|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Project Aces|
|Pub: NAMCO Bandai Games America|
|Release: October 11, 2011|
|Players: 1, 2-16 online|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Alcohol Reference, Blood, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence|
by Amanda L. Kondolojy
Combat-based flying simulators aren't exactly common in the current gaming landscape. Sure, you get two or three a year, but truly blockbuster games in this genre are unfortunately few and far between. Fortunately, the Ace Combat series has become known for bringing their A-game to this tiny niche genre and delivering a quality experience to gamers. The latest Ace combat game, Assault Horizon, delivers on this tradition of quality.
The game takes an ultra-modern spin on the flight simulator and drops you into a militaristic conflict in Africa. It features a story by well-known author Jim DeFelice, and features a decent amount of cutscenes and plot points. Although the Ace Combat series has always had a narrow narrative focus, this is the first time that they are trying to tell a big cinematic story with the game. For the most part, it works. Though I'm not exactly a huge fan of military fiction, for those that are, Assault Horizon gives players an interesting story worthy of the series' reputation.
But if you're not terribly interested in the plot here, that's not a big deal; Assault Horizon definitely has the flight-based gameplay nailed. Mission format is strictly arcade-based, and you'll have a variety of missions to perform within each level. As you reach checkpoints, you'll gain the ability to go after bigger and more challenging targets. However, even though the game throws you into the fray very quickly, the learning curve is nice and balanced for those who don't have much experience with flying simulators.
Most missions have a pretty basic format, which involves flying around a large open area, finding targets, and taking them down. Going after targets is a two-stage process that involves tracking an enemy and then going into dogfight mode. Dogfight mode is a very close tail that allows you to fire short-range missiles and machine-gun fire. However, once you enter dogfight mode, you are more susceptible to missile attacks from the rear, so you don't want to do this until you've tailed your enemy to a remote location. From here, you've got to dispatch your target quickly, as the enemy A.I. will often swoop in to help an embattled comrade.
Unfortunately, the allied A.I. isn't as good. Though enemy A.I. works together well, your own forces don't actually know the meaning of teamwork. Even though you'll see plenty of friendly planes flying around the level, they never actually go after any of the targets or help you out when you have someone on your tail. Fortunately, if you have a friend, you can play a co-op game, which will make tougher levels a bit less brutal. Playing co-op also helps make the game feel a bit more strategic.
Multiplayer fans will also appreciate the game's online offerings, which allow you to take part in team-based aerial battles with up to 16 people. There isn't much depth to the online modes, but they make for a nice competitive component to the game. I do wish that there was a bit more variety to the online component, but with this type of game, I don't know how much could have been done here.
About the only thing missing from Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is hardcore flying mechanics. Though Assault Horizon is an aerial combat simulator, there is a decided focus on the combat portion of the gameplay instead of the flying. You can do some crazy flips and upside-down maneuvers in this title that wouldn't exactly work in a realistic flying simulator, and if you're looking for something that doesn't require just the most basic aerial maneuvers, then you'll be disappointed. However, if you don't mind the game's very liberal approach to flying, the combat is very satisfying, and forming a strategy to go after swarms of enemy planes forms the backbone of this title's core gameplay.