Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Review | I Have Waited Twenty Years for This One

In short

Forget what you know about the Ace Combat series or any flying title for that matter – Assault Horizon is the culmination in this reputable series thanks to the innovative design that is well executed. Assault Horizon delivers the most emotive experience this genre has ever seen.

Developer: Project Aces

Publisher: Namco Bandai

For fans of: Jets, Helli’s, Action

Reviewed on: Xbox 360

Also available on: Playstation 3

If we had to give it a numerical score: 8.5 out of 10.

Overview

Assault Horizon takes place in the year 2015, the Warwolf Squadron, led by Lieutenant Colonel William Bishop, are on a mission to stop an anti-government insurgency that is sweeping throughout the African continent. The squadron is part of the 108th Task Force within a large multinational UN military force. The mission is to secure a new super-weapon, the ‘Trinity’ and save the day. Assault Horizon has you fly over Washington, Dubai, Miami, Moscow and Tokyo amongst other picturesque cities.

Gameplay and Features

Assault Horizon is driven by a storyline which takes the missions to the various skies and determines what you will be flying. I cannot remember a single storyline from a flying game, but Assault Horizon’s story was strong and interesting enough for me to get emotionally involved with.

Assault Horizon’s missions are well diversified and use a vast range of Fighter-Jets, Helicopters [or Choppers] and Bomber Planes to add variety to the missions. Yes, essentially you gun down targets but the design surprisingly offers a nice amount of variation. Missions vary in targets and you are provided with the various aircrafts that suit that mission. From there you can even choose your secondary weapon sort i.e. if you a striking targets on the ground then ‘Air-to-Ground’ missiles would be the optimum weapons. The missions vary from air battles, air-to-ground battles to manning guns on the various aircrafts. Expect some totally unique tasks or missions than have never been on offer before in the genre – I was pleasantly surprised in this aspect.

The major new gameplay feature is a system called “Close-Range Assault” or better known as ‘Dog-fights’. This new feature alone is enough to convince any Ace Combat fan to want this one. I am also glad to report this feature was well designed and executed spectacularly well. These close battles brought with them the intensity that the genre needed. Once you lock into the mode [by lining up the target] the AI controls your craft to keep you on the tail of the target. You will still need to steer as the target does to lock on to your target with your weapon of choice, but the AI will keep you from stalling or falling completely off path. You need to keep your target in the aiming [circle] for a few seconds to lock on and then fire. You watch the hunted aircraft getting stripped of its metal as you tear into it. Once the target is just about destroyed the camera focuses on the target in slow motion, so you can watch the glorious destroyed aircraft as it falls from grace.

Technically, Assault Horizon is brilliant – from the clever radar systems that even differ depending on the weapons and aircraft; to the flying controls. The controls have evolved using the entire controller’s interface. Some really clever new control features have you do new things in the air – my favourite being the ability to back-flip, going from being hunted to becoming the hunter. Not even this aspect was simplified and requires a certain sequence to be pulled off. I say “technically brilliant” because the controlling of the aircraft and its instruments has substance to it, it’s rewarding, it immerses you. Hardly anything is dead-simple while not being over-the-top simulator either.

Once you complete a mission in the story mode it unlocks that stage for co-operative mode. Also added to multiplayer is ‘Capital Conquest’ which is basically two teams of 8 vs. 8, each team taking turns to attack or defend a world capital, such. This mode is tailor-made for dog-fighting and you can choose between, fighters, attackers, attack helicopters, and bombers which can all be flown together simultaneously.

Graphics and Sound

The art direction is realistic with the aircrafts being the major focus. The aircrafts are realistic-looking with great detail. The skies and the cities all look realistic to, being designed from satellite imagery by the producers. Even the various characters are of an apt quality while being secondary to the main stars – the aircrafts. The visuals of flying through weather, smoke, explosions and clouds were all elegantly put together providing the most realistic look I have seen on consoles. This aspect coupled with the dramatic close-battles all work together to create the most dramatic production this genre has seen.

The cinematic scenes further elevate the storyline and have that ‘big budget’ look to them. The cinematic sequences are plentiful breaking up the gameplay and mission up quite nicely. I was particularly thankful for the regular cinematic scenes as it offered me a chance to blink.

You can play in the third-person view or in the cockpit. The third-person view is so dynamic that I after the first hour I left it there for the duration of the game. The fine detailing of the beautiful aircrafts along with being able to see the after-burners or moving-parts in action was a real highlight for me. Stunning, just stunning!

The scoring and soundtrack compliment the visuals; dramatic when it needed to be, tense when it needed to be and well designed to suit the jet-fuelled pace of the game. The voice-acting is memorable and helps you connect with the various pilots that you fly as. Constant communication as you would expect with a fleet of pilots working together to a common goal, keeps you informed of what is happening around you and what the objectives are.

Overall the visuals and sound is of a good enough quality to compete with the biggest of action franchises.

Conclusion

So to explain my title – “I have waited twenty years for this one”.

I am a late 70’s child and so as an impressionable young boy in the 80’s, getting into movies, ‘Topgun’ was born. I say ‘born’ because that movie still lives for some of us, and has probably never matched in terms of what it did for the fighter-pilots’ image and of course their machines. It helped catapult Tom Cruise and glorified the fighter-jet. I watched the movie a hundred times and every time Maverick, Goose or Iceman took to the air, my eyes were as round as soccer balls and my jaw dropped for the entire duration they were in flight – ‘jets’ were just the coolest things ever!

So I have played just about every flying game ever made since, there has been some good and some mediocre, but none ever did for the mighty fighter-jet what Topgun did… until now.

The Ace Combat series started off well and has enjoyed a good following but I don’t believe they ever brought the drama and they were always shy of being totally great. Assault Horizon is filled to the brim with drama and constantly surprises with innovation. Not since the original has a title in the series been able to surprise and provide jaw-dropping, round-eyed flying Rock and Roll.

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