Many people have heard of the Ace Combat flight arcade games, and hundreds of thousands of players around the globe are fans of the series. However, Assault Horizon was an anomaly. The game's producer, Kazutoki Kono, saw fit to try a different formula for the series, and the results were varied. I'm going to attempt an honest review with little bias from the rest of the Ace Combat series. First things first, imagine this game didn't have the "Ace Combat" name in front. Because it's not a part of the series at all. Got it? Alright.Story
: The game's story is tightly integrated with the missions, allowing for a smooth transition and preventing the player from getting lost (although it can definitely be intrusive at points). You are flying as Colonel William Bishop, a renowned fighter pilot, for Task Force 108, a multi-national task force including units from the United States, Russia, and even France. The plot is centered around Colonel Andrei Markov and his personal vendetta for revenge against the United States, as well as a rebel uprising within Russia.
Yeah, it's not anything we haven't heard before. If you've played any modern warfare shooter released in the last 5-8 years, you basically got it all. What it does do, however, is give us varied characters. To be quite honest, I loved flying alongside Russian and French pilots - they actually seemed more interesting to hear over the radio than your own American squadmates. But other than that, character interaction is really cringe-worthy and there isn't much development to speak of.Graphics
: Holy. Crap. Yeah, they're not the most
beautiful thing, but Assault Horizon in 1080p at 60fps on PC is probably the greatest thing to happen from Project Aces. The aircraft are all gorgeous, with fully-modeled cockpits and animated control surfaces. Explosions are a little Michael Bay-esque, but something I will never get sick of is seeing an enemy aircraft shatter to pieces from a charged missile hit or the individual holes I create with the machine gun. The level of detail in the environment completely sucks at close-up views, but in general the game is so great to look at.Gameplay
: Obviously the meat of the game. Fair warning, I play on "Original" controls, which emulates "Normal" in older Ace Combat
games. The game is set by default to "Optimum", which emulates "Novice" in the older games and makes the game a lot easier (or a lot harder, depending on your playstyle). So if you have the game and it's not controlling the way you think it should be, take a look at the control setting and see if it's this you gotta look at.
Assault Horizon's gameplay is pretty great at its best times, but really flawed at its worst. Everyone by now is aware of Dogfight Mode (DFM), which allows you to initiate a close-range chase sequence between you and one enemy aircraft. Guns are more accurate and missiles can be charged for insane accuracy and damage, but you run the risk of the enemy aircraft performing a counter-maneuver to get behind you. A lot of people claim that this is an on-rails sequence, but for the most part that isn't the case. The player still has complete control of their aircraft and must stay locked on with the enemy to keep this sequence going.
Playing with fighter aircraft is the core of the game, and it works. You can still dogfight without DFM, but DFM is unfortunately required for some boss-type enemies - these guys have plot armor and are set up to give you a cinematic experience with additional dialog, you know the drill. It definitely retracts from gameplay a little too much, especially when the game cuts away from your aircraft to give you a cinematic close-up of the aircraft being destroyed. I stated before that I loved seeing this, but not in the middle of a big dogfight with tons of other units firing on me.
Assault Horizon also introduces, for the first time, gameplay with bombers, helicopters, and a gunship to the series. However, I listed them in order from best to worst. Bombers are pretty fun to fly due to their unique weight and power, and you get to perform a strafing run with dozens of bombs at your disposal in the unfortunately single mission you get to have them. Helicopters, however, are really difficult to control and the missions designed for them are really poor - they're insanely difficult and seem to be aimed at shooting you down unless you follow a specific path. The gunship is the worst - anyone who's played an AC-130 mission in other shooters are sick of these already. The (thankfully only) one mission designed for it is enough to fit into the horror genre given its difficulty in the number of SAMs and AA guns that are trying to shoot you down. There's also two missions that are on-rails shooter sequences using a Black Hawk's machine gun, and they definitely overstay their welcome in terms of time.
There are also a few glitches you may encounter, such as enemy aircraft flying through the ground (this has been a common bug in the entire Ace Combat
series) or cutting away from DFM at insane angles that you can't follow. But for the most part, thankfully the fighter/multirole missions are the core of the game and they do work, just with a few rough edges for sure.Other
: By the way, I didn't mention music or sound effects. These are gorgeous, and everyone on the Assault Horizon OST, from Rio Hamamoto to Hiroshi Okubo to Keiki Kobayashi and more, deserve insane credit. Also, be advised that there are two glaring bugs that no one has fixed since GFWL was removed: you can't rename aircraft skins or skill sets, and trying to access the leaderboards crashes the game. Additionally, it's not a CPU hog but it'll definitely tax on the processor. I can't run this game in tandem with a Skype call, otherwise it will lag every now and then. These are definitely minor things, though, so it's not too big of a problem.Summary
: Assault Horizon is definitely a flawed game but, for the most part in my opinion, it works. There are some things I didn't mention, like multiplayer (which is dead) and Air Strike Mode (which works just fine). I own the game on the PS3 and paid $60 for it, and I don't regret that at all because I felt it was worth it. Most won't, but the Steam version costs $20 when it's not on sale, and it goes on sale for $5 every now and then. So, for $20, I think it's worth a try. For $5, though, it's definitely worth it. Just remember, this ain't Ace Combat, bro