Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
Flight games have been marginalised of late, successfully swept aside in the FPS's march to global dominance. One series is mounting a fightback with a fleet of cutting edge aircraft and smart weaponry. Namco Bandai has urged Project Aces to reworked their much-loved Ace Combat series to lure in Call of Duty gamers for a bit of a break from their long evenings of spawn-camping and perk-abusing.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon attempts to blend FPS sensibilities with good old-fashioned hi-tech air combat. In addition to that Project Aces have been working on a storyline that is much more realistic than its predecessors. Beginning in Africa, your task force discovers new and devastating weapon codenamed Trinity. From there you travel round the world from Dubai to Russia and even Miami engaging enemies in combat using some of the world's most advanced fighters and combat helicopters to discover the truth behind Trinity.
One thing that the Ace Combat series has always prided itself on is the details. Assault Horizon is no different. Every fighter and helicopter is carefully modelled on the real life version with everything from the ancient Mig-21 Fishbed fighter to the latest F-35B stealth fighter painstakingly recreated as accurately as possible without violating any national security secrets.
There is quite a variety of fighting aircraft available throughout the game with French and Swedish aircraft available as well as the usual Russian and US hardware. The Eurofighter Typhoon even makes and appearance and is suitably impressive. This really is a game for the fighter-spotters. The AH-64 Apache Longbow and the latest Blackhawk gunship also feature quite heavily with gunship and turret gunner segments breaking up the long and testing fighter and ground attack missions. The AC-130 Gunship also plays a starring role in one of the early African missions as you escort a Delta task force as they try to seize a Trinity weapon in a mountainous region.
Weaponry also plays a factor in the game. Every fighter is equipped with machine guns and a decent stock of multi-prupose missiles. There are also a selection of very useful secondary armaments from multi-lock air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles as well as bombs and even electronic counter-measures for neutralising enemy missiles.
The devil is indeed in the details and as well as getting their aircraft and weaponry spot on, Project Aces have also used satellite photography to reproduce the game's combat theatres. The mission in Dubai is highly entertaining and it is much more fun zipping in and out of the real-life Dubai skyline than it is dodging fictional sky-scrapers.
The air combat missions are exceptionally impressive. Project Aces have implemented a new DCM combat system making the combat much more exciting and involving. Get close enough to an enemy and a green circle will flash around them. At this point push both shoulder buttons and you will enter into DCM mode pushing the camera into a closer over the shoulder view. Switch to your secondary weapons and the camera will switch to just underneath the aircraft next to the weapon bays. The action instantly becomes faster and more fluid as you try to keep the enemy plane in your targeting circle in order to get a missile lock. You can also try and get in a few good hits with the machine gun at the same time.
Land a hit on the enemy plane and you will see shards of debris flying towards you and your view may even briefly get splattered with oil from the disintegrating enemy plane. Destroy the final enemy in that wave and you may even be greeted with brief cinematic showing the plane exploding and crashing to the ground before you get back into the fray.
The DCM mode can also be used to evade attacks and pull off chest-crushing counter manoeuvres. When in a missile lock you simply decelerate until a green and a red arrow come together and then when they turn into a rotating arrow press both shoulder buttons and you will flip your plane in behind your pursuer with an instant missile lock. There is a real sense of speed in the battles and it can be quite disorienting at times. This is a good thing though as it lends an extra layer of authenticity to the combat.
Piloting the Apache Longbow adds a different dimension to Assault Horizon. The helicopter missions allow you to engage more with the ground forces in the game's storyline. One major mission has you supporting the rescue of a downed pilot from a fellow squadron. While these Apache sections are fun, the controls feel sluggish in comparison to the fighter sections that make up the bulk of the game. Project Aces also haven't quite got a handle on where to place the helicopter on the screen while you're shooting at targets and in the third-person view it often just obscures what you're firing at. Switching to a cockpit or HUD view does alleviate this problem but it can't make up for the slow response of the controls making the chopper combat a bit more of a handful than it should be.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon has made an admirable attempt at making flight combat games more appealing and accessible to today's twitchy FPS gamers. The air combat missions are every bit as adrenaline-fuelled as your typical scripted Call of Duty. The sheer velocity of these missions is interrupted by the slightly sluggish helicopter missions and the entirely unnecessary Blackhawk turret gunner missions. Thankfully these sections make up a relatively small proportion of the game and most seasoned gamers will probably find themselves rushing through these bits to get back into the cockpit of their favourite fighter. This is not a bad effort and comes highly recommended for anyone who wants to take a break from the military FPS deluge that is about to ensue.