Aerial combat is inherently exhilarating and Ace Combat titles have always valiantly tried to tap into this exhilaration and deliver an exciting and tense dog fighting experience. However, problems have always occurred due to the speed of fighter jets and the technology involved. Aerial combat is now a ranged exchange of homing missiles with seldom few opportunities for close combat. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon has solved this problem with its new dog fighting mechanic but a change in its setting from fictitious nations and technologies to real world nations and technologies has stripped away some of its charm.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon follows a story about a small rebel force from Africa developing a new weapon of mass destruction, gathering an army, joining forces with Russian separatists and putting the world in grave danger. It follows a very tried and tested military plot, allowing for mission to span across several countries and for the enemy to represent a significant threat. It’s certainly not a bad plot either. The writing is solid with great characterisation and there’s a twist or two, but it does feel very familiar, especially if you’ve played the HAWX titles. The tragic thing is, this is a departure from the far more interesting fictitious world developers Project Aces had created before.
The result of the real world setting is real world opponents. All aircrafts, sea and ground units actually exist. It makes the world and its plight relatable but it’s missing the awe inspiring units previous Ace Combat titles impressed players with. There’s no flying fortresses or gigantic rail guns to battle against here and it’s easy to miss these fantasy elements and forget about appreciating what Ace Combat: Assault Horizon brings in its stead.
Mission variety is at an all time high, with mission taking place not only with different fighters but also a range of bombers and helicopters. The primary focus is still on dog fighting in fast jets but these other aircrafts offer up a very welcome juxtaposition to less intense combat missions. The bombing mission are slower and reward precision, whilst the helicopter missions switch between on-rails shooting as you act as the gunner, to attack helicopters where you’re in amongst the building strafing and firing at a whole host of ground units. It’s wonderful to pilot the different aircrafts and experience such different missions or, on occasion, a different perspective of the same mission. The missions are quite lengthy though, cycling through several different objectives and pitting you against multiple waves of enemies. It does threaten to ruin the variety in mission types by making each mission a set of repetitive skirmishes and this is especially present in the fighter jet missions.
Whether you’re fighting off fellow planes or performing bombing runs, you’re guaranteed to have to follow through on the same combat scenario at least three times as additional waves of enemies fly in or more ground units cause bother from below. It does get a bit repetitive and some missions verge on over staying their welcome, but the combat is still enjoyable. Successfully splashing a plane frequently rewards you with a slow motion shot of your target as it falls apart and the new dog fighting mechanic is excellent.
This new mechanic allows you to enter a dog fighting mode when you get near enough to an enemy plane. With a press of the two bumper buttons you’re repositioned behind your target and movement control is stripped away from you. Instead you have more accurate control over your weapon systems, allowing you to use your machine gun to tear the target apart and launch highly accurate homing missiles. The target will try and shake you, taking you on a rollercoaster ride down close to the deck and weaving through any nearby buildings. It’s exciting stuff and highlights the beautiful visuals spectacularly.
You can also control your speed when in dog fighting mode. The closer you are to your target the larger the reticule for locking on and vice versa. Savvy AI will try to speed away from you, breaking out of dog fighting mode, or performs a flip and try to reverse the stakes and get behind you. If they succeed in getting behind you then it’s your turn to try and avoid staying in their sights, or better yet, try flipping yourself by quickly decelerating and hitting those bumper buttons. It’s a brilliantly designed system for close aerial combat and capitalises on the intensity of high speed flying in a new and interesting way.
Multiplayer offers up deathmatch and two team objective modes as well as cooperative play on many of the campaign missions. It’s a comprehensive package for sure; moreover, 16 player dog fighting is utterly marvellous. There’s also an option to replay completed missions with leaderboard support for those looking for an extra challenge beyond the campaign.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon comes mighty close to realising the perfect air combat game, but the repetition within missions and the departure from the fictitious set up holds it back slightly. Still, the dog fighting is exciting and enhanced significantly by the expertly implemented new mechanic, and when it comes to Ace Combat isn’t that what it’s all about?
MLG Rating: 8/10
Platform: Xbox 360/ PS3 Release Date: 14/10/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.