Namco Bandai Games Europe’s autumn line-up is well pitched to fill a few gaps in the market. The recently released Dark Souls proves that there is still room for challenging videogames, and the forthcoming Naruto and Dragonball Z titles promise to deliver this year’s anime fix for fans of their respective series. This week’s release of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon has its own agenda however: to become the leading flight combat videogame on the current-generation systems.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon provides three key gameplay components throughout the course of its single-player campaign, two of which are entirely new additions to the series. The jet-based combat is of course the lead aspect, but in addition the player will take on missions as a helicopter gunner and pilot, adding a great deal of variety to the campaign and some interesting opportunities for multiplayer gameplay.
The core of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon remains the jet combat, as would be expected. Players can choose their preferred vehicle, ammo types and more prior to each level, creating a significant of replay for gamers who like to try their hand at different jets in different scenarios; a great opportunity to capitalise on the Free Mission gameplay mode, allowing you to replay previously completed levels. Once of the most unique aspects of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon’s jet combat is the dogfighting mode. When in range of an enemy a quick press of the LB and RB buttons simultaneously will enable the close-range mode. Though the immediate perception may label dogfighting as an on-rails mode, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s essentially a strong lock-on mode: an evolution of the Z-Targeting mechanic that originated in the critically acclaimed The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and has since been used in more than half of the third-person videogames released in the past decade. It remains possible to lose an enemy if they are skilled enough, and it’s also possible for an enemy to lock-on to you in the same manner.
The second type of gameplay that the player will experience is playing as the gunner aboard a low-flying helicopter. This element of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon plays as would be expected, with the player aiming and firing at ground targets as their mount moves along a preset path. It’s a refreshing change of pace, but one that is predictable in its delivery. More interesting are the helicopter missions wherein you play as the pilot.
Despite being new to the franchise, the helicopter piloting gameplay feels right at home in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. The hyper-realistic approach sees the player equipped with all manner of believably unbelievable feats that allow for the gameplay to remain interesting. Recharging health, dodge manoeuvres that see you perform a 360° roll on the spot: these are aspects of the videogame design that open the gameplay to all, maintaining enjoyment within challenge.
The storyline of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, written by New York Times best-selling author Jim DeFelice, will undoubtedly be enjoyable to those already invested in such military fiction. For most gamers however, it’ll be the superfluous icing on the cake; it’s far from compelling fiction and completely unnecessary in terms of factoring in your enjoyment of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. Giving the original StarWing a plot greater than ‘save the galaxy from the evil guy’ would’ve given equal gravitas to the videogame as it does here in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon: none.
More successful than the plot is the variety of action in both the campaign and the multiplayer game modes. Three competitive modes are available, each with a different ruleset, in addition to the co-operative gameplay. Base attacking and deathmatch gameplay brings heated competition to suit all gamers in matches for up to sixteen players, while the Mission Co-Op mode manages to capitalise on the potential for organised team play against artificial intelligence opponents in scripted instances. It’s a keen mix of alternative modes that elegantly compliments the single-player campaign, extending the lifespan of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon considerably.
A visually arresting videogame, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is surprisingly unique in its visualisation, echoing the design of the combat in with that hyper-realistic feel of the combat. The tagline ‘make metal bleed’ was associated with Ace Combat: Assault Horizon due to its visual quality upon impacting bullets with an enemy vehicle: oil and debris litter the skies, licking against the player’s point of view with a similar effect to an enemy’s blood in a first-person shooter (FPS). It’s a bizarre artistic decision, but one that’s wholly successful, making Ace Combat: Assault Horizon one of the most interesting looking high-definition (HD) titles in recent months.
While Ace Combat: Assault Horizon may have looked like an ‘also ran’ title throughout most of it’s development, getting hands-on with the videogame a few months ago was Electronic Theatre’s first clue that Project Aces were developing something special. Here with the final build, those suspicions have not just been confirmed, but blown out of the sky. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is an adrenaline-fuelled flight combat videogame influenced by arcade style gameplay, but not dominated by it. It’s a videogame that pushes against expectation, a production that’s not afraid to take risks trying something new. But most of all, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is undeniably a videogame that’s leading its genre.