previews\ Sep 14, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Take to the skies in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon


So you think you’ve seen everything that’s offered in the Ace Combat lexicon? True, the games have gotten better over the years, but up until this point, it’s followed a basic, “stick to your guns” formula that fans have adapted to. That’s sure to change when Ace Combat: Assault Horizon comes out for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 next month, as Namco Bandai has opted for a more visceral, exciting approach this time around. And it’s not just limited to jets either. The company recently released a very thorough demo to show you both sides of this aerial combat, and we came away very impressed.

The first, obviously, involves jet fighting. The way your vehicle handles in combat is a thing of beauty, as you can easily turn and get targets within your range using simplistic handling. Turning is actually better once you use deceleration, as your jet turns faster and enables you to target an enemy that’s either behind you or flies out of your range before your lock-on missiles have any effect. You can also keep track of enemies rather easily on a radar located in the corner of the screen which highlights any targets with big red dots. They’re hard to miss, and indicators on the screen let you know if they’re flying high or low.

But jet flying is only part of the process. Namco Bandai has introduced a remarkable new dogfighting mechanic, which kicks in once you have a target in range and press the shoulder buttons on top of your controller. From here, your jet handling is handled mostly by automatic, though you’ll nudge the direction that the opponent is flying in on occasion just to keep them in range. Once you go into dogfight mode, the screen zooms in and a high-speed pursuit follows, with the chance to take down your target either with powerful gunfire or lock-on missiles. Both work effectively, though you’ll need to time your missiles with a light-up reticule, firing when it turns red for best results. It’s a system that makes the game way more exciting to play, and watching the after-effects, namely a jet crumbling to pieces in a fiery wreck, is a real joy. Granted, long-time fans will find this system takes a little getting used to, but we assure you, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

The other half of the demo consists of a slower, yet just as thrilling, sequence involving a helicopter. You’re introduced to the flying basics right from the get-go, shown how to ascend and descend (using face buttons on the controller) and how to target enemies. From there, you’re thrown into the thick of battle, shooting down missile launchers, moving vehicles and other potential targets using both gunfire and missiles – while they’re in stock, anyway. This is put into action using an intuitive lock-on system, so even from a distance, you’re effective when it comes to mowing someone down. At times, you’ll need to be more delicate with your gunfire, as sometimes an innocent target will be strewn in with the terrorists you’re trying to take down. But it’s not a tricky process, and you’re able to complete your mission with great aplomb.

The chopper segment is equally impressive, like the jet one, even with the slower pace. There are times that missile evasions can be slightly annoying, as you’ll need to flip your copter each time you do it. However, it’s part of the game’s realism, and it helps if you don’t take too much direct fire over the course of the mission. Staying in one piece is really what matters.

The demo itself took well over 15 minutes to complete with both segments, a rarity considering that most demos end after about five minutes of gameplay. Namco really went all out to showcase just what this game is made of. But controls aren’t its only reward. The graphics are extremely well done this time around, even excelling past the previously released Ace Combat 6 by variable degrees. What’s more, the in-game chatter sounds authentic, even if the story is based on a not-so-true premise. It really builds up to something that you’ll want to play once the game drops this October.

But don’t just take our word for it. The demo’s available now on both Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, and it really doesn’t take much space at all – a shocker considering the scope of what’s included here. You owe it to yourself to download it and see what a pair of mean war machines can do with a good destructive hand controlling them. You’re bound to be just as impressed as we were with it.

Be sure to check back for the final review next month!

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