Ace Combat Assault Horizon Review
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On 10/24/2011 at 12:00 PM by Jesse Miller
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but Assault Horizon takes it too far.
For fans of the series and those that are willing/able to look past a plot and game design that blatantly rips off the Modern Warfare series.
If Modern Warfare was a rock star, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon would be its psycho groupie stalker. Assault Horizon doesn’t just love Modern Warfare, it wants to be Modern Warfare. Like Buffalo Bill pretending to be a woman by wearing a suit made of skins in Silence of the Lambs, the latest Ace Combat is unsettling in its desire to be something it’s not, which is a real shame because underneath that hand-stitched COD suit is a solid game just begging to be recognized.
Assault Horizon, like Modern Warfare, puts you in the role of multiple protagonists through the course of the game. Chief amongst these is fighter pilot extraordinaire and leader of the Warwolfs fighter squadron, Lieutenant Colonel William Bishop. The game kicks off in one of Bishop’s dreams – a tutorial mission that sees Russian forces launching an assault on the American city of Miami. The basic controls and concepts are demonstrated by placing the player in the action immediately. Narratively speaking it foreshadows the doppelganger plot that is soon to follow.
One of the newly added elements to this edition of the Ace Combat franchise is the inclusion of helicopter based missions which are shown off straight away with the first mission putting you in the shoes of a door gunner with a skull faced helmet (sounds familiar…) which ends with a devastating explosion that downs the copter fleet (sounds more familiar still…). This is followed up by manning the guns on a gunship mission wherein the goal is to escort a group of marines below so that they can obtain their objective…. Wait, I know I’ve done this all before.
Look, I don’t want to harp too much on the blatant mimicry since it doesn’t make up the whole of my experience with the game, but when I heard that the bad guy’s name is Markov I just started laughing uncontrollably. I was so incredulous at this point that I started talking to the game, and while it didn’t have the decency to answer back, I imagine that the conversation would have gone something like this:
Me: One second, Ace Combat, did you say the bad guy is the leader of a Russian terrorist organization that wants to take down the United States and propel their homeland to the superpower it was during the Cold War era?
Ace Combat: Yes.
Me: And his name is Markov?
Me: Not to be negative Nancy, but how is that different from Modern Warfare 2 and 3’s antagonist Makarov besides the rearranging of a few choice letters?
AC: Our guy can fly a jet.
Me: Oh. Alright.
It took me a while, but once I got past all this I found that Assault Horizon was a pretty good game. The variation between levels really helps the game from becoming stale. Stalwart fans of the series may find themselves dismayed by the inclusion of fewer jet fighter based missions, but I believe that mixing up the action more will help the series appeal to a broader audience than it once did.
New to the series is Dog Fight Mode (DFM), a feature that really helps to better engage the player in battle. In past titles most aerial combat took place at a large distance. You’d focus your guns and missiles at an enemy blob and just fire until it would eventually explode and you’d go on to the next one. DFM helps to get away from this sanitary vision of combat and pits you in close, heart-pounding range that is much more fun and exhilarating. When in close pursuit of any enemy, an indicator will flash when you are in good position; this allows you to enter DFM, which puts you on a roller coaster ride-like visual experience as you attempt to keep the enemy in your sights and blow him out of the sky.
Being in DFM does not isolate you from the rest of the battle however, and the threat of being targeted by other pilots is very real. If while in pursuit you become the prey, simply disengage from DFM with the press of a button and commence evasive maneuvers. This cat and mouse game will keep you on your toes – staying completely aware of the evolving landscape around you. Getting tunnel vision will see you floating peacefully to the ground, having ejected from the burning pile of wreckage that was once your fighter.
When you take enemy planes down you’ll race through the wreckage debris momentarily clouding your view. Sometimes the camera will cut away for a glamour shot of the exploding plane, which is satisfying in its own right, but I would sometimes find myself colliding with a canyon wall or a skyscraper when the camera returned, resulting in a few annoying deaths.
Missions are pretty one-note; simply kill everything that shows up as a red on your radar. That’s it. Once you’ve destroyed them all another wave will arrive to take their place and you’ll have to blow all of them up too. This continues for some time, making you wonder why the enemy didn’t decide to just overwhelm you with the entire force instead of listlessly rolling out ineffectual waves, one after another. Regardless of the enemies' reasoning, this provides for battles that go on a bit longer than they should. Shortening these up a bit would have made multiple playthoughs more appealing.
Assault Horizon sports a veritable cornucopia of jet fighters to utilize – both real and fictional – and they look fantastic. They look so fantastic, in fact, that it’s hard to ignore just how bad the rest of the game looks. Cities like Dubai and the other real life locales represented in the game were created from actual satellite imagery so the area layouts are as accurate as can be (you could actually see your house if you lived in one of the locations) but the devil is in the details. Strafing runs and low altitude dog fights reveal just how flat and pixilated everything really is. This could be forgiven if it was isolated to the maps, but character models used during cut scenes look dated and the animations are rigid – more robotic than human. To be honest, outside of the actual plane and helicopter models, this game has the presentation values of a late generation PS2 or Xbox title.
The single player campaign is short and can be completed over a weekend, which would normally be a detriment if it was the game’s marquee feature (which it’s not). Don’t let the marketing guys fool you, the campaign really only serves as a decent training ground for the main event, which is online multiplayer.
There are several modes to pick up and play such as Deathmatch, Domination (sound familiar?) and a variation of Domination called Capital Conquest, all of which are a blast to play. The real fun lies in the co-op missions where you and up to two other friends can blast through eight modified missions from the main campaign. The missions aren’t available until you complete their single player counterparts though, which is incentive enough alone to complete the game.
I really wish that Assault Horizon was more comfortable in its own skin, because every now and then you can see flashes of greatness behind the gratuitous Modern Warfare trappings. With a little more polish and a decent sized injection of originality, Assault Horizon could be a contender. For now, it’ll just have to be happy being an okay holdover until the real Ace Combat shows up.