Ace Combat Assault Horizon
Crashing and burning, or soaring high?
Written by Super User
Published Tuesday, 01 November 2011 20:00
Flying has always been about freedom, and Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is here to try and bring that sense of freedom to your living room. With games like Call of Duty and Battlefield having new entries in their respective series’, can Ace Combat sway some consumers away from the FPS behemoths and over to a game about flight combat? It sure looks thrilling, but the big question is whether or not Namco’s latest entry in the Ace Combat franchise can soar among all of the holiday AAA madness or if it will crash and burn in mediocrity.
My brother and I loved flying games while we were growing up. It started with Star Wars games like Tie Fighter and X-Wing on PC. Later on it was the excellent Rogue Squadron series. Then on the PS2, my brother got into Ace Combat. It was part flight sim, part flight combat and was pretty cool all the way around. I have to admit, I never really jumped into the series like my brother did, but I can say it has always been on my radar. When I got a glimpse of Assault Horizon, I knew I had to try it. It was arriving at just the right time, as my Xbox is beocming tired of playing shooters all the time, so change is a good thing. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon looked good and sounded good, and I needed to fill my growing hunger for flight. Happily, I can say that it did just that!
Story is never a huge element of flight games (Ace Combat in particular), eschewing a dramatic narrative for tense and engrossing gameplay. However, Assault Horizon in particular arrives with one of the least interesting and generic stories of the series. There are overly macho American characters and some Russian bad guys with a secret weapon (surprise, it’s a bomb). The major problem is that this is something you have heard far too many times before. Essentially, it’s the main character, William Bishop, and a crew of good guys who specialize in flying in different aircraft, and are going after the Russians, specifically Andrei Markov, to stop a global war utilizing a secret weapon in several major locations. Because the story is so generic, even the twists in the plot are predictable. There is one moment where you find the motives for one of the main villain’s actions, which is somewhat refreshing, but it comes so late that it feels like an afterthought. The fact that most of the surprises in the story are pretty easy to surmise is a huge disappointment. But again, this isn’t really a game you are playing for an epic narrative journey anyway, right? It will work to situate the action in many of its exotic locales (Africa is beautiful to fly through), and to give you an enemy to target, but not much else. It almost resonates a cheap Top Gun vibe.
Assault Horizon plays like both an arcade and a sim. It looks and flies as real fighters would, but the firepower is way over the top. This strikes just the right balance to make the things fun; never straying too far in either direction. Too much realism would make it extremely difficult and too much arcade action would alienate those looking to feel like a real fighter pilot. The campaign does offer quite a bit of variety, however, the missions stretch on and on and some of the controls, such as switching between missiles, don’t function as well as one might expect. For the most part though, everything does what it needs to do. Dog fights are quite fun and even if you are in an enemy’s sights, it is easy to turn the tables thanks to an intuitive counter system, which can be really useful in a jam. Flares can be deployed to defer oncoming missiles and you can even avoid incoming fire with some crafty flying techniques. Helicopter, AC-130 and on-rail missions break up the gameplay and offer some variety, although the Helicopter controls are a little tough to get used to. As I said, the missions over-stay their welcome and I found that most of the time, the missions dragged on for far too long and became predictable. Accomplishing your goals had a tendency to get boring before finishing them. I think they could have split things up a bit, adding a couple levels and shortening some of the missions. Additionally, I found myself relying way too much on my missiles, which at points makes the game feel easy.
No local multiplayer is supported, but the online suite is very impressive. Once you’ve completed the campaign, there are four online modes that will keep you busy for a while (if you have friends who will play with you). Online co-op is included here, and will give you the pleasure of playing through the main campaign online with a buddy. The missions are the same as single player, but it adds some extra measure of replay value and the chance to take to the skies with a friend in tow. However, it is near impossible to find a match amongst the randoms of the matchmaking service, so you really need to have a friend ready to join you. The other modes are competitive and include, Capital Conquest, Domination and Deathmatch. In Capital Conquest, the goal is to destroy the enemy bases while split into teams. Domination allows teams of players to try and capture bases. Each of these modes rely a ton of teamwork. Playing together as a unit will let teams capture or destroy bases with ease. Communication is integral to success. Players must look after either capturing or destroying bases, all the while protecting each other from the opposition. Also, depending on the level, helicopters can be selected for use. It is frantic and high paced, just like the rest of the game. Deathmatch is where things get tough. Players of all different classes will oppose each other on their own, with each kill and duration of time alive amassing points. Players with lower skill levels and less perks attached to their aircraft of choice will feel the pain. However, like any modern day shooter, as you progress and unlock skills and refine your game, you will get better. And the good thing is upgrades apply to any game type (except single player and co-op of course). The hard part is having people beat up on you consistently until you can afford to upgrade your missiles, machine guns, dog fight mode abilities, and armor. Anything your plane does, can be upgraded, but it will take a lot of time. If you love flying this won’t be a problem, and the game continues to feel rewarding and challenging. In all of these online modes, the selection of aircraft is massive. Basically any fighter jet you can imagine is here and available for use right away, and new coats of paint can be applied and skill sets can be changed mid-game. Variety and customization is all at your finger tips. It almost feels like a FPS, only set in the skies, cleverly implementing the reward and challenge systems from those games.
In the grand scheme of things, the visuals are a mixed bag. There are some stunning vistas to behold, but then the bad character models in the cutscenes mar the experience. While the gameplay comes across like Call of Duty in the sky, it doesn’t have the production value of Activision’s juggernaut, and suffers because of it. Namco does pull off some clever tricks though. Altitude and weather effects will show up on-screen and will add to the ambiance. When you fly to the top of the skies, the ground will disappear altogether and you will only see clouds, providing a disoriented feeling (as it should). Rain effects offer some more variety, along with the barying flight views (Third Person, Cockpit and First Person), with each boasting their own pros and cons. In third person you will be able to see everything around you and get a sense of distance, but the speed in dog fights and simply targeting your foe will become more difficult. Cockpit mode offers easier targeting, but some of you’re view will be restricted. First person mode is good, but you’ll lose the exhilarating sense of flight, as the screen basically floats in front of the plane. One of the most enjoyable sensations you will have is when you are in a dog fight and you eliminate the other fighter, the camera will zoom in to capture the moment, with oil and mechanical parts flying past you. It furthers the immersion even more, while adding to the realism. Think of it as almost a form of mechanical gore. However, flying too close to the ground loses a lot of detail in the process. It is a shame that little things eventually chip away at the title’s overall visual aesthetic, because Ace Combat: Assault Horizon had the potential to be a very beautiful game. In the end you’ll remember some great looking views, and some very ugly textures.
The audio is appropriately decent. Get too close to another plane midflight, you’ll hear them whiz by. Being near an explosion will send the boom through your ear canals. Weaponry and jets all have their own respective sounds, and missiles are a treat to hear, from the moment you launch them until they rock the target with a huge blast. You’ll even hear the planes tear apart, demonstrating the real attention to detail. The radio voices bark orders or just yell back some random banter in a realistic way. But once we get to the cutscenes, the American machismoism utterly laughable at some points. Sometimes the voices are serviceable, but mostly it is a forgettable effort. At one point I burst out laughing while, during a briefing, one of our American heroes felt it was necessary to have his input about the villain “The Shark”, calling him the “Shark Bastard”! Need I say more? In another mission, one character felt kept spewing all of the manliest things possible about how well you are eliminating the enemies. His continuous mentions of buying you “six packs” and other various beer puns wears thin really, really fast. The soundtrack is decent, but you won’t really notice it above the exceptional sound effects and the bad voice work. Again, it seems as though great sound was made less so by the sum of its parts. A true disappointment and missed opportunity.
This is a game jam-packed with content. Do you like flying jet fighters, helicopters, AC-130s or bombers? Do you like shooting, destroying things with missiles, hitting the skies as high speeds with non stop action? Try Ace Combat: Assault Horizon! If you crave a good story, good voice acting or a slower paced journey, something else might be a better fit. Odds are, this one is destined to be overlooked by some, but if you have the slightest inkling to try a flight sim, if you like flight sims or are somewhat interested in the Ace Combat franchise, give Assault Horizon a shot. It doesn’t disappoint and is sure to be different than most of the other games currently pushing their way through the crowded market. Overall, it provides a great challenge (especially online), and a huge amount of action. In a time of tough competition and with some big name releases all around, you may want to fit Ace Combat Assault Horizon on your radar or wishlist.
Release date : 2011-10-11
Publisher : Namco Bandai
Developer : Project Aces
Gameplay : Flight combat
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