Namco Bandai slips us its newest iteration of Ace Combat, sub-titled Assault Horizon (which still makes no sense after completing the game), cleanly under the radar and delivers a gripping cinematic experience. With a dozen other Ace Combat titles available, Namco had to of learned something, because this title is the first I have played that impressed me.
You play a few different characters in the story, but the main focal point is Lt. Col. Bishop, leader of Warwolf Squadron (an amazingly intimidating name, might I add?). The story is written by New York Times bestselling author, Jim Defelice, and has you tasked with cleaning out insurgents in Africa. During the course of this, you find out they have a powerful superweapon, Trinity, and your objective is not only stop the insurgents (aided by the Russians), but to destroy the Trinity warheads.
While it doesn’t sound as enthralling as I made the game sound, the story is actually well told and well written. This coming from someone who doesn’t like war movies, or doesn’t pay attention in war games. A little slow on the uptake, once Assault Horizon hits that nice vertical climb, it doesn’t bring you back down until the final climax of the game.
The new Dog Fighter Mode, or DFM, in the game is there to help new pilots, and make things more fluid. While tailing an enemy, you can engage DFM, which puts the plane on-rails behind the opponent (unless they evade you). This is a double-sided sword, because I found the machine gun recticle a pain to use, and during certain sequences, the camera was very confused on where it should be. That said, it worked in most cases, and once you get a feel for it, the jet missions are much more enjoyable (albeit long).
Yes, by saying “jet missions”, I was implying there are other types of airplane missions in this game. A few helicopter missions, a few jet bombing runs, and an epic B2 bomber mission break up the jet combat, giving you a breath of fresh air. Dive bombing bases and a ship were nice, but the B2 mission (there’s another plan available, similiar to the B2) really stood out. I won’t spoil the surprise for you, but it was my single favorite mission in the game.
There’s even an AC130 mission, as you provide cover for ground units. These odd ball missions were very unlike the jet missions, because they involved more than a seemingly-endless amount of dogfighting, and left you wanting more. In each mission you can pick from a varied selection of aircraft, though they all have the same purpose. And while you can always rely on your standard missiles and machine guns, most of the time you can pick which special ammunition you want to use. A personal favorite was a cluster of missiles that targeted four enemy aircraft at once.
The final mission was pretty exhilarating, and a perfect climax to a building story. The whole game built itself so well to this one moment, and the whole set piece of the finale closed the last chapter of the game with sheer excellence.
Something I will point out is the soundtrack. It was a fantastic mix of adrenaline-pumping metal guitar riffs and cinematic-quality, swelling orchestrated music. At times, I could glance around at others in my house, and they weren’t reading, or playing, but watching what was going on on the TV. It has that realistic combination of fantastic visuals and great music direction.
The visuals, like I said, are great. The first plane, the textures looked a little smudged, but perhaps it was supposed to be like that, because every other plane look very detailed. Certain enemy planes you destroy will trigger a slow-motion cut scene of the plan tearing to pieces and exploding, which all added to the atmosphere and immersion.
After the campaign is finished and you take a deep breath from the adrenaline rush, you can redo the mission in “Free Mission” to use different perks, or jump into the multiplayer. While I played a little of the multiplayer, I received the game before release, so I can only talk a little about it. It has a standard Deathmatch mode, which I found a little TOO chaotic. There’s also co-op missions, which is basically free play with a partner. In typical Domination form, you can take and hold places on a map in Team Domination.
But the most interesting is Team Capital Conquest. After a few games, it reminded me of Rush from Battlefield 3. One team defends a position on the map, and pretty much focuses on obliterating the opponents, while the other swoops in to attack a central point. After said-point is destroyed, a bombing run opens up, that you much then attack to win. It sounds easy, but one well-placed missle, and your bombing run comes to a halt.
I will admit; in the beginning, I was not enjoying this game at all. But once everything clicked and I got good at the combat, it all fell into place. With a gripping story, a variety of flying options and fun multiplayer, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon should be on your radar this holiday season, especially if you only have a slight interest in it.
Pros: entertaining campaign, awesome bombing runs, slow motion ‘splosions, and a good multiplayer portion
Cons: wonky camera at times, learning curve, jet fighting missions a tad too long