Anthony Capone
15 Oct, 2011

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Review

360 Review | Top gun.
The Ace Combat series, from developers Project Aces, has been at the pinnacle of aerial combat games on consoles for over ten years. The latest title in the franchise, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, does away the fictional setting and Eastern deign template in favour of a real-world narrative and gameplay billed as ‘Call of Duty in the air’. The result is a game that feels markedly different, but still nails the compelling air combat for which the series is known and loved.

Gone is the fictional setting and stylised melodrama of previous Ace Combat scripts. The writing no longer resembles anime, but instead replicates modern games with a contemporary plot buffed with political and military overtones. It is a deliberate attempt to update a stagnant game – and a strikingly Eastern series – for the current generation of gamers. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon has you tracking down a superweapon in the enemy’s possession, globetrotting to real-world locations such as Dubai and Miami. A script penned by military author Jim DeFelice mirrors a Tom Clancy novel, with plot twists coming at every turn.

Unlike the detached style of preview iterations, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon flows far smoother, with missions linked by cut-scenes that suitably advance the story. Cut-scenes occasionally give you a limited ability to look around and observe your surroundings. It isn't really a noteworthy feature, but it helps immerse the player and lends an immediacy that is missing in other Ace Combat games. The story unwinds at a thrilling pace, and character motivations are revealed appropriately. Overall, the script provides a great context for the mission layout, with believable voice-overs helping define the characters.

Make metal bleed.

Make metal bleed.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is still about air combat and over-the-top action, and while the latest game is more accessible than ever, Project Aces’ ability to exemplify the thrill of piloting a fighter jet remains unsurpassed. Engaging enemy aircraft and manoeuvring your fighter feels the same as previous games, giving you an adrenaline rush and gaming fingers an intense workout. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is far more than a ‘Call of Duty in the air’, with new flight mechanics and a contemporary setting elevating the title to the next level.

Ace Combat continues to fly the line between flight simulator and arcade game. There’s enough substance to make you believe that you're piloting an aircraft, but at the same time, it isn’t so advanced that you need an instruction bible. You can manoeuvre your plane and change speed without fear of hitting the ground or dying from crashing into the environment. It is possible to stall your fighter, and the game occasionally has some difficulty levelling your plane, but these hassles are kept at a minimum with practice. The default controller layout further refines the novice-type setup of previous Ace Combat games, with the left stick used for controlling pitch and yaw. The developers have achieved simplicity while giving players a robust and precise system for flying aircraft (also possibly creating the best controls used in flying games on consoles yet). A more advanced control scheme is still available for hardcore players.

A significant new feature, Dog Fight Mode, or ‘DFM’, adds another layer to the traditional missile spamming, by emphasising the immediacy of air combat with up-close dogfights. When an enemy fighter is within adequate range, a reticule around their plane prompts players to initiate DFM. By pressing both bumpers at the same time, the camera zooms in on a close view of the enemy. For the duration of the DFM, the player’s plane is seemingly tethered to the enemy. With the nose of your craft barely meters away from the target plane’s engines, you can easily fire away with machine guns and missiles.

DFM brings the fight up close.

DFM brings the fight up close.
The DFM mechanic almost seems on rails, but its sense of immediacy means you always feel in control. Moreover, unless you maintain a tight aim over enemy and right speed, DFM can be lost in an instant. During these close-up moments, players are treated to spectacular and very intimate views of the action as their fighters speed between buildings and other obstacles. These amazing manoeuvres feel scripted, but given their intensity and that they can be initiated on the fly, you’ll be too immersed in the action to really care. Some might write off DFM as a gimmick, but it is absolutely necessary to overcoming more difficult enemies. In addition to the satisfaction of successfully destroying an enemy in DFM, the developers have injected a fantastic sense of urgency to the Ace Combat series.

Not only can players initiate DFM on their own, but enemy planes can also lock you in a DFM manoeuvre. However, if you position your plane correctly, a counter-DFM manoeuvre may be executed by looping your fighter behind the pursuer and instead placing them in your crosshairs. This cat-and-mouse style of play ensures players have to constantly switch between offensive and defensive strategies. In later missions, alternate DFM mechanics are used for bombing runs – in which you fly on predetermined path destroying multiple ground targets – and landing your plane – where positing two reticules together lends you a landing trajectory.

Fighter jets still account for the majority of your flight log, but the addition of helicopters, bombers and taking the reins of a Blackhawk machinegun make for the greatest diversity of the Ace Combat series. In certain missions, in what will have you flashing back to Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, players become the door gunner of a helicopter, mowing down targets in essentially on-rails but nevertheless exciting sequences. Continuing the trip down the video game memory lane, one level has you commanding ordnance from an AC-130 gunship. While lacking the immediacy of its Call of Duty originator, the level is still a good distraction and guaranteed to generate some thrills.

Expect to get a close view of the ground.

Expect to get a close view of the ground.
Flying helicopters are the other notable introduction to Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. The arcade roots of the game are exemplified in these segments, with players simply controlling altitude and aiming. Piloting helicopters, while still somewhat entertaining, is probably the lowest point of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. Missions keep you on your toes with changing objectives and an enemy helicopter or two thrown into the mix, but all they really entail is hovering from one point of the other and destroying all targets in between. This repetitive gameplay is elongated as helicopter segments go on for some time. Better execution and snappier level design would have benefited the helicopter missions, and while they might provide a fun distraction, players will quickly be yearning to jump back into the fighter pilot’s seat.

This variety of control modes is accompanied by a good range of mission objectives. Unlike previous Ace Combat games, there aren't any boss battles to content with, but players are tasked with more realistic objectives such as protecting targets, escorting friendly units and bombing enemy locations. The game becomes more compelling as you progress, with players treated to some spectacular moments. The sequence where you have to avoid enemy radar is a particularly challenging and intense sequence. Advancing levels also rewards players with new types of aircraft. Selecting the right fighter before mission is an important aspect of the game, as planes can handle very differently. However, once you pick a favourite plane, you will rarely stray from it.

Levels can sometimes overstay their welcome, and blowing up multiple waves of enemy aircraft can become repetitive, but the core gameplay is so involving that you won’t always notice. Enemies are challenging, with some noticeably tougher than others. Cutaways depicting the mechanical destruction of enemy fighters make for gratifying viewing. While foes are programmed with a degree of intelligence, the same cannot be said for your own wingmen. Unfortunately, friendly units cannot be commanded, and are completely useless during sorties.

The developer's nail plane design.

The developer's nail plane design.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon features the most memorable presentation of the series to date. The soundtrack is an epic orchestral journey, with expertly crafted music drumming up emotion and capturing the intensity of dog-fighting. Visuals are another of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon strengths. Players will appreciate the effort that the developers have invested in creating the aircraft. Unlike other games of this type, real-world locations have been recreated with a high level of detail and look superb whether you are flying far away or up close. And, perhaps the first time ever, ground objects scale appropriately to your aircraft. Weather effects, zooming between skyscrapers and witnessing the destruction you have wrought is an absolute feast for the eyes. Cut-scenes are also rendered fantastically with solid character design, though animations can be a little stiff. Overall, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon captures a cinematic look that seamlessly immerses you in the action.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon’s ten hour plus single-player campaign is bolstered by a swathe of fantastic online options. Multiplayer incorporates an experience system with perks that unlock as you rank up. Single-player missions can be replayed together with a friend or two, with leaderboards enticing you to reach the highest scores. Competitive multiplayer features three match types – capital conquest, domination and deathmatch. Capital conquest splits players into teams, with each striving to destroy the other’s headquarters in a set time. Domination and deathmatch are essentially the same as in first-person shooters, except there is no camping, and games are far more tactical and demanding. Pitting your aerial skills against human opponents is a fantastic challenge, and with DFM also featuring in multiplayer, refined dog-fighting skills are even more important.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon expertly captures the intensity of flying a fighter jet with satisfying combat and compelling gameplay. Players are treated to great variety with several new aircraft types, and exciting dogfights exemplify the thrills of flying a fighter plane. Slight design blemishes and gameplay repetition drag the enjoyment factor down a notch or two, but the addition of the DFM mechanic and a contemporary setting ultimately make for a successful rebirth for the Ace Combat series. Well-developed solo and multiplayer modes offer great value and longevity, and when coupled with the outstanding presentation and great controls, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon on Xbox 360 and PS3 all but outperforms the competition.
The Score
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is the best air combat game of this generation. Project Aces nail the art of aerial action, with intense gameplay, sublime presentation and excellent solo and multiplayer modes. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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2 years ago
Reviews for this one have been all over the place, and the main complaint is that the DFM is unrealistic and takes out flying skill. In a game where you can carry, what, 50-100 missiles on a single plane. Yeah.

This is about the only one that didn't make it a Horrible Issue and devote 3/4 of the review to it, so you deserve a prize.
2 years ago
2 years ago
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon currently sits with an average of 79.40. But indeed, some reviews have been very scathing. I could easily rebut everything they have said, but I hope our review speaks for itself. Assault Horizon is so much better than HAWX and every other console flight game.

It's a shame that some people have focused so much on DFM. There are so many other great elements to the game. Even so, I thought DFM was a great addition. It adds a tense and confronting element to the game, which is missing in every other Ace Combat that I have played. I also think it does take skill. It is far from a win-all button, and it is very easy to loose an enemy once you have caught them in DFM. Counter-DFM maneuvers are also very tricky and take skill - especially in multiplayer.

And I really don't get why people are making so much of an issue of the missile payload. It is a video game. With the amount of enemies and target misses, you usually start wishing you had more missiles. I remember in first-person shooters dudes can carry, what, more than 10 weapons. Realistic? Yeah.

2 years ago
Denny wrote
Fuck skill. The world needs another "flight sim" like Crimson Skies.
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Australian Release Date:
  13/10/2011 (Confirmed)
  Namco Bandai
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