Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Review

Developer: Project Aces / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Teen [Alcohol Reference, Blood, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence]

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I’d always considered Ace Combat to be Dynasty Warriors in the sky, and that’s not intended as a compliment. You kill a lot of bad guys, the game is essentially the same experience from the moment you start stretched out over 20 hours, and sequels do little aside from look better than the last. That’s absolutely not the case with Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. In fact, incredible presentation, a great campaign, and substantive multiplayer make Assault Horizon the most innovative and enjoyable arcade flight shooter I’ve ever played.

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Gameplay

Superficially speaking, Assault Horizon still has the Ace Combat trappings: you fly planes, carry 200 missiles at once, and take out upwards of 40 enemies every sortie. However, dogfight mode (on top of several other additions) change the game entirely for the better. Dogfight mode, or DSM, is the primary way you attack other planes, and is basically like Top Gun and Independence Day got together and did a bunch of speed. When you’re close enough to an enemy plane, you can trigger the mode, which locks you to their tail and also brings up a big circular reticule. The closer you are to the enemy plane, the larger the reticule grows, and keeping the enemy plane inside this reticule causes it to charge up. Once it’s fully charged, you can fire a missile that is far more accurate than regular missiles.

But the defender has options too. If an enemy engages DFM on you, you see their targeting reticule overlayed on your screen (which you will obviously want to stay out of). Aside from juking around like a madman to dodge missiles and guns, you can also pull off a counter-maneuver if you’re close enough to the attacker and leveled off in flight. This turns the tables instantly, putting the attacker on defense. On top of that, you can even counter a countermove if you see one coming, which slows down time and gives you a ton of free hits on your enemy. Basically, dogfight mode in Assault Horizon is a mental dogfight; you have to anticipate what your opponents will do and outmaneuver them at every turn. The cream on top here is that this mode also works perfectly in multiplayer with other human opponents, but more on that later.

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DFM would be substantive enough to carry this game, but Assault Horizon has even more to offer. Attack helicopters premiere in this game and while they’re (understandably) much slower-paced to play than the fighters, they’re still fun and vary up the content. You also man a mounted gun in an attack chopper and even the big guns of an A-10 Warthog. Cutscenes between missions maintain interest thanks to an easy-to-follow story and semi-interactive segments where the camera switches to first-person mode and allows you to look around. When you get down to it, the most impressive aspect of Assault Horizon is that no two missions are similar in nature, which is awesome for any game much less one with Ace Combat in the title.

My only complaint is that the campaign is a tad on the short side. While I normally favor variety over length, playing the game was fun enough that I could’ve handled some more action to extend the five-to-six hour campaign. To be fair, the missions can be replayed to earn higher rankings and unlock multiplayer skills, but I always want more of a good thing.

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Multiplayer

Typically flight games, despite whatever systematic trickery they try to implement devolve into turning wars online. Ubisoft’s HAWX tried to remedy this with “Assistance OFF” but Assault Horizon really puts that snag to rest with DFM and a slight stall if you decelerate too heavily. In single player, engaging DSM is largely safe. In multiplayer, engaging DSM makes you a sitting duck. Since you’re locked to the flight path of your enemy while the mode is engaged, you have no capability to dodge missiles aside from your finite supply of countermeasures. This can even be used against your enemy–imagine being in voice chat with your team, exposing your tail to a group of enemies, having them engage DFM on you, then telling your team to swoop in and clean house.

Assault Horizon does a good job adapting the current fashionable modes to air combat. Deathmatch and Mission Co-op are self explanatory, but Domination and Capital Conquest require some explanation. Domination is Assault Horizon’s interpretation of Capture and Hold, where you must capture and hold points on the map to earn points. This is when helicopters become invaluable, because they can hover in place and capture points much more quickly than fighters which obviously can’t stop. Capital Conquest involves destroying an enemy base, which is first shielded by a radar dish in the middle of the map. In this mode, bombers are crucial because they’re the only planes that can deal significant damage to the capitals once they’re exposed to attack. All the modes work well, offering just enough depth for strategy and smart playing to prevail.

You also have the near-standard leveling system, which allows you to buy new pilot skills that tweak the damage, carrying capacity, and performance of your planes. The neat twist here is that every player has one skill slot that will distribute that skill to everyone on your team. By coordinating properly to avoid skill overlap in that slot, you can get significantly more bonuses than your enemies.

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Control

Assault Horizon drops all pretense of simulation and makes the arcade control template the default; left and right turn your plane left and right rather than roll. I briefly balked at this, but then realized the game plays much better this way. Handling the planes in DSM without this control scheme is extremely difficult, but you can still change it back to more traditional controls if you can’t live without them.

Aside from that quirk, I had basically no problem with the controls. The blinking arrow indicator for performing counter-maneuvers and counter-counter-maneuvers can be hard to see, but once you know what to look for, everything’s fine. The only other problem I had was reading the maps in multiplayer. At a certain player density, the minimap will just be a glowing mound of arrows and targets, making it difficult to identify exactly the targets of priority. These are very minor complaints though.

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Visuals and Sound

If you’re a fan of MichaelBay(and who wouldn’t be), Assault Horizon’s presentation will blow you away. In DFM, the camera pulls really close to your plane and shakes more than a prostitute in detox. Shoot the guns, and the camera will even sling under the wing to show the guns spewing metal and casings spraying wildly. Better yet, when you down an opponent, it shows its metal carcass spinning slowly through the air, spraying oil while the wings shear off and rip apart. It’s destruction porn and goddamn is it sexy–sort of like 2007’s Heatseeker except way better.

The game also uses DFM as a tour guide through awesome set pieces. Since your flight path is locked to your enemy while DFM is engaged, those enemies will weave through buildings, skim the ocean surface, or dart in and out of canyons. This makes chases intense and cinematic–the exact sort of experience you always imagine with flight games but can never reliably recreate.

The game’s soundtrack is one of my favorites for this year, alternating between majestic strings that embrace the beauty of flying through the sky and thrashing drums and distorted guitar that embody how awesome it is to blow everything up. Purchases of the game come with a soundtrack (while supplies last and all that), which you will totally want if you’re in to symphonic metal.

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Bottom Line

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon not only attempts something new in the arcade flight space but absolutely nails those goals and intentions. Dogfight mode is the first real substantive addition to the genre in about five years, which is doubly refreshing considering this is a series that seemed so set in its ways. This is a game that’s so approachable and entertaining that I can recommend it to anyone that enjoys explosions–which is damn near everyone on the planet. I’ll forego the obvious “under the radar” reference here and just tell you to buy it right now.

9 / 10

  1. Wow, I haven’t had a good flight/simulator on hand in awhile, but this looks really good. You’ve convinced me to give it a good rent, possibly a buy.

    Probably a buy, I could use some more variety.

  2. Really looks good and I’d probably buy it if it was on pc. shame

  3. I totally disagree with this review. I’ve been an AC game fan from air combat on the PS1 and this is the only one after the third mission I put down and don’t plan to play again. Go back to AC 6 it is much more fun. I really hope Project Aces leaves this experiment alone. But I think this is what the franchise will turn into. I guess it may be time to find a new genre or hope another company will fill the void.

    • You are missing the point here, AC was either a dead franchise and be left with HAWX.

      You have no empathy on what the developers had to go through to even make another Ace Combat game. I loved all of the AC games starting with Air Combat and none of them have disappointed me so far, Assault Horizon doesn’t either.

    • Steve I agree with you. I am so disappointed with this game. turn left,turn right no roll. no flight simulation what the heck is that? The above review says you can turn on FS if that is the case I will try it again and see. However I have no interest in helicopters or Puff The Magic Dragon. I purchased “Ace” combat, To me that has always represented Fighters. You can’t even skip these missions, they have to be played through or you start over. If I had known the game was setup in this fashion I would not have purchased the game. I was bumed out when the last game was not available on PS3, this is worse.

      • uummmmm…. I believe you should play the game a little more (and actually go to the OPTIONS menu) before critricizing something that the game actually has and you haven’t even found. It has the same controls as previous ace combat titles and it plays the same

  4. Machinima consider yourself on my “Good reviewers” list

  5. Is it possible to fly in free flight mode? Must be unlocked after beating history mode? Thank you

  6. Fuck this game. Fires of Liberation and Zero was 100 times better. Fake ass stupid fucking piss poor fucked up ass Dog Fight Mode and needing to hit a fucking plane with 100 missles to take it down is just soooo fucking realistic.

    Not saying it needs to be as real as Microsoft Flight Simulator…but hte past Ace Combats did a very good job at balancing realism with fun and great story lines. At least this time your flying in Miami and Moscow though, right

    FUCK YOU FOR FUCKING UP A HISTORICALLY GREAT GAME> WASTED MY FUCKING TIME AND MONEY ON THIS BULLSHIT

  7. I SERIOUSLY FUCKING HATE THIS STUPID MOTHER FUCKING ASS GAME. I AM TRULY DISAFUCKINGPPOINTED WITH THE CREATORS FOR PUTTING OUT THIS PIECE A FUCKING CALL OF DUTY WANNA-BE LAME ASS SOMEHOW CAN ROLL MY AIRCRAFT LEFT WHILE THE ENEMY ROLLS RIGHT BUT IM STILL RIGHT THE FUCK BEHIND HIM AT MACH 2 SHOOTING MISSILES AT POINT BLANK RANGE BUT NEED 100 CONFIRMED HITS TO TAKE HIM DOWN PIECE OF DAMN SHIT.

  8. The Pandaren will be EPIC and the monks will be fucking awesome so Jerome can go fuck himself, he is a little pussy.

  9. You are being awfully, AWFULLY generous with this game. 9 out of 10? Please. DFM is the worst thing they added to the Ace Combat series. I’m SO tired of trying to shoot every major enemy with this QTE style crap.

    Story was ridiculous. I’ve never heard about this Jim Defelice guy but someone must tell him Cold War was over years ago. Evil Russians?? REALLY? That is the best you can come up with?

    While bomber mission was nice. I really hated helicopter missions. I could barely see the goddamn screen. Door Gunner missions were kind of fun but unnecessary.

    In short this was the worst Ace Combat I’ve ever played. This was not the kind of comeback I wanted. Even Joint Assault was better than this. It had poor graphics but at least it didn’t have this god awful “bad russian good americans” story and DFM crap.

  10. I have never commented on anything in my entire life, however this is too rediculous for me to stay quiet. Fuck this game. Ace combat 6 is one of the most perfect games I have ever played, just hours of mindless violence. After playing 2 missions in assault horizon, I need to take a fucking aspirin. It is over complicating such a simple concept, fly around, shoot down enemy’s, don’t die. That’s it. But no, you couldn’t just leave it be. Now you have ruined it. Namco, go fuck yourselves.

  11. As a real world private pilot, I’ve been looking to the Ace Combat series for my fighter fix for a while. I have to say, while I didn’t hate Ace combat 7, I infinately prefer six. Due to the pilot thing, it is of course the realism that pains me most. AC6 wasn’t realistic, but it felt very well balanced between simulator and arcade. It was all free flown, the mg was a respectable weapon, and missiles killed in a hit or two on ace. It’s the damage that pains me most with AC7, a modern fighter should fall to just one strafe of MG, or one missile. The full minute MG and 15 missile thing kind of breaks the immersion of an intense dogfight. The other major offense was, of course, DFM. Don’t get me wrong, AC7 implements rail shooter into flight simulator almost perfectly for an average point-gun-at-thing gamer, but largely damages the expierience to a sim gamer, and certainly to a pilot. I honestly found it’s forced nature somewhat insulting. I’m not saying it shouldn’t exist, if AC sold only to the gamer-pilots and simgammers of the world, it would not survive. DFM was brilliantly implemented, but should have been an in-menu option.

    Another major complaint I have are the assault helos. I have spent time in military grade, dome projection, actuated, attack helo simulators (thanks to a few military friends), and it is painfully obvious that the AC helo programmers had no idea how to even approach it as an arcade. Not only are the helos nearly impossible to fly, but they do completely impossible things like tilting forward without moving forward. It’s like they started out making a nose gunner setup, then decided what the heck, let’s let ‘em move themselves. The battlefield games, with W collective and mouse cyclic, will honestly give you a much more realistic helo experience.

    A rather major quirk that kept popping up was that when the camera cuts to something exploding, the sim keeps running, thus you can miss targets
    or even run into a wall during the cinimatics.

    One thing I found absent was
    missions that felt decisive. Missions with major air wars, major ground wars, or both. Also, “boss” fights seemed more based on B- mashing serendipity than skill, particularly the last. This made them frustrating and not very rewarding.

    In spite of many complaints, I will say it looked good and I liked feeling more a part of the
    ground and allied air operations rather than them being a faceless, nameless burden, infact I think
    that was my favorite aspect of the game. I also preferred AC7’s system of turn efficiency over the old “high-g”.

    I did have fun, but not nearly as much as ace
    combat 6.

  12. I’m purchasing a 360 just so I can get back to Fires of Liberation, disappointed with this one! And why can’t I just go for a free burn around the skies just for fun? Or am I missing something? Stop dropping what makes these games great!!!

  13. I enjoyed this game, I see the issues I feel that we should support ace combat so the franchise doesn’t die.

  14. Fuck this game. Those of you who think it is good don’t know shit. Go play Ace Combat 4 or 6 and then shut the fuck up. Pussy ass piece of shit trash Call of Duty wanna be fucking garbage bitch shit. Wasted my fucking time nad money on this got damn shit

  15. I still don’t understand how this stupid faggot ass piss poor mockery game is worth anything. I have a backpack full of fucks but somehow can not bring myself to spare one for this bullshit. Fuck this damn game. I put the disc around my dick…why…because this game sucks fucking dick

  16. Well the tip of my dick anyways. Realized that would mean my dick is really small like the brains of those who made this sorry shit

  17. Must unfortunately agree with the naysayers. Ace Combat 6 is so much more fun and without a doubt the main issue is the DFM, which makes a fun arcadey flight sim into a shitty autoshooter. Fly close to enemy, activate DFM, freekill. Go to next target, activate DFM, freekill. Which plane you’re using? Doesn’t matter. Which special weapon? Who needs special weapons when DFM gives you all the no-skill freekills you want?

    Honestly, it just feels like a good looking demo, there’s no fun gameplay to be had. I will dick around with the game because honestly, there’s not all too many good options on PC, but it’s definitely a very shallow shadow of what real ace combat games represent.

    I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. People who find Ace Combat 6 “too hard” should probably play completely different games, because this just isn’t enjoyable.

    • DFM is a terrible, terrible idea indeed, and to me that just one of the many flaws this game has, in comparison to other AC games, if you judge it on it’s on, call it just Assault Horizon and pretend it’s a new franchise, it’s kinda good.

      But if you really put next to the previous AC titles, this has to be the shameful uncle every family has it but no one wants to talk about it.

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