Start with a story then fly from there…
There’s nothing quite like a good story, and the Ace Combat series needed it. One of the driving points to any good first-person shooter these days is how good the story can be. Call of Duty and Medal of Honor put you in the driver seat of deep characters that drive the action along. While I know that Project Aces has been trying to find that perfect balance between story and action, it appears that they have gotten closer with Ace Combat Assault Horizon. Hiring the likes of Jim DeFelice, a New York Times Best Selling author, was a very good choice, as DeFelice brings in some strong characters to fill in the blanks of the reemerging series. You play Lieutenant Colonel William Bishop, who is trying to stop an anti-government insurgency. While it doesn’t live up to the hype of Call of Duty, it does bridge the action between real world locations that Project Aces has been trying to move into the series for a while. If the opening dogfight in the game doesn’t get your blood pumping thanks to its intense story then I’m not sure what to tell you. Just know that you’re in for a nice story to push along the fast-paced action.
Speaking of action, the flying in Ace Combat Assault Horizon is intense. With each new release of the game, it gets better and better visually. This is the biggest drawing point for the series and with this edition of the game it improves on so many elements. The first one is how detailed the environment slook. You get more than just flat bits of graphics mixed with undetailed landscape. This time around you get large structures, hills and terrains and plenty of dangerously detailed places to fly over and through.
As for the planes, they look detailed and are just as visually interesting to watch in action as they work through the environments. You’ll get a bunch of planes to select from (and earn). Each plane has it’s own style and it’s own detailed structure about it. Again, it’s little things that make the planes as good as the rest of the graphics in the game. There are properly moving parts, worn pieces and just all sorts of interesting things that make you feel like you’re flying a real plane.The only complaint I might have is the lack of damage. If the planes wore their damaged badge of honor, like the planes in IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey, then all would be perfect. As it stands, the damage doesn’t get obvious until it’s really too late, but the view beforehand is still breathtaking.
The lighting and shadowing was another big improvement, as you get far more correctly placed shadow and reflections on your plane’s structure. For example, when you go into dogfight mode during the game you will see your guns pop up from the side of the wing. The small compartment flips open perfectly, reflecting the right amount of shadow on the wing, and then closes loosely adjusting that shadow. It’s simple, small details that make this game looks so positively gorgeous.
To say the least, Ace Combat Assault Horizon is potentially the best looking game of the series. Project Aces did a great job with the presentation.
Shifting gears a bit, the gameplay in general is a mixed bag of nuts. So, let’s break down the modes and found out more.
While the initial storyline is strong (and the missions for the most part are on par with the story) and the controls of the plane are very much solid (the dogfight mode is incredble, and a blast to play — if you can get close enough to activate it), yet there are still annoying issues when playing in campaign mode.
The biggest issues I had with the game came in two forms, AI and unfair enemy AI. The first AI complaint is with the fighters that fight with my guy. Friendly pilots are seemingly worthless in Ace Combat Assault Horizon. For example, in the very first ‘real’ fight in the game you have to go after 4-5 enemy planes. While 2-3 of the planes can be attacked perfectly by your squadron (I played the first mission several times and repeated the results), when the group is broken down into its two leaders then your friends’ skills quickly become ‘blah’. I sat chasing both leaders for nearly 20 minutes and not one of the other pilots around me help attack my target. The game was deadset on getting me into the dogfight mode and having me have it out with these guys; no help from my guys at all. That’s one big thing that sets military games a part from each other; AI from your troops. If your troops just sit there and continually point out that a missile has been fired at you then it’s useless. If the troops help you pick up the slack by going after enemies while you’re evading missiles, that’s a plus. Regretfully, more often than not, my troops simply sat back at a point in the fight and just yammered on about how missiles were heading my way. Again, it’s extremely frustrating when you don’t have any back up to help you.
With that said, the enemy AI was just as bad, if not completely unfair. Getting back to the very first ‘real’ fight in the game, the two lead planes were amazingly dodging, evading and setting off decoy flares regularly to stop my missiles from touching them. It didn’t matter my proximity to their plane or how many missiles were fired, they never hit. The game was forcing the fight into a dogfight for no good reason. The enemy AI at this point was enormously frustrating and highly unfair. I do understand that you can’t solve everything with missiles, but I know for a fact that real planes don’t have an endless amount of flares. If my plane has a limited amount of missiles then their plane should have a limited amount of flares; regretfully, that wasn’t the case.
Outside of those two major complaints, the only other minor complaint I have with the game is that there is a lot of repetition. The Ace Combat series has always been known to get a little stale here and there, and it continues with Assault Horizon. I like how Project Aces has integrated a very real world story into the game, as it does create strong motivation to complete the missions. Regretfully, as soon as the mission starts you will sometimes get what feels like countless waves of enemies. For example, as long as it takes to take out enemies in the game, sometimes 15-20 minutes, the game will sometimes send another wave as soon as you dispatched the first. As a gamer, you know when an important battle occurs in the game. Generally that battle is the longest, and soon afterwards the game gives you a break. That’s just not the case with Ace Combat Assault Horizon. To the game’s credit, it doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens enough to notice.
Those complaints aside, the game still does hold up well overall. I think that the story really does help motivate the gamer to want to continue the missions in campaign mode. Despite the AI issues, and the repetition, there is still some solid campaign play in Ace Combat Assault Horizon.
The online modes in Ace Combat Assault Horizon is beautiful chaos. You get for ways to play online:
Capital Conquest — This option in online mode is pretty fun. You get to split into teams and try to destroy the other teams enemy headquarters. The one game that I played in was a beautiful city landscape. Tons of planes (2-16) flying back and forth made the game really quite intense. I played this the most.
Domination — With this online game you get to split into teams again and try and capture team bases. You’ve seen this sort of play before in games like SOCOM, but it’s interesting to try the same structure when you’re flying around in the air. Fun, but not my bag.
Deathmatch — Need I explain this one?
Mission Co-op — I’m really happy to see that co-op is popping up everywhere when it comes to online. There are a few good games out there that really don’t take advantage of that, but I’m glad Ace Combat Assault Horizon isn’t one of them. Good stuff, if you have a friend that will play the game with you (some of us don’t).
As with most online gaming, the better you do the more points you receive. The points level you up through the ranks, which allows you to unlock all sorts of goodies to help continue the online fight. The only caveat I have with the online mode is the amount of time between games. The games, especially the likes of Capital Conquest, can take a lot of time to complete. Just make sure that you have allotted for the time before you commit.
Overall, it’s still fun and high in replay value.
The only other mode in the game is Free Missions, which allows you to play completed missions to obtain high scores (which are posted online). If you’re into that sort of stuff then you’re going to love it. For me, it wasn’t all that interesting.
So is it fun to fly?
Like I stated at the beginning of this review, Project Aces is getting closer and closer to an evenly balanced game. I think that if they improved the AI and lessened the repetitious feeling of the gameplay then they are looking at a perfectly developed game. Until that moment, Ace Combat Assault Horizon still satisfies, even more than the previous game in the serious. The online mode alone will keep people playing well after this addition in the series is getting old. There’s enough here to enjoy and it’s definitely worth the $59.99.