Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Enhanced Edition reviewed: This is one plane that should have been grounded

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Enhanced Edition

By on February 13, 2013 at 10:48 am

Ace Combat has a surprisingly long history, including its 1992 appearance in arcades where I was first introduced. Through its ten iterations, themed around combat aircraft, it has garnered a healthy fanbase. As a newcomer to the franchise, I can only imagine how that fanbase must now feel as their 20+ years of collective goodwill is frittered away on a mediocre mess of last-gen brown, stereotypical characterisations and banal gameplay. While not without its fun, this 6-hour long slugfest borrows heartily from the Book of CoD and mishandles just about everything in its downward-spiraling trajectory.

You’ll primarily play as the hero of the story, Bishop; a square-jawed, musclebound (but of course intelligent and empathic) Major whose crew includes a hot-headed Latino wingman and a blonde bomber pilot whose sole purpose is as a willing recipient of the Latino’s crude sexual harassment. There’s a fairly simple tale that starts in Africa, involves breakaway elements of the Russian army, a nuke that isn’t a nuke and a rivalry between Bishop and some guy named “Akula”. The player provides the missing story element, a crippling sense of deja vu.

Each mission begins with what should be a mouth-watering selection of the world’s greatest fighter aircraft, but is instead a hangarful of craft that all handle almost exactly the same

Assault Horizon sets its waypoint firmly on becoming the Call of Duty of the skies and — to be honest — that’s kind of a disservice to the CoD games which are actually dramatic and fun. Assault Horizon is instead more about the military, gung-ho crap that dominates set-piece CoD-style games these days where callsigns like ‘Nomad’, ‘Kingmaster’ and ‘Shooter’ (yes, really) are uttered without any shred of self-awareness. I don’t know why some developers believe their core consumer base is made up of unnecessarily rich teenage males, but here’s the thing: the only realistic characters that I can connect to as a gamer and as a person in Ace Combat are the victims; the good guys who get hurt in battle and have a speaking voice that registers somewhere above my subwoofer’s output.

Each mission begins with what should be a mouth-watering selection of the world’s greatest fighter aircraft, but is instead a hangarful of craft that all handle almost exactly the same, so a quick spam of your keys will skip this step and get you straight into combat. If there should have been one visual highlight it would be highly-detailed aircaft models, but alas these too are merely serviceable and lack the high-resolution textures that a PC port could have afforded. The shape of each aircraft is, however, perfect — so at the very least you can drive a vague representation of your favourite combat aircraft.

Back in 1997, Peppy Hare first ordered gamers to ‘do a barrel roll’ — and while Ace Combat may have borrowed its textures from that same era, it couldn’t even manage to borrow the same handling that the games of that year were able to pull off. In Ace Combat you may rudder, you may yaw; but you will not invert your aircraft.

When it comes to the story, Ace Combat’s gameplay offers yet more reasons to question American foreign policy as you fly your massively overpowered chopper convoy above rusty Hyundai jeeps with mounted machine-guns, or thrust your bomber into the fray like it was the missile itself, spewing endless amount of high-impact, auto-locking bombs against barely-defended ground targets.

Given the current world political environment and the absence of a formidable foe, this goes beyond just lazy storytelling and verges onto actually being horrific. With that said, both the chopper-variant missions (door-gunner and pilot) are fun in a ‘raining endless death’ kind of way, but the bomber missions offer such simple combat that, barring a few inputs from the user, might as well have been cut-scenes.

It destroys the pacing, frustrates the player and ultimately serves only to lengthen the already depressingly long engagements

Air-combat with other fighter planes is a mixed-bag but it is, by far and thankfully, the best part of the game. Targets are split into two groups inventively named Targets and Lead Targets. Targets can be easily engaged with your inexhaustible supply of Air-to-Air missiles while Lead Targets can only be engaged through ‘DFM’ or Dogfight Mode.

DFM is where you’ll spend most of your time in Ace Combat as you angle close enough to the tail of an enemy plane to engage it with a quick dual-button press — whereupon you’re pulled into a rear-view chase camera and then must keep the target inside your aiming reticule to secure a lock or fire your guns. While this is a simple mechanic, it’s complicated somewhat by the very occasional need to disengage to avoid a missile lock or deal with a counter-move by the pursued bandit.

Dogfight Mode is surprisingly fun given that it’s a simple mechanic that tests aiming reflexes over piloting skills. Panels rend under pressure from smoke and flame as the bandit disintegrates and you’re frequently rewarded with a slow-mo shot of its demise, when if you’re really lucky, you’ll see the tiny pilot’s body hurtle into the aether in a sweet, epic pull-away camera shot. Yet even in this, the pinnacle of Air Combat, the game goes horribly wrong with how frequently these pull-away shots occur, often during critical moments of a battle. You might be on a short path in which you need to destroy each piece of ground armour or you’ll fail the mission, when the camera is wrested from your control. It destroys the pacing, frustrates the player and ultimately serves only to lengthen the already depressingly long engagements.

Finally, the very last nails in the coffin (presuming that you already know it uses Games for Windows Live) are the QTE’s. Long the bane of my gaming existence, the inclusion of quick time events might here have been something amazing; the kill-shot, the lucky missile, the narrow miss. Instead, you’ll be asked to press the same single button exactly 29 times throughout the 15 levels on offer. Failing four of these will end your mission and take you back to the nearest checkpoint (which is the point immediately before you’re asked to press that single button). Fail the other 25 QTE’s and, well, see what happens.

Ace Combat Assault Horizon: Enhanced Edition is technically fun, in a mindless, repetitive kind of way and so long as you can ignore its many flaws. Not reviewed here are the co-op and multiplayer modes, that were unpopulated during my (late-night) gaming hours so there is the possibility of time spent dogfighting with friends — but ultimately there are far better ways to get your air combat fix.

Good:

  • Solid array of modern combat aircraft
  • DFM mode can be frantically fun
  • Has Games for Windows LIVE

Bad:

  • Cookie-cutter CoD approach (even has the heli/nuke scene from CoD4!) that fails miserably
  • Depressingly bro-fisted approach to characters
  • Textures are last-gen in places
  • Repetitive and uninspired air battles last way too long
  • Has Games for Windows LIVE
  • GIVE ME MY GODDAMN CAMERA BACK
15 comments (Leave your own)

Ace Combat has a surprisingly long history, first appearing in 1992 on Playstation.

Say WHAT now???!!

 

I remember the first Ace Combat. It was brilliant. I’ve played this latest iteration on my PS3. it’s a load of trash. The original you could invert your aircraft, each plane handled differently, IE the F-14 Tomcat felt heavy while the Mirage 2000 was a zippy little beast.

The games were magnificent up until ace combat 3, that was the last good one. I don’t know what number this new one is, but it’s gone to shit. That dog fighting mode is probably the worst idea they’ve implemented in these games.

 

If Wiki is good enough for milliond of college students, it’s good enough for me!

But you’re right.. it was Air Combat, an arcade title that came out in 1992. And by arcade I mean a place filled with game machines that used to suck the 20 cent coins out of my pockets as a kid.

 

Actually I just looked it up and the PS version of the game (which was named Air Combat outside of Japan) was released in 1995 (same year the PS came out). 1992 was the year the Arcade version was made.

/edit

Beaten. :P

 

craw,

Yes, that is correct, Air combat is credited for being the first installment of the Ace Combat series

 

They need to remake Dropship…

 

I love the Ace Combat series. Assault Horizon was one of those games that managed to slip under my radar somehow when it came out. I saw this on shelves for PS3 and I was like “Oh Shit! Another AC game for PS3?!” I purchased it on the spot.

Biggest regret of my life.

 

I can’t believe you listed GFWL as a Pro :P

 

I played one of the first 2 PS iterations and had an absolute blast. Post that I got Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception for the PSP. It was pretty meh and I haven’t looked at an Ace Combat game since so this is no surprise :P

 

dragol,

Yeah but it sure as hell wasn’t on Playstation in 1992 :)

 

Small point about aircraft handling that is mentioned in the review. You can invert the aircraft, there is a section in the options, I think it is labeled “classic” handling.
This lets you handle the planes in a slightly more realistic manner.

 

discolt:
I can’t believe you listed GFWL as a Pro :P

I am confused by this as well.

 

@ Mr Man;

For the purpose of the review, I played through on the Normal difficulty with the default flight model as that’s how most people would play the game through. I’ve checked back and confirm there’s a harder flight model.

I’ll ask Tim to update that Peppy Hare section. Thanks for picking up on it :)

 

technically you could engage the lead targets with missiles without DFM, it requires either luck (usually) or timing their predictable move sets (they are so small it’s not funny) and flares timing, at the very least you could damage them as long as you at least make them exhaust a flare first with preliminary missile

And DFM is frankly the dumbest concept to ever come to Ace Combat, a rail shooter that takes away your flight control away from you in a flight game? ok, a hardcore arcade flight game at that, but seriously? that’s like playing a racing game where they take away the control of wheels away from you after a quicktime event.

There are things one do and don’t for various games, but this is one of those that seriously question if the dev have any clue on what the hell their game is supposed to be about.

 

Murray Hibble,

I got into the game with a joystick and was like what the hell is going on with these controls?! So i changed them pretty much after the first cut scene.
I think its safe to say most people that have a controller or joystick would also change it straight away.

 
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