Official Review: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
I do apologize for the delay of this review. Many of you know why it’s been delayed, but I was out on ‘medical leave’ and couldn’t even manage to sit and play a game. So, with that out of the way, I gotta get this review out for you. You might notice gratuitous use of the word “intense,” but I don’t have any better words to describe the use in the context of this review.
Let me start by saying I’ve been a fan of the Ace Combat franchise since the games first released on the PlayStation. Though I never owned any until the PS2 titles came out, I did spend a bit of time playing them. Ace Combat was the first title I’ve played that introduced me to flight combat games, and they’ve always been very well done.
But this addition to the franchise is, more or less, a reboot of the series. Gone are the imaginary worlds you played on. Gone are the boss battles. Gone are the super-fortresses at the end of the game. Does this hurt the game at all?
The Important Stuff
General Gameplay and Single Player
In a word, no. Not at all. Rather than being set in a fantasy-based storyline, the goal of this Ace Combat is more about having a realistic tone. You now play on our Earth rather than an alternate version of it (only the second time in the series, and the first on home consoles), with, of course, countries we should all be familiar with by now.
Without going into too much detail, the synopsis of the story is that a Russian crime syndicate, Batnoi, is working with an insurgent group (the SRN), where UN and NATO forces discover the group has a WMD by the name of “Trinity”. Needless to say, they have more than just the one, and wound up invading other areas in the process, from Miami to Dubai. Though you don’t have the aforementioned super-fortresses, you do still have that thorn-in-your-side of a squadron that basically haunts you throughout the game. Typical Ace Combat for ya.
This game is loaded with intense moments. One of my favorites is a part where you’re scrambling to get in the air. During a lot of the cutscenes, when you’re sitting inside of your plane, you are able to move the camera around. On this particular mission, I just gotta say, look toward the right as a plane comes in for an emergency landing. It’s freaking insane.
Anyway, most people would be familiar with the controls of this game. However, the default settings, for purists, aren’t sufficient enough, so I’d advise switching the control scheme to the classic controls (which allow you to have better pitch, yaw, and roll control; the default is limited to be more user-friendly to newcomers of the series). In this sense, the game plays exactly how you’d expect, select between targets, switching weapons, firing missiles, etc.
There are a couple new additions, though. The main one, which you may use more often than you think, is the DFM (Dog Fight Mode). If you get close enough to an aircraft, a circle will come up around the plane. Pressing L2 and R2 enables this mode, which puts your plane on semi-auto flight, allowing you to focus more on shooting down your enemies at close range.
This can get pretty hectic. On some missions, these are somewhat scripted, but they’re done in a way to make for a super intense dogfight, with flying close to ground level, explosions on buildings as they collapse, etc. If there aren’t any other immediate enemies nearby, the camera will switch to a cinematic style following your missile/bomb to its target. I can’t fully describe how awesome these dogfights can get.
DFM also has a defense mode. Since other enemies can engage in DFM as well, you have to be alert. Though you have full control over your aircraft when they’re engaged, you do have the ability to sweep up behind them in an awesome, albeit unrealistic, way. I’ve sometimes had a hard time with this, but you’ll see the circle around you, and you can either try to outmaneuver it the normal way, or take your chances by letting them get up close behind you. At this point, you’ll have to line up the red and green indicators which let you know that you can now do a quick loop and get behind them, automatically entering you into DFM yourself. It’s a lot of fun, but you have to be at the right angle to pull it off, so it can get frustrating, especially online.
Now, there are a couple other additions to the game that really help make it stand out. You have helicopters and bomber missions. The helicopters have a much steeper learning curve than the jets, so it might take a little time, initially, to grasp the controls properly. The nice thing is that it’s pretty lenient as far as running into buildings and stuff goes, as you’ll often be flying low to stay out of enemy radar. The number of missions is pretty limited, though, which kind of sucks, but they’re done very well. These also allow you to dodge enemies by performing barrel rolls to avoid enemy missiles. Of course, doing these in a helicopter is a LOT easier than avoiding missiles in a jet, so, in theory, you’ll have an easier time avoiding fire in the helicopter (jets do have flares as well, though).
As for the bombing missions, one requires you to avoid an enemy radar dragnet, which requires careful maneuvering of your large aircraft through a canyon. Ah, just like the old Ace Combats! Except with a larger plane. But the meat and potatoes of these missions is the ability to do carpet bombing. You must enter a bombing path at the right angle, and once engaged (it’s called ASM), you’ll go from the third person view (which can’t be changed during regular flight) to the bomber’s sight, where you’ll essentially paint blast radius circles upon the ground, which is where each individual bomb will land. It makes for an awesome effect if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, this, too, is limited as far as the number of missions go.
The nice thing about ASM is that it’s not reserved to the bombing missions. Some missions have you take control of attack planes, like the A-10, and you enter into these, laying ground fire on enemy targets. When in this mode, missiles and bombs reload much faster, so you can better focus your attacks on congested areas to get rid of the bigger threats like AA and SAM sites.
Of course, the most limited mission type, with just one, is the AC130 gunner mission. You might be familiar with this type of mission from the likes of Modern Warfare 2, but this one is a lot harder. You can, of course, switch to the different size rounds/guns, but as far as finding targets go, it becomes a lot harder. Enemies don’t stick out nearly as much as in MW2, so you really have to be able to focus your eyes.
It can definitely get pretty challenging, as you have to take out enemies before your ground troops are overrun, and with the difficulty in finding enemies, it becomes somewhat frustrating. When you find your targets, however, you’ll see bodies and whatnot fly into the air with the explosions. I liked this mission, even though it took me a few tries, because near the end is pretty intense. In fact, pretty much this whole game is.
For me, this is hit or miss. There are a few modes, with Capital Conquest, Domination, Deathmatch, and Mission Co-op. I say hit or miss because Capital Conquest and Deathmatch seem to be the only game types people play. I haven’t, yet, been able to play the other two. Connectivity, though, is pretty quick. You can do a Quick game or search for a Custom game based on your preferences (your best bet is to just include all the parameters). A Custom game will bring up servers meeting your preferences, as well as connection stability, etc, so you can find the best game to connect to. More games need to have server search functionality.
Deathmatch is pretty standard. You choose a plane (and select colors and weapons; colors can be made custom, too, but I believe you have to finish the campaign before you’re able to mess around with those; custom colors also work on single player, but they really shine online) and try to shoot down other players. Pretty simple, but can also be pretty hectic, as these fireballs can sometimes result in you getting more deaths than kills quite frequently.
My favorite mode, however, is the Capital Conquest mode. It’s basically like conquest modes in other games, where the goal is to take over smaller bases before attacking the big ones. Strewn throughout the battlefield are bases you can capture by blowing them up (sometimes, they can take a few passes of bombings, though). If you have enough bases captured, you can enter into the ASM bombing path of the enemy’s main base. Attackers like the A-10 really do a number here.
Of course, you’ll have that guy that has his helicopter protecting the base, and he can be quite the nuisance while you’re doing your bombing runs, so there are multiple roles you can take. I just do best as an attacker myself, but yes, you can choose between helicopter and jet online (assuming the host allows for them).
My only gripe with the online portion is the slow progression of stats. After about 8-10 games, for instance, I finally increased from level 1, but it’s not too big of a deal. There are some simple perks (which I haven’t unlocked yet), but nothing too ridiculous (more ammo capacity, faster recharge, etc).
Online is a lot of fun. It’s just underused and probably only hardcore fans will play it often. And the maps are a bit smaller than in single player, but they don’t need to be bigger, really. For you team players, you can set up squadrons of up to 4 people, and leaders of squadrons can also set their call signs, of which more unlock as you progress online or perform certain tasks. Winning the MVP for Attack Ace, for instance, unlocks the Falco call sign. Or, if you were the person to deliver the killer blow to a base in Conquest, you’ll unlock the Mobius call sign, etc.
Graphics and Sound
For a flight simulator/arcade game, and its vast maps, the terrain still looks presentable. It may not be the flash and realism you’d like to expect, but it’s done well enough to be satisfactory. However, the plane and helicopter models? Very well done. It’s got a bit of a grittiness to it that doesn’t make it seem too artsy (unless you’re weird and give your F-22 a pink coat with purple trim).
The particle effects are nice, too, though they may not be the best you’ve seen. Explosions are done well enough, and watching as planes blow up in the air and rip apart is quite satisfying. One of the cooler particle effects, however, is oil spray on your screen as you pass through the wreckage of that plane you just took down.
As for the cutscenes, it’s a mixture of in-game and CG. What’s nice is, since the game looks good enough, the transition from CG to in-game is pretty seamless. Voice acting is decent, too, but not the best. At least they fit the characters. It’s definitely not going to win any awards, though, but still sufficient.
Sound quality is great, too. They might not be all that much different than past titles, but why fix what isn’t broken? The ambiance of explosions in the background and your missiles trailing away from you, to the missile warning tone as an enemy closes in on you, it’s all there. But in slightly more detail. As for the soundtrack, it’s pretty fitting. It has what I like to call Military Rock. You know, heavy riffs like you hear from Battlefield 3 to more intensive instrumental scores like in Metal Gear Solid. In fact, it comes with a soundtrack CD if you’re into that kind of stuff.
I believe I covered everything I needed to. To recap, I think this is one of the most intense games I’ve played all year, but I’m not sure if that opinion is biased, as I’ve always been a fan of the series. For what it’s worth, though, if you’re even remotely into the Ace Combat games, or even warfare games in general, you might take an interest in this.
Sure, there might be a few hiccups here and there like the issue I had trying to avoid enemy missiles in DFM, but it doesn’t ruin the overall experience. Another small issue I have with this game is that it does seem rather short. A few missions shorter than past Ace Combat titles, but that may also just be because the intensity in this game is a lot more than past titles, so it might quite literally seem like time flies when you play this.
[review pros=”Intense pretty much throughout
Lots of gameplay variety compared to previous titles
A large variety of planes with the ability to make custom paint schemes
Online is fun and relatively addictive
Co-op is available on some missions” cons=”Bombing, helicopter, and AC130 missions could have been more common
Not enough people playing online
You’ll get the most out of it if you had friends who also own it and play online” score=90]
This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon provided by NAMCO Bandai Games.