After Namco Bandai and Project Aces announced Assault Horizon and described it as a Call of Duty of the skies, my heart sank a little. The trailers were intense and I was excited, but the comparison alone to Call of Duty irked me somewhat. Truth be told, the demo of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon surprised me. It's mechanically Ace Combat, albeit with a slight nod towards arcade rather than simulation, but that just may exactly be what the franchise needs to stay relevant today.
Controls are pretty standard. Flight is mapped to the left analog and the afterburner to the right shoulder button, while weapons are mapped to the face buttons. What you may want to take note of is the new Close Range Assault system. Get close enough to an enemy target and the game will prompt you to hit both shoulder buttons at the same time, which throws pilots into a quasi-on-rails chase sequence with the target.
If you think the trailers make it look good, just wait until you actually try it out. Despite being on-rails, these Close Range Assault battles are intense. The camera tightly hugs the back of the jet, the shallow depth of field brings the target into focus, shattered steel and grime stick to the camera lens and the only things that can be heard are the sound of the jet engines and weapon systems going off. It's all up close and personal.
Using the machine gun, you can target your enemies and accuracy is based on a circular reticle which expands to indicate your accuracy. The smaller the reticle, the less accurate your shots are.
If there are multiple bogeys, you can swap to the special weapons system which adjusts the camera from just behind the cockpit to below the body of the jet and locks onto as many targets as possible. It's context-sensitive, but at times a special kill can be triggered where the camera follows behind the trail of missiles. It's not so much about witnessing an enemy target being torn to shreds from up close as it is about hearing them torn to shreds up close. The tear of metal and shrapnel is an amusingly satisfying sound and Assault Horizon excels at it.
On that note, previous Ace Combat games had players pick enemy targets off from a distance, in Assault Horizon the Close Range Assault system is the new star of the show. With that said, the game doesn't force anyone to use it. In fact, it can be played like any old Ace Combat game, locking onto targets from a distance and assaulting them as such.
Visually, it looks great. Despite being a game that takes place in the sky, the vast landscape below is impressive and the Close Range Assault system has made it a point to bring the fight between buildings and various structures should you be at low altitudes when it's triggered. The poly-count and textures may not be so great in stills, but in motion, you won't even notice it.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon was certainly one of the bigger surprises at E3 this year. The core mechanics seem to have been kept, but on top of that Project Aces has added the Close Range Assault system. It definitely ups the adrenaline levels, creating a blockbuster cinematic experience. Ace Combat fans and curious newcomers alike should keep an eye out for this game when it hits stores on October 11 this year.