Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Xbox 360 Review

January 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

Publisher – Namco Bandai – Developer – Project Aces – Genre – Flight Combat/Action – Players – 1-16 – Age Rating – 16+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3

Like it or not, Call of Duty is gaming’s biggest franchise, so in order to attempt to emulate its phenomenal success developers have long been drawing inspiration from it. Both Homefront and the newest iteration of Medal of Honor owe a lot to Activision’s series and are just two examples, but  Call of Duty’s influence is far reaching enough to even have a profound effect outside the FPS genre as well, take Ace Combat: Assault Horizon for instance.

In a narrative sense, Ace Combat is usually inherently Japanese and often melodramatic to the point of cheesiness, but, nevertheless, for genre standards it’s often likeable and engaging enough nonsense to function as background to the all important airborne blowing things up business. This time around though, the story, being penned by popular military author Jim DeFelice, is more western and takes place in real world locations. Unfortunately though its method of storytelling just feels like any other number of military themed games lining the shelves and, even though the plot itself is functional enough, it’s difficult to see just what the author has brought to the series beyond clichéd and bland characters and generic dialogue.

Call of Duty’s world (or should that be universe?) size shadow looms large over the gameplay too, resulting in a game that is more flashy and cinematic. Structurally, there’s more variation, with monochrome Call of Duty like bombing missions and on-rails sections. This is a good thing, though some might decry that it takes the focus away from the essence of Ace Combat, that being flying a plane through the air at supersonic speed and blowing things to hell, and whereas previous games might have pitted you against impossibly gargantuan super weapons, here it’s more focused on realism as opposed to insanity, of which some might consider to be a bit boring.

However, being in charge of a plane is just as thrilling as series devotees have come to expect and, due to a fresh close range assault mechanic that allows you to zoom in on opposing planes, it’s all the more so. This can only be triggered from a relatively close distance and is an easier method of downing many enemy planes. Using it sends your plane into a semi on-rails chase that often guides your plane upside down or through narrow gaps. for dramatic effect. It’s all very visually stylish and dynamic, then, and has the advantage of allowing you to see that you’re engaged in a fight with planes rather than distant smudges on the horizon that could well be anything, really.

The drawback with this feature though is that some will feel that the dog fighting has lost much of its skill, though it’s a problem that can be somewhat remedied by playing on the hardest difficulty and using the advanced control scheme.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is a very gory game, not in the sense that the people you shoot splash claret all over the place, but in the way that the planes that you down disintegrate into pieces of burning metal, splashing oil everywhere and sometimes being obliterated to the extent that they’re literally in half. This is often displayed from a cinematic viewpoint and it’s all enough that you could almost feel sorry at the often brutal demise of these metal monsters, which isn’t to say that it isn’t absolutely gratifying to witness time and again.

Away from planes, there are also helicopter missions, of which aren’t as refined as the planes, though are a welcome change of pace and don’t appear often enough to interfere with the slick dog-fighting that Ace Combat has become known for. The camera can be a bit of an issue, sometimes losing view of your chunky chopper altogether, though ultimately they’re enjoyable enough and just as beautifully explosive as the rest of the game.

With its more western and accessible approach to flight based combat, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is sure to be divisive amongst series fans. Some will feel that in attempting to widen its appeal it has shed much of its identity and will perhaps see it as even more of a reason to hate the behemoth that is Call of Duty, whilst others will welcome its more dramatic and refreshing take on the series and the genre as a whole.