Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
There’s something slightly problematic about attempting to accurately recreate the experience of piloting a modern fighter-plane. Armed to the teeth with missiles and machine guns, capable of eye melting speeds and exuding a startling degree of machismo, they should be perfect videogame-fodder. In reality however, the type of dog-fighting as popularised by the Red Baron has very much been assigned to the history books, with modern-day air-combat for the most part being far more mundane; missiles are locked on from miles away with the pilots merely jabbing at buttons to unleash their craft’s destructive power. Thankfully, videogames can overlook such dream-crushing actualities at will – a fact that has allowed Project Aces and Namco Bandai to create Ace Combat: Assault Horizon.
If you were to put Tom Cruise, Kazunori Yamauchi (the detail-obsessed creator of Gran Turismo), Michael Bay and Infinity Ward in the same room and ask them to make an air-combat game, the result would most probably look something like Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. The hallmarks of all are clear to see, with the game throwing obsessively detailed fighter-jets (that could easily stand shoulder to shoulder with Gran Turismo’s cars) around serenely beautiful skies to an impressively grandiose soundtrack while progressing a dizzying militaristic narrative. The slightly confusing plot may mean that you won’t be entirely sure as to what’s going on, but the fact that it’s loud, it’s fast, there are lots of explosions and that piloting the impressively broad range of fighters can be a heck of a lot of fun is hard to miss.
Set in 2015, the game plants you firmly in the helmets of the fictional Warwolf Squadron, a smaller element of the NATO-led 108th Task Force. Part International Rescue, part Action Man, this earnest bunch of fresh-faced pilots have a toy-box of multimillion dollar aircraft to play with as they flit across the globe (initially the skies of Africa) righting wrongs and taking down rogue groups intent on bringing the world order crashing to ground. While the game is unlikely to win any awards for characterisation, it is hard not to get dragged along by the protagonists energy in the same way that, for its 110 minute running time, Tony Scott’s Top Gun gave you “the need, the need for speed” and made it seem perfectly normal for grown men to publicly burst into song in order to impress a lady.
Warwolf’s global adventure soon gets serious as a new weapon – dubbed ‘Trinity’ – rears its devastating, nuclear-powered head and threatens to tear apart any notions of global security. What follows is a tale of bravery, sacrifice and betrayal told largely – though not exclusively – through the medium of vast amounts of ordnance going ‘BOOM!’. We say ‘not exclusively’ as Assault Horizon also showcases some impressive cinematic chops, with frequent cutscenes and switches to the first person view of combat ace, Lieutenant Colonel William Bishop, as he converses with colleagues, attends briefing mission and strolls around the Nato base. Though the latter sections are always on-rails (your input being limited to the turning of Bishop’s head), they help to immerse you in the game’s world and emphasise the human element that lies beneath the technological warfare being waged on screen.
But what of the air combat itself? Anyone who has played the previous games in the Ace Combat series will be instantly familiar with the gentle blending of simulation and more easily accessible arcade thrills. Though an advanced control option is available (dubbed ‘Original’ and which pushes the game slightly more towards the former), the default controls are easy to pick up, with the plane auto levelling and the manoeuvring of your craft assigned purely to the left analogue stick. The biggest innovation for this instalment is the introduction of “Close-Range Asssault” (or CRA) which comes in two flavours – “DFM” (or Dog-Fight Mode) and “ASM (Air-Strike Mode); when activated, the former causes your plane to automatically chase a target, freeing you to maintain lock-ons and target your machine guns. ASM works in a similar fashion, but designates pre-set bombing-run paths. Though in practice DFM is a little on the jittery side, CRA definitely adds another level of tactics to the game as planes attempt to manoeuvre into the required position (this also holds true for multiplayer) as well as facilitating cinematic moments, such as zooming down the streets of Dubai.
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