- Publisher: Namco Bandai
- Developer: Project Aces
- ESRB Rating: “T" for Teen
- Genre: Air Combat
- Pros: Nice presentation; fun gameplay; online play
- Cons: Dogfights are too easy; too bro'd up; chopper missions
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon takes place in the real world and features U.S. pilots fighting in the skies around the Middle East, Russia, and beyond. The story is still an over the top fight against superweapons, but gone are the cutscenes focusing on civilians and the suffering that war causes as they are instead replaced with machismo and bravado from the pilots you play as. The drastic change in tone was done to appeal to the Battlefield / Call of Duty crowd, and in that way it most certainly will be successful, but it comes at the expense of some of the charm and uniqueness that Ace Combat used to have. We're not so bitter that we're going to mark it down for it, but we do feel the game is a bit too "bro'd" up for our tastes.
First, the new stuff. Turret missions are pretty mindless and easy and, unfortunately, tend to go for far too long. In fact, that is sort of an issue with all of the missions in the game - they all go on for about 3 waves of "new enemies approaching out of nowhere" too many. The turret missions in particular are a little tiresome, though, because they require little skill or accuracy to just hold down a trigger and tear enemies apart with a minigun.
The chopper missions have their own set of unique controls that set them apart from jets, obviously, but also their own set of issues. It is kind of hard to actually see anything in the chopper missions as you're usually fighting little tiny ground units. You just sort of sweep the cursor over areas where the U.I. tells you there are enemies, and when your cursor turns red, you fire and the auto-tracking minigun and lock-on missiles do the work for you.
The jets, on the other hand, are far more familiar and fun to fly. Ace Combat has always been fast paced and rather arcadey, and Assault Horizon continues that trend. It also introduces a new mechanic, Dog Fight Mode or DFM, that simplifies the combat to be even more arcadey. Basically, yet get in close to an enemy jet and activate DFM. In DFM, the computer takes over most of the actual flying to stay behind an enemy and you just have to focus on managing the speed to keep up with the enemy, lining up your reticle, getting a lock on tone, and firing away with missiles and machine guns.
DFM makes the dogfights more cinematic, since it does all the complicated flying for you and does some really neat stuff (twisting through buildings, flying under wires / towers, etc.), but takes all the actual skill out of the game. The game is already easy, but when you literally don't have to worry about crashing into anything, it just gets sort of mindless and repetitive. You can, of course, try to dog fight without using DFM, but the game is designed in such a way that not using DFM pretty much means you're just going to miss a lot and waste missiles. Again, this is conflicting because while it does add a lot of flair and really neat looking, formerly impossible to perform stuff, it also dumbs down the experience and takes away a lot of the satisfaction you could get in past games when you actually flew and fought well. It is fun, but a bit shallow.
Online multiplayer adds some tactics and strategy to the shallowness, however, and is quite fun. Deathmatch and a handful of co-op missions are available, of course, but there is also a neat team-based mode where teams try to destroy each other's HQs. You can play as different roles - fighters, bombers, etc. - and it is really fun. Top that with perks and unlockable enhancements, and you have a surprisingly deep and fun online game. The DFM stuff is still present in multiplayer, but human players are far more unpredictable than the A.I. which makes the DFM much less of a no skill required auto-kill feature.
Assault Horizon is definitely a good looking game. The planes and helicopters are all very detailed and great looking and the explosions and smoke trails from missiles are nice. The ground textures are also better than most air combat games with great looking cities, but still pretty crappy looking natural ground cover.
The sound is also good overall, ignoring some stiff bro-bro voice acting. The sound effects are great, the in-mission comm chatter is nice, and the music fits the action perfectly.