Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Preview

by on September 13, 2011

It’s been a good while since I last stepped into the cockpit for an Ace Combat game, in fact if memory serves, you’d have to go back to the PlayStation era. Why I’d stopped playing them I couldn’t tell you, because back then they were fantastical games full of amazing aeroplanes and excitement. So it was with great trepidation that I jumped into Assault Horizon, the latest instalment to the series, and played through the first 6 missions of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon.

First things first though, this isn’t the Ace Combat of old, this is Ace Combat on steroids, with Michael Bay direction thrown in for good measure, and before people start complaining, it’s important to remember that change can be good, and it seems that the changes on show have brought the series right up to date.

Assault Horizon is actually a difficult game to describe, because at times it seems to have more in common with a third person “Gears of War” style shooter than a flight simulator, but equally, it still retains the feeling of flying around in a million dollar jet, taking part in Biggle-esque dogfights.

It is perhaps the controls that may throw some people. At first, as the game welcomes us with the introductory mission (and you’ll find no story spoilers here!) you’d be forgiven for wondering just what the hell was going on, but the handy tutorials will guide you through the controls, and before you know it, you’ll be engaged and pleased with the way everything handles. Straight away you are thrown into a dog fight. To do this, you’ll have to get relatively close to an enemy plane and hammer the left and right bumpers, engaging in a zoomed in attacking mode. From here you’ll be able to lock on with missiles, or just shoot the old machine guns right at the enemy. Although the dog fights have a tendancy to feel a little on rails, the feeling you get is of an action movie, and is fantastic.

Out of this zoomed in mode, Assault Horizon does play a lot more like the Ace Combat of old, and it is important to note that the dog fight sections are entirely triggered by the player. If you don’t fancy them, you don’t have to utilise them all the time. Homing missiles and machine guns are still the order of the day though, and you’ll also be taught how to use alternative weapons, like the multiple homing missiles which had me squealing like a schoolgirl on first use. Dropping multiple homing missiles at a group of unsuspecting fighter pilots never gets old, trust me.

But there’s more, much more. Being a super-jet-fighter-man (that’s trademarked by the way, so hands off) isn’t all attacking and barrel-rolling like a lunatic (though that is possible, and tempting), sometimes you’ll be required to evade enemy attacks. On-screen you’ll notice that a big red circle has appeared, and this means you are being targetted. Evading this attack isn’t tricky in the early stages though, and a simple acceleration whilst moving away is the simplest way of doing so. However, if you just do this you are missing out. Instead, slow down and let the enemy get really close to you, then BAM, you’ve loop-de-looped over him and are now the predator. Yet another moment of sheer unadulterated fun that will leave you grinning like a madman.

All this is just in the first few sections! But there’s more, you won’t just be flying jet fighters, you’ll also be a gunner in a helicopter. Purists may be annoyed by there being sections that don’t involve living out fantasies of flying planes, but these sections are uproarious fun, full of bombast and bluster. It feels as though everything is destructable, and flying around a camp securing a landing zone is a fabulous feeling, adding depth to the story.

Ah the story, haven’t even mentioned that have I? Obviously at this point there’s no way that the story will be revealed, but it’s important to get across how much the story plays a part in the game. Told through cut-scenes, some of which are interactive, there’s been a great attention to detail made with relation to the world around you. In some scenes you will go into first-person view on a pre-determined path, but you are able to look around at your surroundings. During these scenes you can take the opportunity to look at everything going on in the bases, and although I’ve not been to a real life base, I can tell you that movies have taught me that this is exactly how it should look, sound and feel.

Characters are introduced, story is told, but if you want to find out more about that, you’ll have to buy the game yourself next month. However, it should be commended that Namco Bandai are taking risks here and trying to not only present a game that plays well, with lots of options for the player to take on enemies, but also including a story and characters that (at least at this stage) don’t appear to be hollow and pointless.

So after all is said and done, the question you’ll all be asking is whether Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is worth a look come October 10th, with all the “big names” and “silly season” well in progress. From the missions and gameplay on show, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is like an old friend not seen in years. It is back, and boy how I’ve missed it.

Ace Combat is due for an October 14th release for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

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