Ace Combat: Assault Horizon

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (AH) is the latest in the series of Ace Combat titles to hit the shelves since Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation back in 2007. In this arcade style aerial combat game you are put behind the throttle of some of the biggest baddest birds in the sky and pitted against numerous foes. Will this game hit the afterburners and soar, or crash and burn in twisted metal wreckage?

30 Second Review

(+) Playing as different aerial units provides fun break from standard dog fighting.
(+) Battle sound effects do a great job making it feel like a real sky battle.
(+) Dog Fights can provide brief moments of satisfaction.
(-) AI teammates are useless most of the time.
(-) Dog Fighting Mode and other gameplay mechanics become very repetitive.
(-) Constantly being reminded you’re not in control makes it feel more like a movie than a game.

The Story

All locations are based in real locations and are constructed beautifully.

The story for AH is your typical plain Jane war story. Rogue Russians with a bad attitude and personal vendetta for USA want to play war and kill just about everyone. You follow a U.N. Task Force team comprised of several different squadrons, but the majority of the game focuses on the main protagonist, Lieutenant Colonel William Bishop (Call sign: Warwolf 1). While most of the game is spent playing as Bishop, you do get the chance to see and play as the other squadron members. One mission you’ll fly gunner seat of a black hawk, the next you’ll be piloting an apache helicopter covering a ground troop invasion.

The story is set in real world locations which is a change from the usual Ace Combat formula. Previous Ace Combat games have always taken place in fictional locations and are usually farther into the future. In AH you’ll fly over places such as Dubai, Miami, Moscow, and Washington D.C. The details to both the planes and levels are done very well but while it is really cool to fly through the couple of sky scrapers of Miami, most of the action will take place in the extremely open skies above and not serve much of an obstacle while flying making these locations feel more like scenery than actual parts of the level.

Gameplay

Dog Fighting Mode will get you up close and personal.

The gameplay is filled with huge explosions and heavy combat every step of the way. While this sounds impressive at first, the explosive action becomes so standard it eventually fizzles out. One new feature to the game is the Dog Fighting Mode (DFM). While flying your jet, you can get behind an enemy and initiate the new mode. This will lock your plane in a zoomed in “on-the-rails” style dog fight (you will have to move and adjust your speed somewhat to keep on your targets six, but for the most part it’s on rails). Be wary though, the hunter can easily become the hunted! Enemies can start a DFM with you forcing you to try to out maneuver them. Get into the right position and you can initiate another quick time event that will place your plane behind your pursuer. Pulling off one of these moves and then lighting them up with a rocket is immensely satisfying and gave me a smile almost every time I pulled it off. However, the game relies too heavily upon this mechanic and soon almost every battle becomes about entering DFM mode whether you’re targeting a Mig-6, Bomber plane on a bombing run, or a cruise missile. You can always try making things more challenging by not using DFM, but the game seems to discourage this since enemies are loaded with unlimited flares and are extremely hard to target with your gun outside of DFM mode.  

It is this concept of making players do the same thing over and over again that seems to drag down the entire game. While the game is filled with variety of planes to choose, different modes to play, and various objectives to accomplish, everything seems to boil down to a “rinse-and-repeat” format. Flying a helicopter may be very different than a plane, but in the end it is basically the same concept. Additionally, the first half of the game suffers from pacing issues and the missions tend to drag on a little too long. It’s cool to sit as an invincible gunner in a black hawk and mow down targets for a little while, but not for 15 minutes straight. There is a reason popular FPS games only have you do something like this for two to five minutes. Luckily the pacing does improve after the first half but you still find yourself doing the same thing…over…and over…and over.

I find listening to 80's music helps improve my flight skills.

Finally, I want to address the fact that this game does a terrible job at trying to give you the illusion that you are in control and that your skill actually matters. The game plays more as a cinematic movie, moving from one big explosion to the next, rather than playing as a game. During cut scenes, you’ll have moments where you’re watching the scene and are suddenly prompted into an out of place single button quick time event. Not only does this take you out of the game (several times I had placed my controller down thinking it was the end of the level), but you aren’t rewarded with grand spectacles or death defying feats. Instead you are rewarded with events like (and not even joking) pumping your fist into the air.

Even more frustrating are moments where the rules of the game change and you’re not told. You can be the best ace pilot in the skies and shoot a dozen rockets into an enemy aircraft but the aircraft won’t die. Why? So they can take you into a cinematic sequence of your enemy crashing kamikaze style into a ship. Not once but three times. No matter how good or how much damage you inflict, those planes will crash into that ship. I’d rather just have the game go to a cut scene. You’ll find moments like these all throughout the game and like the quick time events make you feel detached from the game rather than immersed.

These moments combined with almost every action in the game being turned into an “on-rails” moment make you feel like you’re in a theme park watching a video of a roller coaster instead of actually riding one.

Multiplayer

The game offers a very wide range of colors to customize your bird in the sky. May I suggest Hot Pink?

The saving grace of this game lies in the multiplayer. This is where the fun really takes off. Multiplayer offers several different modes and styles guaranteed to please almost everyone. If you’re looking for competitive play, you have your standard “Deathmatch” where it’s every pilot for themselves. Entering into DFM here is fun and exhilarating since actual humans tend to be more unpredictable and more of a challenge. “Capital Conquest” is another mode which puts you onto one of two teams and you must work as a team to acquire points on the map and take out your enemy’s base. Here you can choose from almost all vehicle types including fighter pilots, bombers, and helicopters. Each vehicle has its strength and weakness and adds an excellent level of strategy to the game. “Domination” is your standard “King of the Hill” game for planes and is equally as fun as the other modes. Finally, “Co-op Mode” allows up to three of your friends to join you on eight modified mission campaigns. Enemies here have increased difficulty and provide more of a challenge for you and your friends.

Final Verdict

Overall, it seems this game is trying too hard to be a First Person Shooter in the air. It’s not a bad idea but wasn’t well implemented. The mechanics and concepts they tried putting into the game just don’t’ stick and make an air combat game feel very clunky and out of place. In the end, this game seems to be one big roller coaster of big and flashy explosions but little substance behind it. This isn’t saying it’s a terrible game. If you’re the type that enjoys the big explosions and the high speed chase scenes and don’t mind doing repetitive actions again and again, then you may enjoy the overall experience. But those looking for deeper, more involved action may find it best to overlook this game for now.

[starreview tpl=14 size=’30’]

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