Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Review
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon strays from its numbered brethren and with that comes numerous changes to the series. Since this is being touted as a complete rebirth of the series, it's nice to see Namco Bandai trying to reinvogorate it by implimenting changes that are sure to make current Ace Combat fans happy, as well as trying to hook potential fans.
Assault Horizon definitely tries to take itself more seriously than previous Ace Combat games, with New York Times Bestselling military author Jim Deflice behind the game's story. You are a part of the UN Task Force that's on a mission to stop the growing terrorism in Africa. Throw in Russians and weapons of mass destruction into the mix, and you have yourself a recipe for a fairly interesting, albeit cliche storyline for a military game.
The story segments are nicely done, as you often embody one of the main characters and are able to see events unfold right in front of your eyes. It's a nice touch that gives the game a personality. You're no longer just the pilot of a giant, metallic war bird, you can actually get a sense of who you're really playing as, but let's not beat around the bush here, the story is not what Ace Combat fans get the game for; they buy it for the high-speed, jet on jet warfare.
The great thing about Assault Horizon is that it welcomes both veterans and newcomers alike. Much to the credit of its arcade controls, the game eases you into it, shows you the ropes, and then lets you unleash your firepower and dogfighting skills. AH does have some new tricks up its sleeve, however. The game introduces the new dogfighting mechanic, which you can activate when in close proximity of another jet with a simple press of both bumper buttons on the Xbox 360, or the L1 and R1 buttons on the PS3. This turns the game into a high speed on-rails game of cat and mouse, as you chase after your prey, only to inevitably send it to its doom after you pump it full of missiles or bullets. That's not to say that it's fool proof, as enemies have ways to counter these pursuits as well.
Something else new to the series is the addition of helicopters. I have to admit, at first I was a bit put off with the inclusion, and off the bat, I didn't enjoy the first helicopter mission. What to me felt like an intense rollercoaster, was brought to a screeching halt whenever I had to complete a helicopter mission. I did warm up to it though, and actually found myself rather enjoying these segments. Much like the jets, the helicopter handle with extreme arcade precision, and since enemies will be trying to gun you down with RPG's, doing a barrel roll with a helicopter becomes quite the necessity.
The game includes an extremely wide variety of jets, as well as a handful of helicopters that you unlock as you progress through the main campaign. If you're a jet plane buff, be prepared to geek out over the amount of detail that went into each aircraft. You can also outfit each vehicle with various weaponry that needs to be changed out on a mission to mission basis, since some weapons are better against enemies in the air, and others excel at destroying enemies on the ground.
Also, taking the dogfights online is a blast. Nothing beats playing against a human opponent that matches your skill level. It makes an already exciting game even more heart pumping.
The overall art direction is far more gritty in Assault Horizon. Gunning down jets will splatter your screen, as you watch them explode and literally "bleed" oil. Also new in the series is the inclusion of real life locations, rather than fictional ones used in previous games. It was apparent that developers went above and beyond with detail, especially when our intern was able to easily identify the Miami Dolphins stadium as I quickly flew by it (something I would have never picked up on not being a Football fan).
The soundtrack absolutely needs mention. From the very first mission, all the way through to the end, the game features some incredibly epic orchestrated music, constantly shifting from situation to situation. Whether you're in a high speed pursuit of another jet, or performing air strikes, the music constantly highlights your efforts.
My one gripe with the game is the unnecesary length of each mission. Halfway through each level I was thinking, "This will be the last wave of enemies." Then another wave appears in a different location. What was supposed to be fun quickly turned into a chore and had me wishing the level would finally end. I understand that this was intended to make the game longer, but I would have prefered more missions that were shorter.
Ace Combat Assault Horizon is a lot of fun despite its lengthy missions, and the changes and new features added to the game feel like a great step forward for the series.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]