Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Review
Game: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
Developer: Project Aces
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Available on: Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
There haven’t been that many flying games on the next gen consoles, whether that’s because they’re just a niche or just plain aren’t popular any more remains to be seen. Either way it’s a shame as these titles, over the years, have brought some fun and interesting hours to many gamers. The most famous series of these games is, of course, Ace Combat, and now Namco Bandai and Project Aces have once again brought you the next instalment in the series, entitled Ace Combat: Assault Horizon.
Some people may say that fans will want the series to stay the same as it always has but in this day and age, with titles now becoming more profitable and more mainstream, the developers have looked to make additions to the title in an attempt to draw in new gamers while still keeping the hardcore fans happy. On a personal note, I am quite partial to this genre but have found, in recent years, that they are just the same thing over and over again and can be a little arduous to play, with the last game of this genre that I genuinely enjoyed being the original Ace Combat.
But the main question on everyone’s lips is: have they reached the sky with this title? Or have they crashed and burned the series? Let’s find out!
STORY: The games starts off in Africa, where a rebel insurgency is sweeping across the continent and the NATO-led 108th Task Force are in to assist the local government to stop this potential civil war. Upon neutralizing some of these rebels, the American forces encounter a new bomb, codenamed “Trinity”. This weapon has the same devastating effects as a nuclear weapon but without the nasty radioactive side effects. Enter Lieutenant Colonel William Bishop, the leader of Warwolf Squadron, a unit of the top pilots from around the world that fly some of the best and most devastating aircraft in the world. With this new bomb, and the tenacity and iron will off the rebels, it’s up to Bishop and the 108th Task Force to stop them; but is this just a simple rebel insurgency, or is there treachery afoot?
In general, the storyline of Ace Combat is a little difficult to follow at first, and you will wonder what is going on. But as the story progresses you do understand and you will find that the presentation of the story, as well as the story itself, is top notch. If it had a touch more clarity at the beginning, then it would be outstanding, but this initial confusion does put a slight mark on an otherwise well presented story.
GRAPHICS: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is an absolutely beautiful, and graphically amazing, title to behold. The rich textures, massive attention to detail and use of light and shading is absolutely fantastic. The areas you fly around in, and their backgrounds, are captured brilliantly and look as close to real life as you can get, however, if you get too close you will see that things are not as highly detailed as you thought, but this is being a bit picky. The characters look brilliant as well but do look a little strange at times, with the main culprit being Bishop. Yes he looks well designed, but, in a way, somewhat plastic and fake. The facial animation is a little off as well, with characters looking like they are in the process of going insane as they talk, trying to show all of their teeth which, frankly, looks bizarre.
The aircraft themselves look awesome and are highly detailed, when you shoot one out of the sky the destruction animations are a sight to behold and add to the general feeling that the developers have graphically pulled off something special.
SOUND: Musically, Ace Combat’s soundtrack is brilliantly scored and suits the game fantastically. It really adds to the combat and intensifies the feeling of flying a fighter jet without going down the cheesy route, making everything sound like it’s been ripped straight out of Top Gun. The voice actors do a great job as well and make the characters believable, as well as likeable (for the most part), and the sound effects sound as you would expect given the subject matter.
GAMEPLAY: As mentioned in our preview, this Ace Combat title is different to its previous outings, now you can fly helicopters, even being the gunner in them during certain missions, which really does mix things up and keeps you interested. But the main aspect about an Ace Combat game is obviously the flying, which is done very well. You have your normal flying, where you chase your enemies and attempt to blow them out of the sky with your missiles and guns, but when you get close enough you can initiate Dog Fight mode. With this your plane sticks to the tail of your foe and you have to keep up with them by going faster or slowing down, allowing you to turn faster and stick with them. Whilst doing this, you have to keep the reticle over the enemy, firing on them if you can. When the reticle goes red, you can press the B button and it will fire a missile that homes in and blasts them out of the sky, unless they can manage to dodge it.
If you find yourself on the defensive, and a missile is coming your way, you can simply turn and adjust your speed to dodge them, but, if the enemy has initiated the Dog Fight mode on you, you have to then pull off a manoeuvre to stop yourself getting blasted out of the sky yourself. To do this, you have to dodge the initial missile, then you will see a green and a red arrow. You have to ensure that you have your plane level and then slow down, when these two arrows overlap, a quick press of the bumper buttons will have you pulling off a manoeuvre, placing you nicely behind your enemy and allowing you to blow him to kingdom come. Although this is a great trick to have it does make the game really easy, at that point you can only die in one of three ways, a barrage of missiles being fired at you, not hitting the defensive manoeuvre button in time or simply stuffing your plane into a building.
The enemy AI is a little strange as well, as all you really see them do is scoot around, should one come in to attack you in a Dog Fight, pressing the bumpers will leave you behind him, blowing him to high heaven. There is a chance that, all of a sudden, one of the enemies you attack will become a bad-ass, becoming very difficult to take down, which can be a little frustrating. It would’ve been better to have all enemies at varying difficulty levels, not just easy with the odd hard one. Having said that, even though it is quite easy, the intensity of combat is still there, and because of the music, graphics and sense of speed Ace Combat: Assault Horizon always feels like quite a thrill-fest.
Another problem this title has is quite bizarre; you can’t crash your plane into the ground, you just bounce off it if you are at full health. If you are damaged then you will probably die, but to be able to bounce off the floor is quite a design flaw. You can crash into buildings and die, the same goes with nailing it in the water, but it’s just plain odd to be able to bounce off the ground.
There are two missions where you get to pilot an Apache Helicopter, these are quite fun and you will feel like a bad-ass, but you once again have a defensive manoeuvre that essentially feels like the win button. If you get a missile fired at you, you will see a green arrow flashing, when this occurs, hit the bumpers and your helicopter will do a barrel roll. I am not entirely sure, but I don’t believe a helicopter can do this. Certain ones can do loop’s but a side ways barrel roll is kind of ridiculous. So, once again, the only way to die is to not press the win button in time, or get shot down by machine gun fire. You will not receive damage this time when accidentally flying into a building, which is also bizarre as obviously you would see the rotors fly off and the helicopter would meet it’s fiery end. I know this is just a game but these things really do make it game quite easy.
In essence, the gameplay is good, and you will enjoy playing it, but the fact that you have a win button does slightly damage the experience but, because of its fun and intense combat, the experience isn’t totally ruined. The only really frustrating factors are, firstly, that it can sometimes take a very long time to bring down one of your enemies as, all of a sudden, they’ve learnt how to fly extremely well. Secondly, the whole game doesn’t really offer much of a challenge.
LONGEVITY: In total, the campaign will take you anywhere between 8-10 hours to finish, depending on your difficulty choice and ability, and you will enjoy almost the entirety of the campaign. Add multiplayer into that mix, and the fact that there are co-op missions available for play, and you can start to see how Ace Combat: Assault Horizon will keep you playing for quite some time. Fans of the Ace Combat series needn’t fear either, there is no doubt that they’ll be playing this for a long time to come.
VERDICT: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is by far the best flying game available and fans of the original game should love this new addition to the series. There are bound to be some die-hard fans who may not like some of the new additions to the series, but the developers have done a good job of mixing things up to keep fans, and newcomers, interested. It is not without flaws, however, and some of them are quite strange, but the insanely beautiful graphics, brilliant presentation and intense combat will keep you well entertained for quite some time. It really has made this reviewer appreciate flying games once again. Press Y to fist pump!