GAME NAME: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
DEVELOPER(S): Project Aces
PLATFORM(S): PS3, Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): October 14, 2011
When a game is built on a series, there’s only one way to go: higher, faster, more. In this context, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, an action flight simulator, the first two points are almost automatically done. The question is just how much “more” producer Kazutoki Kono and his team have managed to pour into the game.
As early as the first real scene in the East African desert, it is clear that this is not a flight simulator, but an action game with aircraft. Many of the missions start directly in the air. There are three perspectives to choose from and a lot of enemies to shoot down. But no hitting each other from afar, not even with radar-seeking air-to-air missiles. One should attack in melee, from quite a close range. When you are close enough, a small circle pops up around the enemy, and with a touch of both shoulder buttons you can start Dogfight mode. Once you are locked onto the enemy, it is easier to stick close to him. Only through breakneck manoeuvres, does he have a chance to shake you off and avoid being killed.
In some places the game even goes a step further when the Close-Range Assault system starts up. This deprives the player of the active control and control of the aircraft will be fully automated for a few moments. You just concentrate on shooting, both with machine guns and the homing missiles. In these sequences we rush through narrow gorges and valleys. The missiles are flying right and left, concrete and rocks crumbling, and the aircraft almost touches trees and rooftops. The cannon balls rattle while holes are beaten in walls and wings on this quite desperate flight ahead of us. One last missile transforms the enemy into a spectacular fireball, while our F16 Fighting Falcon rushes towards the sky. Time for a deep breath.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon looks and feels like heaven. The controls are quite easy, while planes impress with their lifelike movements, and many details without too much skill from the player. Heat waves from jet engines make everything look great. When an aircraft rolls to shake pursuers by itself or chases opponents, the illusion is completely convincing. The excellent sound design also makes this game unreal; the sound of the air war has hit a grand scale. In addition, it has great motion blur and the angular zoom effects that perfectly set the mood. The entire game feels incredibly vivid and overwhelming, and its damn well made, the aircraft are extremely detailed, and the entire colour palette is used in ways that are never boring.
There are some visual limitations which become especially evident in the Dubai court. When you sit in the candelabra Eurofighter high above the city, everything looks fine, but if you look at the details, it soon becomes clear that the city resembles a projected version of Google Maps. There are countless satellite images of the surroundings, and they usually work, but in the Dubai court it seems enormous, monotonous and boring, and even if the real Dubai is stalled and is empty in many places, it seems even more pronounced in the game.
Destructible environments are just embedded in scripted sequences. Outside the cities, we do not have the same playground of destruction, this is evident in the Battlefield offering, and neither the 888 meter high Burj ‘al Kalifa or Burj’ al Arab capsize or fall when struck. The same obviously applies to the civilian aircraft that one sometimes encounters among the clouds.
Then there is the Airstrike mode. AWACS radar plane sends a route that you can choose to follow, but there is no coercion. When you reach the Launchpad for this route, the game switches to a kind of outside-controlled rail mode where you can fly low over the ground and only have to concentrate on shooting. Particularly good players are rewarded with small victories between sequences from the Direct Impact camera. It’s a little static, but the presentation works and it never gets boring. ”A faster gameplay with more feedback,” Kono has called it. Airstrike mode is similar to how Hawx 2 worked, but better choreographed and therefore more intense.
Ace Combat not only features jets from different eras, but also allows you to fly helicopters for the first time in the series. They come in two versions: One where you control and shoot and another where you just shoot the 25mm machine gun. You have your gun, rockets, and you can now also throw bombs. The gameplay is significantly slower in the helicopters, but no less intense for that reason. Dust swirls in the air when the bullets from your 25mm cannon hit the ground. Enemy tanks explode and helicopters get ripped to shreds when the rockets from your AH-64D Apache Longbow hit them exactly. There are many effects, and sometimes a little too much show about it – especially in scripted sequences when you only control the cannon. But usually it is beautifully set up.
And then there’s the famous AC-130U Spooky. In Mogadishu, you must protect a settlement. As always, it is awkward and impersonal when you shoot from the flying fortress. It is not greatly challenging, but it fits to the campaign’s concept of letting one try as many different aircraft types as possible. Later there is a twist in the story when the air battles are not only, at times, a trifle long, but they become quite intensive and stressful. If you fail to shake the pursuer, you must suffer the process again to reach the checkpoint which means that you often have to replay the same long sequence again and again.
But Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is more than just the campaign. Close-Range Assault systems, including Dogfight and Airstrike mode are also available in multiplayer. Skill-set ensures fair duels as they can enhance the individuals jet performances. It is balanced so that when one reaches a certain level, these skill sets will no longer improve your abilities. There are four typical types of games: Conquest Capital, where each team must destroy the Servizi Headquarters, Domination, Deathmatch and co-op missions. The last one is especially good in the helicopter. But in the long run, we prefer the campaign.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon starts with a long cinematic intro, leading to a short training mission. Then it jumps straight to the generic story, according to a formula we know from other action games, complete with changing main characters. The planes and the action are the elements that count. Whether you fly a Mirage 2000-5 or a MiG-21, it is in the air that the game shines. In brief, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is an intense, fast, beautiful and well-made action game.