Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Xbox 360
Published by Namco Bandai
Developed by Namco Bandai
Whilst you're not going to find a true flight simulation on any of the gaming consoles, the Ace Combat series has done its level best to provide a compelling combat flight experience over the years and the series has always been appreciated by its loyal fans. Of course there are certain characteristics that the series has always been known for such as its fictional universe, its anime-style characters and interesting storylines in addition to the best flight combat experience you'll find on a console (even if it offers more of an arcade rather than a simulation feel). Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is an enjoyable game but some of the key elements that the series is known for have been lost.
The fictional universe which has always been a feature of the Ace Combat series has been dropped in favour of a slightly futuristic real-world storyline. The storyline is set in 2015 with NATO and Russian forces aiming to put a stop to a group of Russian-funded insurgents who are carrying out attacks in East Africa (you'll also find yourself in locations such as Miami and Paris during the course of the game). To make matters worse, and to add a little extra spice to the storyline, it's an uneasy alliance between the NATO and Russian forces and it's made clear very early in the game that all is not tickety-boo between them.
It's hard to get away from the opinion that Ace Combat: Assault Horizon appears to have been aimed at a wider audience and not simply at the fans of the series. The game is still an arcade-style take on the air combat genre but whereas previous games in the series offered a stiff challenge on the default difficulty setting, you'll need to ramp up the difficulty level in order to test yourself in Assault Horizon. Of course if you're new to the series you may prefer the default difficulty setting and it's worth mentioning that the game is very accessible for an air combat game. The controls are easy to get to grips with and are about as intuitive as they can be for a game of this nature which is certainly no bad thing.
In a nod to the Call of Duty Modern Warfare titles (and the influence of those games is very evident here ranging from the visuals to the nature of the storyline) Assault Horizon doesn't just feature combat from the seat of a jet fighter. There are bombing missions to undertake and you'll also find some helicopter missions too. Both of these mission types are enjoyable but they do feel incredibly simplistic when compared to the standard mission types which may disappoint hardcore fans of the series. What I will say however is that I found the change of pace that these missions offer to be refreshing and that they help to prevent the action from feeling too repetitive which is certainly a good thing. If there's one complaint to be made about the missions in the game it's that they are too long and feel as though they have been unnecessarily drawn out.
One of the new features in Assault Horizon is the Dogfight mode. Once you're close enough to an enemy you'll see the LB and RB icons appear close to your target and when you press these buttons simultaneously you'll go into Dogfight mode. This essentially zooms you in close for an almost on-rails experience as you get up close and personal with you enemy. Again this is something that has made the series more accessible and yet at the same time it's something that will convince longstanding fans of the series that another attempt has been made to simplify the experience. You don't have to use the Dogfight mode if you don't want to of course but I found that a good compromise was to use the Dogfight mode and to play the game on a higher difficulty setting which allowed me to experience the visual thrill of the mode along with having a satisfactory challenge.
Assault Horizon isn't just a single-player experience of course. The game offers Co-op, Deathmatch (2-16 players), Capital Conquest (where you must destroy the other team's HQ) and Domination (where your team have to compete to occupy three bases) modes. The game caters nicely for players leaving and joining during the course of a game which helps to keep the action ticking along nicely. The multiplayer modes are a welcome addition to the Ace Combat series and offer a welcome change of pace from the single player campaign, particularly as fighting against human opposition is much less predictable than against the AI.
Visually Assault Horizon is head and shoulders above other Ace Combat games. The aircraft and the terrain that you'll do battle over look impressive but it's the combat itself which really offers the visual delights. The game's developers have clearly been influenced by the Modern Warfare titles and the cinematic approach that has been taken here is very reminiscent of what you'd find in a Modern Warfare title. Naturally this means that the anime-style characters of the previous games have been lost as the developers have opted for a more realistic, and dare I say generic, look. In some respects this makes sense as it will make the game more visually appealing but it also removes a good chunk of the series' personality.
Whilst the series has undergone some pretty dramatic visual changes in Assault Horizon, the support for deaf gamers remains the same. The game is subtitled and the subtitles are enabled by default. During the game's cut scenes the subtitles are displayed using a large bold white font which is easy to read at all times. There are no character names or portraits placed alongside the text during a cut scene however and it's not always crystal clear who is speaking (although this doesn't really cause any problems). During the missions you'll find that all communications you receive are subtitled and the speakers' names are displayed so you will be fully aware of which character is communicating with you. Of course it's not easy to read all of the communications whilst you're involved in dogfight but at least you are made aware of what is being said. There are also text notifications for 'Caution' and 'Missile Alerts'. Objectives and tutorial messages are also displayed in text so you're always aware of what needs to be done and how to get to grips with the game.
If you're looking for an enjoyable air combat game to play on the Xbox 360 (or PlayStation 3), Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is certainly a good choice. The action is just as frantic and tense as you could hope for and it's certainly challenging if you ramp up the difficulty level. As enjoyable as it is however, there can be no denying that the game lacks the personality of previous games in the Ace Combat series. Whether this is a good thing or not will come down to your personal preference. On the whole the game feels more accessible and easier to get to grips with than previous games in the series which is certainly a good thing. Personally I preferred the fictional universe and storylines of the previous games and feel that something special has been lost by the pseudo real world events in the game. Taking the game on its own merits however, there is no denying that fans of the air combat genre will certainly enjoy what's on offer here and the addition of online play will certainly be appreciated.