A couple years back at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, I had a nice meeting with a Namco Bandai rep. During the meeting, he walked me over to their demo of Ace Combat Assault Horizon and handed me a controller. What followed was a beautiful game, played extraordinarily bad much to the horror of the on-looking rep. He offered to change difficulty settings, constantly wanted to reach for the controller to stop the mayhem that ensued, and I eventually smiled at him and said “Okay, now show me how it is really played.” With an uncontrollable expression of relief, he picked up the controller and showed what his extensive playtime had taught him. I saw a guy capable of doling out splendid carnage with practiced hands. Now, I didn’t have time to be that person yet, as I had back to back appointments. Because of all this, when the opportunity to give it a play on the PC with enhanced graphics and my new Logitech flight stick came along, I was more than happy to cause some steel carnage.
East Africa, 2015. Attached to an international peace-keeping force, Colonel Bishop leads a small squadron in operations to suppress an insurgent rebel force. The operation, however, rapidly escalates as Bishop and his company come face-to-face with the rebels’ devastatingly powerful experimental weapon. Tearing its way through the desert states and up into the frozen North, the struggle to control the weapon ignites a devastating global conflict.
- Dramatic and realistic storyline – Written by New York Times Best-Selling military author Jim DeFelice, players will be immersed in an enthralling war drama spanning multiple real-world locations
- Steel carnage – Incredible destructive detail and visual effects for every explosive attack, with aircraft shredded, enemy troops annihilated, buildings shattered, and machines bleeding their oil
- All-new aircraft to pilot – Experience split-second manoeuvring and positioning, pinpoint targeting, hover attacks and other diverse gameplay with the introduction of the Attack Helicopter, Door Gunner, Bomber and Gunship
- Revolutionary “Close-Range Assault” system – Delivering high-speed acrobatics, dizzying one-on-one encounters, satisfyingly visceral low-altitude aeronautics, and high-flying death from above
- ACE COMBAT online reinvented – Completely reworked online modes, with new features including the new “Close-Range Assault” system”
The gameplay starts off before the credits even begin, with a quick control check and battle over a major city in your fighter jet. The fighting begins fairly easy so that you can get comfortable with the controls before any really rough combat starts. The game is extraordinarily story driven and the story is interesting while you are still learning the controls. Once the game feels you are comfortable with the fighter aspect you get to man a gunner spot on a chopper during the opening credits to tell part of the story. No time is wasted in this game, there is action and story going on every moment – even the cutscenes are generally quick and crucial to the story. I was wearing headphones to make sure I was getting the most of the action and atmosphere at which this game excels.
Playing the game with a flight stick was an essential part of the experience. I imagine that, once you get used to a gamepad, it might be slightly easier to play with but it really would diminish the experience. There is nothing quite like swinging the stick into a dive while popping chaff or detonating electro-magnetic bombs while a half dozen MiGs jockey for position behind you – first hearing, then seeing as the missiles streaks past you and detonate in the sky. I had to adjust the button assignment a bit to make the most used ones more accessible and the least used out of the way. But when the controls were just right and you kill the throttle risking a stall, pop a chaff then line up on your enemy’s six close enough to engage the “Close-Range Assault” system and suddenly you are looking at the enemy aircraft from a visual style like the onboard camera of a real fighter recording the “Steel Carnage” as pieces go shredding off the back of their plane and they explode in a fiery black cloud of debris… it is just an insane rush. Thanks to a dynamic storyline, every shot fired serves a purpose as well.
The visuals in the bomber are very realistic as well, anyone who has seen footage of the infrared camera used by high altitude firing missions will notice the realistic quality Assault Horizon has to it. There is some degree of strategy involved with this kind of combat as well. The large ordinance, while extremely effectivem has a wide “splash zone” of damage and a really slow load time. The machine gun, though highly accurate and quick to reload, requires accurate aim and on vehicles a longer kill time. That was why I found the middle ordinance to be for the most part just right with a fairly quick reload and a fairly wide zone of damage. I used all of them as the missions dictated but I kept coming back to the “just right” middle one.
The attack helicopter was probably the roughest part of the game and ironically one of the parts I was most looking forward to. I am a big fan of the Apache but the standard flight stick setup, with how many controls needed to be used, was a nightmare at first. I reconfigured just about everything just so I could fly it like a wounded bird. It was the one time I really looked at a game controller temptingly. In the end though I completed the missions using the stick and some very creative control assignment and it was satisfying, if a bit ugly to watch.
Anyone who had played a chopper gunner in a game will pick up the gunner portion in a snap and it is designed to be played with the mouse so PC FPS fans will take to this quick and get it done.
There are three visual point of view choices that really do effect gameplay and the experience in general. You can be outside behind your plane third person style which is nice to check out your paint job and damage and has a feel like a couple of the old arcade sit down cockpits with sticks. This can be an extremely fun way to play and gives you a great view of what is going on around you as well as giving a nostalgic feel. There is also the nose cam point of view where nothing is obstructing your view and you get the realistic look of what combat looks like from the nose point of view. This also harkens back to other games and can be fun for players who want to see the sky from almost a drone point of view. Then there is the cockpit perspective and though I don’t usually discourage people from exploring their options if you are playing this game on a PC with it’s enhanced visuals and you are using a flight stick you owe it to yourself to play this game from the cockpit. It can be more difficult, you find yourself looking at your radar a lot to see what is going on in your blind spots but it is so much more immersive. The other styles play like arcade, cockpit plays like simulation.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Enhanced Edition is a great game with exceptional graphics and storyline. Gameplay is solid and competitive, whether you are playing against the AI or another player in multiplayer. The choices of play style are diverse and if you find you don’t like the controller layout, reassignment is just a couple clicks away. I love the fact that you get to fight, bomb, and gun your way through the story in multiple aircraft so you don’t start to feel like the game is one big dog fight. Turn off the television, put on some headphones, and dive into a great interactive story, the experience will kick the ass of just about anything on television anyway.
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