For those of you that love this series don’t be afraid of change. It’s not always a bad thing. In this case it’s actually freakin’ sweet. You’ve got the typical arcade-like gameplay at high speed with lots of firepower packed into your plane, and you’ve got the stunning visuals from extreme altitude – we’ve come to expect that much. Heck, it’s even got the online multiplayer (2-3 co-op, 2-16 competitive). You’re wondering what’s new. Chopper pilot missions, chopper gunner missions, AC-130 Gunships, improved visuals, Dogfight Mode (DFM), and an actual military-like story that doesn’t sound like a messed up poem that you can’t understand. There are a few other little tweaks but I’ll keep those secret just to entice you to play.
Dogfight Mode, better known as DFM is the biggest new feature on the plane side of the game. If you close in behind enemy planes you’ll see circular indicators begin to line up, and once they’re aligned and flashing you can tap the triggers and enter DFM. When you’re in DFM your game experience becomes a mostly scripted experience where your plane flies on its own and you can move slightly to the sides and fire your guns and/or missiles. As you’re in this cinematic –like mode you’ll see that you’re very close up and personal with your target, and with enhanced damage from missiles and guns you’re likely to see some fantastic explosions. Watching your enemies get torn apart by your machine guns has never been so satisfying, and in this game… it never gets old. Of course you’re not the only pilot that can initiate DFM – enemy aces can target you just as easily and the person in front whether it’s you or an enemy, has the ability to attempt a switcheroo and flip behind the targeting plane.
As mentioned above, there is much more than just the addition of dogfight mode. Namco Bandai and Project Aces have revitalized the game and added in more gameplay features to grab attention of new players, and keep the classic gameplay intact. There is a small number of chopper –related missions and you’ll be in control of chopper gunships to take out various ground targets as well as enemy HINDs, but you’ll also get a small taste of being the side gunner in other missions. The inclusion of choppers is fantastic, but some people find the screen is just a little clogged when in the 3rd person view, and while I personally didn’t have an issue I want to point out that you can play in various views including 1st person. Controls are pretty solid considering it’s a new direction for the series, and you’ll become quite comfortable with flying them in mere seconds. AC-130s were made popular by the Call of Duty franchise, and Ace Combat pulls it off pretty well, but it’s a little tough since you really need to watch carefully… there are no markers telling you where the enemies are.
Previous games in the Ace Combat series always had odd poetic storylines attached to them, and they were never that easy to follow. This time around we get an original story written by a NY Times best-selling military author, Jim DeFelice. You’ll follow Lieutenant Colonel William Bishop who commands Warwolf Squadron in the year 2015, and you’ll see the story play out from various angles, and you can actually interact slightly during story cinematic and this helps to really put you in the shoes of the character.
Sound and graphics have always been a huge part of this series and Assault Horizon stands strong on both accounts. The soundtrack is an epic as you’d expect it and it features some very powerful pieces as well as some intense tracks to get your blood pumping. Radio chatter is stellar, and better than any other military game on the market can offer. Why? It has humor, emotion, intensity, and it sounds believable.
While the visuals have always been spectacular since the PS2 era of Ace Combat, Namco has stepped it up a little more and even the ground visuals are improved when you’re flying at low altitude. Draw distance is quite impressive on the city populated maps and you’ll see what’s coming from miles away. There are some pop-in effects for buildings when you’re far out, but once you reach the congested areas it’s extremely well-detailed and impressive to see. The aircraft available in the game are beautifully rendered in full HD and they’re really quite detailed… sheer beauty.
For Ace Combat fans – this is a game you’re definitely going to love. Its campaign lasts around 5-6 hours if you’re good, but it’s a game you’ll want to play over and over, plus there’s the online component. If you’re a newcomer to the series, I highly recommend you give it a look because it’s a fantastic action game, or at times it’s even more movie-like. I’d like to have seen a slightly longer campaign, but for what’s offered it’s fantastic. DLC aircraft skins are available, but unfortunately it’s mostly overpriced and not worth your money unless you’re a fanatic. All in all, Assault Horizon sales numbers deserve to soar high in the sky and if you look up “AAA Production Value” online, you should see this game listed.
Dogfight mode brings the action up close, and the variation in missions is a very welcome addition to the series. Frustratingly difficult in final battle and leading up to it. Campaign is a little short, and it leaves you wanting more.
Beautiful rendered aircraft and gorgeous terrain design - it's to be expected, but Project Aces and Namco raised the bar with this one.
The best radio chatter of any game, and a riveting soundtrack from Keiki Kobayashi accompany an already amazing experience.
This review is based off a PlayStation 3 version provided by Namco Bandai and 47 Communications.