Posted by John on October 16, 2011

PS3 Review: ACE COMBAT – ASSAULT HORIZON

Rating: ?????

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, the seventh Japanese fight and flight title from Namco Bandai in the series, is a definite change in direction for the formerly anime-infused air combat property, and it certainly feels like the most Westernised addition so far. There seems to have been a concentrated effort to add weight and grit – a nod towards Call of Duty and its generic fellows – and to strip away the wilder side of the game in favour of comparative restraint and realism.

Criticism will no doubt focus on the fact that Assault Horizon seems to be Namco Bandai’s surrender – that the Ace Combat franchise’s personality and individualism has been sacrificed in order to fit in with the majority of combat games on the market, and it’s hard not to agree that is the case. But what that point misses in its principled stance is that Assault Horizon is the best Ace Combat game so far, and that the more conventional spin will open the game up to a community of gamers who would otherwise have turned their noses up at this sort of flight sim.

It’s also a lot easier than you might expect (not to a detrimental degree though) with simplistic mission models replacing the comparative wierdness of preceding Ace Combat titles, and there is variety in the mission type, including a selection of vehicle types to break up the endless “Destroy This” or “Blow-Up That” objectives. Yes, it is a massive departure for the series, but I am firmly of the opinion that the transition is a positive one, not only in terms of potential sales to Call of Duty fans, but also for the overall gameplay experience.

There is still a section of gamers (a section I have to admit I was part of before playing this) who inherently link the experience of playing fight simulation games (even combat ones) with pointing skyward, losing control of the plane and getting lost in a wide loop before smashing into the ground that appears out of nowhere to signal the end of your flying career. In that respect as well, Assault Horizon offers a far more accessible flying experience, which feels less like complex, ultra-serious flying lessons and more like an actual game.

The game deserves your attention, because despite its attempts to channel the spirit of contemporary combat titles, it is unlike anything else currently on the market – people just don’t make flyers anymore. It harks back to the days of Top Gun, and After Burner, and even of Star Fox, because few air-based combat games have reached those highs since those releases, despite all being comparative geriatrics now.

Visually, Assault Horizon is stunning – the landscapes of Earth below look beautiful, and intricately designed below the action, and the airplanes and helicopters themselves are also beautifully executed, and there aren’t too many issues with the framerate to spoil it all (though it had its moments). The dogfights feel authentic, thanks to good enemy AI, and the explosions that greet your successes are impressive looking as well.

Gameplay is split into two modes – Dogfight Mode (DFM) and Air Strike Mode (ASM), which basically do what the names suggest – DFM makes it easier (and more enjoyable) to get into individual skirmishes with the enemy, and ASM focuses on bombing runs with a change of pace. It’s a neat set-up, but it is the DFM that endures repeated play the best, and indeed the game soars most when it positions the player in the pilot’s seat of a fighter jet. There are a number of online modes to beef out the gameplay too : first up is Capital Conquest – a team-based mode where the objective is to destroy enemy HQ; and then there’s the base-capturing style Domination. Deathmatch is also of course included, and there is also the opportunity to play Mission Co-op mode on a selection of maps.

And to further boost the game’s longevity, there is a skill based leveling up system, with points available for successful completion of missions in Free Mission Mode (the better you do, the more you’re rewarded), which can then be traded in for upgrades (which are shockingly costly in some cases). It is a system that rewards multiple plays, but with the mission length being something of an impediment to repeated play-throughs, and the relative lack of diversity, it might not be one that offers sufficient incentives for some gamers to stick with the game beyond completion of the solo campaign.

Overall, Assault Horizon is an entertaining release, and a significant step-up from the last title in the Ace Combat series – Namco Bandai have done a great job of revitalising a series that was often over-looked, and the added accessibility could well spell greater success this time out. If the quality of the game alone were an indicator of that potential, then we may well see more real-world Ace Combat spin-offs appearing on the horizon in the not too distant future.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon PS3 ScoringGameplaywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comBlowing stuff up is fun - this much we know. Assault Horizon takes that universal truth and offers a few mission types, while sticking to its dogfighting strengths, and makes for an entertaining sky-based Call of Duty.Graphicswww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comExcellent, though the frame-rate is not unblemished.Soundwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comGreat sound effects, a strong musical soundtrack and some good voice acting make for a solid overall slate.Replay Valuewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comMissions are a bit long, so repeated completion of the solo campaign won’t be high on everyone’s agenda, but the Free Mission Mode at least rewards how well each level is completed, and there is some fun to be had in the multiplayer campaigns.Presentationwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comThe story isn’t brilliant, and it still has it’s silly moments (channelling the spirit of the franchise), but the real world setting works well, and everything is designed cleanly and with simplicity in mind.Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comA surprisingly accessible combat flight game, which will entertain veterans of the genre as well as newcomers.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is available to buy on XBox 360 and PS3 now.

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