as chips and gravy from the airspace, what happens when during the low-flying missions like the helicopters have, and the effects during the AC-130 playtime? Someone stomps on those chips and gravy. It’s a sloppy mess, with bland environmental details bar a few key buildings and targets, and completely takes away from one of the key points of enjoyment from playing as the jet fighters; the style. Again, it strengthens my feelings towards the non-jet missions, and really does the game no justice that some more varying dogfight missions couldn’t have brought to the table.
With a mediocre script, comes mediocre voice actors. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s nothing to write home about either. Assault Horizons voice workers sound like they came right out of the box, with good quality sound and clear voices and accents, but no real emotion. That said, it may just come down to the basic writing present in the game, but either way you look at it, you certainly won’t remember them in the morning.
Musically though, Ace Combat: Assault Horizons ticks every box. The orchestral score brings some real value to the combat and scenery during gameplay. Definitely one thing Namco have done right here. Another are the effects; meaty missile launches, bullet impacts and especially explosions means the intense look and feel of the dogfights and combat is held in even higher regard and made even more memorable.
Even with the filler missions where you take control of some less-than-impressive gameplay mechanics in the driver and passenger seats of helicopters and the like, the campaign is only short to average in length, being able to be beating easily in 6 -8 hours, depending on difficulty and skill. But with a decent multiplayer mode sure to being some hours into the mix if you have a friend of 2 to take to the skies with, and the quality of some of the better single-player missions and aspects, Assault Horizons is in no way a bad investment if you’re into flight sims and hardcore action titles.
There is a lot to love and a lot to hate about the latest in the long line of Ace Combat titles. There could have been a lot more polish to some of the games aspects, but the core experience is a ton of fun, and any plane enthusiast or lover of all things speed and explosion is likely to love what they find in the majority of the single player campaign and the multiplayer modes. It’s sad that Namco included some less than spectacular moments and mission in what could have been a contender for the best action/flight-sim on the market if executed as well as the likes of DFM and the sound effects were.
+ Dogfight Mode (DFM) is brilliant
+ Combat looks, feels and sounds superb
+ Surprisingly decent Multiplayer
- Bland, clichéd storyline
- Lack of polish in non-jet aspects
- Campaign much to short and repetitive
Reviewed and Written By John Elliott