Ace Combat Assault Horizon Review
Your enjoyment of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon will depend a lot on what you're expecting from the game. If you're hoping for a realistic flight sim, you'll be sorely disappointed. If you're thinking that Assault Horizon is just like every Ace Combat game that has come before it, you'll be surprised to find that it's a bit of a departure for the series. And if you're looking for an aerial shooter light on realism and filled with things to shoot at, well, you've come to just the right place.
Previous Ace Combat games have existed in pure fantasy worlds in which fictional countries battled each other in the skies using fighter planes from the real world, with the occasional flying aircraft carrier or some such thing thrown in for good measure. Assault Horizon changes all that, bringing the series into our world with a story that begins with a hypothetical near-future conflict in East Africa that soon expands beyond that region. Well, it almost changes all that. The story still requires a certain degree of suspended disbelief, both for the small likelihood of events ever playing out the way that they do in the game and for the fractured narrative that seems more like a chain of somewhat related events than a cohesive narrative.
Once you're in the air you'll have to suspend some more disbelief unless you think that planes can regenerate health and carry infinite ammo and that helicopters can do barrel rolls while in a stationary hover. This will all either bother you immensely or be of little consequence to your enjoyment of the game, and if you count yourself among those in the first camp you should probably save your money and hope that another IL-2 game is announced soon. If you're still with me at this point, you'll be happy to hear that Assault Horizon has taken a number of steps to prevent the game from being one long exercise of flying in circles chasing the HUD triangles spinning around the screen. Not that there's not a fair amount of that in the game, such things are just inherent to air combat, at least as it's played out in a video game. However, if you can get close enough to the plane represented by one of those triangles you can squeeze the bumpers to pull yourself into a focused dogfight mode with your target. When you're in this mode you're freed from worrying about the few constraints the game's flight model does impose on you, and you'll just need to concentrate on getting a missile lock or keeping the enemy in your crosshairs long enough to get off a clean burst with your guns. Your enemy can shake you while you're in this mode, but as long as you're paying attention and working the stick to keep your target centered and the triggers to speed up or slow down as necessary you shouldn't have much trouble taking down any plane you're pursuing. This isn't always the case, though, as the game essentially forces you to bring some key enemies into dogfight mode for story purposes. Sometimes this leads you through canned sequences that have you doing things like using the smokestacks of a factory as a slalom run and at other times it might trigger the next phase in a mission or the next cutscene in the story.
It's possible for enemies to get you into dogfight mode, as well. You can try to shake them with a series of jukes, but the game gives you an easier and more effective out. In what amounts to a mini game, two arrows appear in your HUD and your goal is to use your speed and turn angle to bring them together. Once you do, you can hit the bumpers to perform a loop that will instantly put you on your former pursuer's tail and switch you into dogfight mode. While dogfight mode takes a lot of the endless circling out of the game, it also makes air combat significantly easier; probably too easy for those who enjoy flight games and all of the maneuvering that goes into scoring a kill.
The game isn't based entirely on fighter combat, although you will be a fighter jock for most of it. You'll also have the chance to take the controls of an attack chopper in ground support missions. Probably the biggest challenge with flying an attack chopper is adjusting to the control layout, which is radically different than that used for the planes. Otherwise they're really easy to control, and it's even easier to take out ground targets thanks to a pretty liberal target lock system. Also, if you have a missile headed your way you'll be given a chance to hit the bumpers and perform a barrel roll which not only guarantees that the missile will miss but will pull you out of the maneuver with a direct line of sight on who fired on you. The only really challenging part of the helicopter missions is the occasional chopper vs. chopper face off, although this is more a consequence of the chopper controls not being particularly suited to air-to-air combat than anything else.
Further mixing things up are missions that are usually more in the domain of the military first-person shooter than the air combat game. For example, you'll man the door gun on a Blackhawk or the weapons console on an AC-130 gunship. These sequences are enjoyable enough, but they do feel somewhat out of place given that they're strictly on-rails missions. Personally I did not mind that so much as I did that some of them are really long � so long that I found myself wishing that they would finish up already so that I could get back to actually flying something. In truth, mission length is an overall issue with the game. Missions routinely run longer than a half hour, which is a long time when you're facing one �more bandits are approaching from the west� moment after another.
As you complete missions they become available for play on an individual basis, allowing you to try them again with a different aircraft. If replaying missions isn't your thing, the game does have a number of online modes that support up to sixteen players to keep you playing once you've completed the campaign. The obligatory deathmatch and domination modes are present, and here's where we separate those who like to fight their battles in tight circles and those who don't. The dogfight mode is present in online battles as well, so things aren't all circling with the addition of the dogfight-counter-dogfight cycle to the festivities. Things run pretty smoothly online, so if this is your kind of thing you'll enjoy it. I preferred the game's Capital Conquest mode myself. This is a team game in which each team has a base comprised of a number of buildings and the goal is to destroy the enemy's base while preventing them from doing the same to yours. The addition of ground targets really mixes up the combat, and players have the option of filling a ground attack role using a multirole aircraft or flying an air superiority fighter to either protect their attack aircraft or provide a defensive air patrol over their base. The other modes are enjoyable enough for occasional play, but Capital Conquest is definitely the star of the online game.
Final Rating: 78%. It doesn't necessarily ace aerial combat, but it's a fun diversion when you need a break from grounded shooters.