E3 2011: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Hands-On Preview – Bogies Everywhere!
Written Tuesday, June 21, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Flight games haven't had the best rap in recent years, but the Ace Combat series has always managed to attract a certain level of interest from fans of action and planes... or Top Gun. Ah, yes... Top Gun. Has anyone ever written anything about jet fighters without mentioning that movie? The answer is no, so why should we be any different? Ace Combat: Assault Horizon reminds us of Top Gun, but without the synth music and cheesy dialogue. Not that Ace Combat hasn't had plenty of that in the past. This time around however, Ace Combat is getting serious, dispensing with the wistful melodrama and OTT story lines, opting instead for something a bit more topical and relevant to these turbulent times we find ourselves in.
To fit with Assault Horizon's new grittier focus, the game no longer deals in fictional wars, instead setting its conflict in the near future and in the real world, so gone is the 'Republic of Emmeria' and the 'Federal Republic of Estovakia' and in comes actual locations mapped accurately using satellite data. So, as we fly over Miami in the game's opening level for our hands-on, it's actually a proper digital representation of Miami. Not that we get the chance to admire the scenery at any point, as we tear through the skies in an F-22 fighter, engaging a swarm of Russian Navy planes in a bout of extensive seat-of-the-pants dogfighting. The first thing we notice is how much more visceral the game feels, adopting dynamic camera angles and some rather lovely visual effects like motion-blur.
You can even see actual pieces of metal chipping off the body of a target plane as you tear into it with your guns while aiming down your crosshairs. This is especially effective when you manage to line up an enemy in your sights and then hit a button to enter a cinematic close-combat viewpoint when a green circle appears in the centre of your HUD. Not only is this new view completely insane, as pieces of twisted metal and debris fly at the camera and dirty up the screen, but it adds a completely new dynamic to dogfighting, giving it a layer of intensity that we've personally never come across before in a game like this. It's something more akin to a first-person shooter than a traditional flight game, which is surely an effort to appeal to an audience weaned on the immediately gratifying gameplay of the likes of Battlefield or Call of Duty.
While we're reluctant to mention those two games – especially in a preview for a flight game – the comparison holds water, and Namco Bandai is actively acknowledging the more action-oriented FPS-style gameplay, quite possibly to welcome in a wider selection of gamers. Assault Horizon is undoubtedly the most intense instalment we've played yet and details like bullets making huge splash trails in the sea and other graphical touches all add to the experience. Our only complaint during our demo is that it throws slightly too many bogies into the mix, and after taking out countless Russian aces, we start to feel fatigue repeating the same lock-on, close-combat and machine gunning gameplay. There's still fun to be had using the F-22's underslung homing missiles though, which with a click of the right analogue stick are deployed, switching the camera to an under-the-hull perspective, which is another exciting way to look at the skybound battle.
With a little bit of skill, you can lock-on to four targets at once and let rip with a volley of missiles that find their destination with spectacular results. It's also more reliable than your standard missile lock-on, but while you're viewing the action from underneath the plane, you're more vulnerable to attack due to your limited vision, so it's best to deploy this only at the optimum moment. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is challenging and clearing the skies is a long and gruelling process, while getting into the close-combat viewpoint proves so intense that we occasionally lost track of our altitude and ended up crashing into the ground or a building. Thankfully, the checkpoints seem to be quite fair, so there's a minimum of frustration.
Upon thinning out the masses of enemy planes, a cut-scene kicks in as our F-22 is torn up by projectiles. Our pilot ejects from the flaming fuselage and his parachute unfurls, as chaos rages all around him. Then just when we thought he was safe, he's rammed by a Russian jet in mid-air. What a way to go! There's a helicopter section to sample in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon too, which we get a brief hands-on with, piloting an Apache attack helicopter around a war torn urban area apparently situated in a Middle Eastern location. It's a promising section that we regrettably didn't manage to get much time with, but that developer Project Aces is varying the gameplay with helicopter missions - parts of which involve manning the guns - is a very welcome addition to the series in our book.
We're happy to see that Namco is looking to shake up the established formula of its Ace Combat series for Assault Horizon and we'd have liked to have played more of the helicopter portion of the demo to get more of a feel for it, but based upon our hands-on at E3, things are looking surprisingly good for the next entry in the long-running Ace Combat series. Dogfighting is more entertaining than ever and should the missions themselves be injected with more variety than we've seen in other flight-based titles, then we could be on to a high-flyer. We might even be feeling the need, the need for... No, we're not going to say it! Damn you, Top Gun!
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is due to buzz the tower on October 11th, 2011 in North America and October 14th, 2011 in Europe.