For years, Project Aces has honed its craft as one of the world's premium developers when it comes to combat flight simulators. But with this latest Ace Combat title, they've gone out of their comfort zone and gone into the danger zone. The focus is now on a re-world scenario, and they've also given themselves the challenge of trying to cater for not only their hardcore fanbase, but a new audience of action fans. Many other developers have failed in this endeavour, but Project Aces pass with flying colours.
Previous Ace Combat titles have been centered around a fictional universe, but Assault Horizon is very real. It takes place in the near-distant future where NATO has been assigned to quell an uprising in Africa. In typical style, this then escalates into something much more sinister, as a nuclear-based weapon called "Trinity" is brandished by rebels whose intentions aren't prim and proper.
The quality of the story is there and it shows. Given the talent of the writer that penned it, this kind of quality should be expected. However, it still suffers from the same cliche problems of modern war games. Things happen far too fast, they're all far too predictable/ridiculous and you end up jumping between far too many characters.
It's a shame, because the characters aren't that bad - it's just hard to feel anything for them or get too invested with what they're going through.
The core gameplay is still the same as previous installments, but there have been some modifications to make the game a bit more relevant in today's industry. The first of which is the Close-Range Assault (CRA). In past combat flight games, there was always a frustrating scenario that reared its ugly head. When fighting against strong opposition, you would end up flying around in circles, unable to get them in your sights long enough to get a lock-on. The CRA system rectifies this with consummate ease.
Now, if you're close enough and at a good angle, you're able to engage in close-combat with your target fighter jet. This allows you to chase right behind, and makes the action seem very gritty. It's not "scripted", but you do concede a considerable amount of control during this time. You still have the ability to leave, and you'll need to aim and make sure you keep on their tail, but there are set paths that you'll end up flying through no matter what happens - it takes the allure away a bit, but it did allow the developers to put in some nice spectacles.Niggles aside, its implementation is spot-on. Not only can you do this to enemies, but they can do it to you as well. And when this happens, it's up to you to perform a counter and turn the tide - which can also be done by opponents. It creates a fun little dynamic of back and forth.
This also rears its head at other times, when you're having to attack targets on the ground. In this situation, you're given a waypoint and when you're there, you're given a set path that you need to fly down. However, during this time, all of your missiles reload faster and your gun takes less time to overheat. It's effectively a "Rambo" mode, where you become a super charged military machine.
To try and mix things up, and to go along with the theme of the story, you will also take on other types of air combat. The stereotypical AC-130 mission is in there, but you will also get the chance to take on the role of an attack chopper pilot for some hardcore ground assaults. These modes are decent, but they don't compare to any of the flight modes that are present. The modes where you're manning a helicopter, especially, seem rather boring in comparison to everything else.
Graphically, Assault Horizon excels in many ways. Flying over the various cities in the world that feature in the campaign is great, especially Dubai, where all of the trademark buildings are there in their vertical glory. It's also great to see bits flying off of the planes when you're raining bullets down, although the slow-motion camera zoom following missile strikes isn't that flattering. The various big explosions that take place throughout the game are also a bit disappointing. Considering you have the ability to fly through them, you'd think more effort would have been taken to make sure they looked stunning, even when close up.
After completing the campaign, really, the game is only just getting started. You'll then be able to play through all of the missions again but there's also the option to fly them co-operatively. The game also features a ton of unlockables and online multiplayer - if you're a fan of combat flight games, this should keep you occupied for quite a while.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon was quite a daring move by Project Aces. They could have quite easily just stuck to what they knew without attempting to change anything, but they wanted to make the experience much more relevant to the action genre. And to their credit, they succeeded, but only when they stuck to the actual flying. Other gameplay elements are thrown-in, but they don't feel anywhere near as polished and really, without them, the story could have retained much more focus. A solid title, but there are still improvements to be made.
|New flight mechanics make it much more gritty.|
|Huge selection of planes and tons of replay value.|
|Project Aces haven't lost their touch.|
|Story never really takes hold.|
|Alternate gameplay types don't add anything.|
|Helicopter segments are especially boring.|