Video Game Review: ‘Ace Combat: Assault Horizon’ Gets Shot Down

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CHICAGO – I like to think of myself as a bit of a maverick. I always thought how awesome it would be to be Tom Cruise in “Top Gun,” killing bogeys, winning the girl’s heart, and showing Val Kilmer what’s what. I guess you could say I was excited to strap on the seat belt and give “Ace Combat: Assault Horizon” a try. Video Game Rating: 2.5/5.0
Video Game Rating: 2.5/5.0

The “Ace Combat” series, which is developed by Namco Bandai, has been around as far back as 1992, when the series was known as “Air Combat.” The series is an arcade style action flight simulator that gives the player the opportunity to soar through the skies and fight opponent aircraft. From military game fans to players who enjoy fast paced air battles, “Ace Combat” offers several different modes and entertainment forms.

The setting for the series has long been in an alternate history of Earth composed of different geography and locations, but “Ace Combat: Assault Horizon” is actually set in real-life Earth. The locations are all real places, and the composition of these locations are well constructed. Maybe the most exciting fighting sequence in the game was when I was whipping through the skyline of Dubai and almost crashed into the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
Photo credit: Namco Bandai

The game starts its story in the near future of 2015. You plays as several different pilots fighting for a fictional U.N. military force called the Warwolf Squadron. You must fight against a rebel Russian crime syndicate that is causing chaos in eastern Africa, as well as other enemy rebels along the way.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
Photo credit: Namco Bandai

From the get-go, the game feels like “Call of Duty” in the sky. It is clear that the campaign and story is nothing extravagant or all that important, but rather a narrative constructed to get you into the sky, fighting enemy aircraft. The very opening of the game has you right in the cockpit, learning to fly your plane and chase down enemies. I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t excited as I yelled out “I’ve got lock” and “I’ve got tone” during the chases and dog fights, but I could have done with “Danger Zone” instead of the intense, loud, and obnoxious music that plays during the fights. Half the time, I couldn’t understand instructions coming from other pilots because the music was blasting so terribly loud, and several of the cues and mission details were lost in hard-rock translation.

The game continues with a series of missions you must complete, each separated by a cut scene or two, and the game alternates from fighter pilot combat to helicopter and gunship missions. The variation in the types of missions is a nice touch, as completing fighter pilot missions repeatedly would become rather boring, but it also poses some problems as far as controls work.

When fighting with the fighter planes, the controls for maneuvering are all based on the left joy stick. The right stick only works to shift the camera. Thrust and brake are controlled by the triggers and the weapons are the buttons. However, when switching over to helicopter and gunships, the controls change rather drastically. The helicopter requires maneuvering control with both joysticks, a difficult change to adapt to after having piloted the fighter plane for several missions. Raising and lowering altitude are adjusted with the button controls and the weapons are controlled with the triggers. This is basically a flip-flop of the controls of the fighter plane. The gunship requires no flying technique, but camera movement is used by the sticks and weapons are a combination of trigger and button functions. The controls can become frustrating to adapt to from mission to mission and are definitely a flaw of the game.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
Photo credit: Namco Bandai

The controls are also flawed as far as accomplishing maneuvers. Many of the controls are combinations of buttons that do other things individually. For example, the evade control is a combination of a right and left trigger. However, each trigger can also be used for maneuvering or firing weapons (depending on whether you are using the fighter plane or helicopter). Often times, the combination is not processed by the game and instead of evading an attack, you end up firing a missile or turning left. It can be extremely frustrating, especially in the heat of a fight.

As far as the fights, the game is fun, but can become rather redundant. The missions in the game last quite some time with several rounds of enemies appearing to fight and a series of checkpoints that you cross in every battle. Each mission could be cut down to about half the time and they would still be a bit long. Unlike a tactical military game on the ground, a fighting game in the sky becomes a bit boring as there is only one real way to destroy each enemy. Also, the campaign fights have set sequences that you will always go through. In one particular fight, I was having trouble completing the mission and noticed that two of the enemies I had to take down were set to explode in the same spot after the same dogfight chase. It was frustrating as two missiles usually take down an enemy plane, and I would land six or seven missiles on these two ships, but they wouldn’t blow until they got to a specific location on the map.

The game does add a dog fighting feature that hasn’t been available in games past that is exciting, yet adds to the repetitive feeling of the fighting missions. After locking on to an enemy plane, the player can get to a dog fight mode that brings a tight camera on the plane and allows for enhanced visuals of the battle. The fight is now closer than ever, which is fun to watch, but the dog fighting feels a bit like cheating. Once in the dog fight mode, it becomes pretty easy to blow the enemy to smithereens, sending broken plane and oil all over your windshield. While the new fight mode looks cool, it takes away difficulty and adds redundancy.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
Photo credit: Namco Bandai

The developers offer a variety of aircraft that are great representations of real military planes, but the flaw here is the weaponry. Each ship comes with multiple options of missiles, all of which could never actually be mounted on a plane. To make the game work, creators had to bank on players suspending reality and believing a military plane can carry hundreds of different missiles at one time. The strangest part is I didn’t play a single mission where I almost ran out of ammo. I constantly had over a hundred missiles left over, as well as tons of rounds in the machine gun. It doesn’t seem like the vast amount of artillery is necessary at all.

The online/multiplayer mode is a replica of fighting in the campaign mode, but offers several different games such as Deathmatch, where you fight everyone on the map, and Capital City Battle, where two teams work against each other trying to destroy the other team’s capital city (Washington, Paris, Dubai, or Miami). If you are a player that buys military games like “Call of Duty” mostly for the multiplayer modes, “Ace Combat: Assault Horizon” doesn’t disappoint. The campaign mode of the game is lacking and you can get just as much, if not more excitement from playing online matches that are shorter and less staged.

Overall, “Ace Combat: Assault Horizon” is a fun play for a gamer that likes action packed flight simulators, but the game becomes repetitive rather quickly. Online modes offer a decent amount of variety and quicker rounds, but the campaign is a mess of lengthy missions, spotty controls, and redundant fighting; even the variations of helicopter missions or dog fighting with the fighter plane can’t save you from getting somewhat bored. The game has some value to it with the high speed plane chases, but after playing it for several hours, the high speed and action aren’t nearly as fun, and you may want to quit the campaign and just use the game for the multiplayer modes.

“Ace Combat; Assault Horizon” was developed by Project Aces and released by Namco Bandai on October 11th, 2011. It is rated T (Teen) and the version reviewed was for the Xbox 360, but the title is also available for the PS3. staff writer Tim Martens

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