Sometimes, it is hard for me to believe that the Ace Combat series has been around since the launch of the original PlayStation. Air combat holds a special place in my gaming past as I have really lost interest in the genre over the years, but I can still remember playing that game over and over, simply loving it. A lot has changed since those innocent days, and now, the series returns to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 with one goal in mind: change things up and appeal to today’s audience. This is Ace Combat for the Call of Duty generation, and also, in my opinion, the best the series has been in a while.
The story here follows pilot William Bishop, an American who has troubling nightmares and constantly sees his own death. The plot revolves around a secret new weapon that a band of rebels are using. The US pilots team up with the Russians in order to discover where this weapon is being hidden, and how to stop them from using it. Along the way, you will play as other characters much like Activision’s perennial franchise, but the dogfighting always comes back to Bishop. The dialogue is decent and the voice acting passable, but the story felt more like a catalyst than anything else. I was entertained while watching it, but nothing about it stuck with me after the credits rolled.
Story has always been a part of the series, but never its focus. The same holds true for Assault Horizon. Veterans of the series will quickly notice one of the major changes to the dynamic is that the game bounces around several different game play types as opposed to simply sticking with straight-up air combat. I actually really appreciated this, as it kept the pace of the game flowing fairly well. One mission may have you participating in a standard dogfight, while the next will have you mowing down enemies from a turret gun. The bombing run missions offer up a nice break from the tense aerial warzones, and the quintessential AC130 mission rounds out the diversity.
While the diversity in mission types is nice, not all of them flow well together. For example, the AC130 mission is a lesson in frustration at times. The game requires you to take out a set number of enemies and objectives, or it is “mission failed.” The problem is, a lot of times it is hard to pinpoint exactly what they want you to take out. This leads to trial and error. Later in the game, objectives continue this trend as transports and forces are constantly under attack and you have to rush to take out their attackers before they are destroyed. This is infuriating at times, as you try to mow down ground forces and planes come from behind and force you to engage with them.
I realize these scenarios are realistic, but in a game where one item is the focus and you are on a time limit, having to deal with them becomes a distraction and a reloading of checkpoints. Thankfully, this is one area where the game shines. Checkpoints ease most of the frustration. Many times when I got the mission failed screen and was ready to quit, the checkpoint kept me playing because I lost very little progression.
The actual dogfighting in the game is intense and actually had me gripping my controller tightly at times. The new bullet point for Assault Horizon is Dogfight Mode. Here, you can tap the shoulder buttons and go into a shaky camera pursuit of your target. This mode is incredibly tense as you try to stay on your target. He can also weave and perform a counter maneuver to get behind you, which you can also do when someone is on your tail. Every aerial dogfight is well done and truly energizing, giving the game that edge of your seat action you would expect from fighting 10,000 feet above the ground at ridiculous speeds.
Even with the intense action, though, the game can drag on a bit at times. There are just shy of 20 missions in total, ranging from 15 minutes to as long as 30. Checkpoints are good, but these missions still feel overly long at times and could have easily been broken up into twice as many smaller ones. Once completed, you can go back and play these missions in Free Mission mode with different planes and weapon loadouts. Honestly, I felt no reason to do this, but it is a nice option to have.
Once you have thwarted the roughly ten hour campaign you can hop online for plenty of team-based and cooperative modes. First up is, of course, my favorite: co-op mission mode. Here, you and a buddy can tackle one of the specific co-op missions. I love co-op stuff, and lately, it has become a trend that I welcome with open arms. There are also two team modes to play around with, both involving ground bases. The first has you attacking is called Capital Conquest, in which you work to damage your enemy’s base before they can destroy yours. The second, Domination, has you capturing ground installations. Both are fun and vary just enough to make them relevant. Then, of course, you have standard deathmatch which is even more intense than in single player. Outwitting an actual human opponent is a rush that just has to be experienced.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is a new direction for the series, and in my opinion, a welcome one. I loved the diversity of missions and the focus on action. I didn’t, however, like the drawn out missions and frustrating objectives later on in the game. Online is a blast as long as the community sticks with it, and there is more than enough content here to easily lose months in. Overall, this is a great reboot for the series and one all fans of the genre should check out.
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.