Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
It's raining in Miami but it's not water falling from the sky. The city is being showered with oil and burning shards of aircraft fuselage from a battle raging high above.
This is Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. Namco has decided to change things up a bit in order to make their popular air combat series more palatable to the FPS generation. To that end they've put a payload of effort into injecting gallons of adrenaline into the Ace Combat IP.
The action begins in the skies above Miami in an F-22. Initially Ace Combat reeks of familiarity - the same third person perspective and tight controls that the previous entries in the series have featured but, instead of swooping around to get a missile lock, launching off a few AMRAMs at range and moving on to the next target Ace Combat has a few new tricks up its sleeves.
The key thing for series developer Project Aces is to make the combat more exciting. Yes, it's nice to be able to nail your opponents with a well-placed salvo of missiles but there is nothing more satisfying than getting in close, pulling some high-G maneuvres to get your target in your gun sights and then ripping him to shreds with machine-gun fire the same way the air aces of old used to do it.
They have used a few tricks to find more exciting ways of engaging enemies. The main on is a new dog-fighting combat mode that adopts tighter camera angle and follows closely on the tail of an opponent. At first glance, this looks almost like it puts your fighter on rails with a simple matter of placing your targeting crosshairs over the enemy plane an pulling the trigger. More finesse is required though as the on rails impression is deceptive. You must maneuvre your plane to avoid your opponent escaping and throwing you back into the standard view.
Tailing an enemy like this presents the game's most impressive visual sequences. Start shooting at your opponent and each shot that lands causes a shower of fragments and oil to shower off the aircraft and come flying towards you. Destroy your target and it will erupt in an impressive display of hot metal, burning aviation fuel and exploding warheads.
The mode is simply engaged as well. When you're in a position to launch an attack a notification will flash up on the screen and you simply press both bumper buttons at the same time throwing you into the new camera view.
It is more useful than this though. If an enemy manages to catch you in a missile lock, a carefully timed use of the same button press will engage a very impressive evasive action often placing you in a optimum position for a missile lock on the very same opponent that just had you in his sights.
This may seem like a very simplistic control system but it does require some level of skill to use properly. Timing is everything and the new system can be very rewarding for those that learn how to use it effectively. One slight problem just now is that the variety of animation sequences used for the various maneuvres and exploding enemies are very limited although this is probably just down to the fact that the code on show is still from a fairly early build of the game.
Missiles still play a part in the game and you will be rewarded for your kills with the ability to lock on more than one missile at a time. You can either fire a devastating salvo of missiles at a single target or pick off multiple targets in one single move. This is pretty simple to execute again and can prove pretty useful in a larger fire-fight.
More visceral dogfighting action is not the only improvement that Project Aces is bringing to the table this time around. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon will feature additional helicopter sequences as well as the chance to occupy gunnery positions on gunships and Blackhawk choppers.
While the gunnery sections are pretty standard, on-rails, shooting action, the chance to fly attack helicopters provides a bit of variety with the opportunity to attack ground targets providing a welcome break from the high-altitude aircraft-shredding.
The final version of the game will boast over 30 different playable fighters and helicopters. As well as the third-person perspective that we saw there will be HUD and first-person views available to give gamers the opportunity to view the action the way they want. There will also be a full-simulation mode available for those players looking far as realistic an experience as possible. The other major addition not on show here is the new eight-on-eight multiplayer mode. This will feature four pairs of wingmen on each team dog-fighting for air supremacy.
There's a lot to be excited about with Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. It definitely shows that it has the chops to tempt at least a few of the die-hard FPS crew away from Call of Duty for a bit of a change of scenery. Let's just hope that the changes don't alienate the series' loyal fanbase.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is shooting for release on the PS3 and Xbox 360 on October the 14th.