The Ace Combat series has always been defined as the definitive arcade dogfight series, not that it had much in the genre to go up against anyway. Sure, the series has evolved from being you super-accessible air-bound fighter to a cliché narrative-driven air combat series, but it’s maintained its eye for plane detail and accessible controls, all the while offering an experience that should appeal to plane enthusiasts and casual gamers alike.
The latest game in the series – Ace Combat: Assault Horizon – continues the corny storytelling, but whatever the game lacks in coherent narrative it makes up for in sheer explosiveness, complimented by an impressive level of battle realism that is perfectly blended with intuitive arcade controls.
Great Variety – Putting gamers into the shoes of several different characters across a campaign can definitely pose problems for a game’s story, failing to allow the player to really associate with a specific individual. This method of character development can be beneficial, though, if it provides enough variety to keep the game interesting. Thankfully, Assault Horizon does this well, moving from Black Hawks to Apache gunships as you play through several different battles with varied squadrons.
It’s great that the series takes you away from the expected fighter-pilot sequences, mixing things up with other great battles such as the Apache. Controlling this beast really does make for some of the best gameplay across the entire series, with its slightly increased difficulty and multiple camera angels giving you a number of different views of the battlefield.
Explosive Sense of Realism – The pacing and constant bickering from surrounding squad mates right in the heat of battle both add a sense of realism I think was distinctively void from previous efforts in the series. There’s no doubting that the developer has aimed to implement the gritty design elements one might associate with Call of Duty games: Assault Horizon’s fast pacing, accessible controls and explosive action all make for a very intimidating but engaging battlefield, something I think is a welcomed design choice, making the game considerably more appealing than other games in the Ace Combat series.
Accessibility – The Ace Combat series has always been known for its accessibility. Its planes might share a level of detail one would expect to see in a hardcore flight simulator, but this most certainly is not a sim: anyone can pick the game up and get right into the action without having ever played another game in the series. The game’s dogfight mode allows you to focus on a specific enemy, as your plane will automatically enter into autopilot as you begin an all-out battle for survival against an oncoming enemy pilot. This is a feature that works well and showcase’s the game’s accessibility at its best: while putting the plane in control of the AI might turn away those looking for a genuine air-combat sim experience, the focus on the enemy during these moments keep things explosive and fast-paced, which is perfectly reminiscent of the Ace Combat series.
Addition of helicopters – The Ace Combat series has never been light on licensed combat planes, and plane enthusiasts should be pleased to know that Assault Horizon is no different, with the likes of the F-22 Raptor, Eurofighter and stealth fighters all at your disposal. There’s also the fantastic addition of helicopters such as the Apache (as mentioned above) that really contribute to making Assault Horizon one of the grittiest and most realistic offerings of war in the series yet.
Awful story and cutscenes – The story, although penned by best-selling war-thriller author Jim de Felice, is plagued by the same issues associated with other Ace Combat games: characters are dull, a dialogue is cliché and cutscenes are forgettable and ugly. The game lacks any special character design and models, although the detail on the planes more than makeup for any presentation issues elsewhere.
Can drag on at times – As great as the dogfights can be at times, they simply go on for too long. It’s hardly a deal breaker but definitely something that hurts the pacing of the experience. Sure, the combat can be quite engaging and enjoyable, but the game’s variety really helps distance it from other Ace Combat games, hurt only by certain instances that drag on for longer than they should.
Although hampered by an awful story and at-times repetitive dogfights, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is an action-packed air combat experience with plenty of variety. Its accessible and intuitive controls make the game open to many different types of gamer, while the addition of helicopters add another explosive element to an already great range of highly detailed fighter planes.