In Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, the last action you take is not to participate in a thrilling dogfight, or to victoriously soar through the clouds in an F-14 Tomcat. No. The very last thing you do in this airborne action game is to press a button to pump your fist in the air. No single moment exemplifies the spirit of the new and soulless vision of Ace Combat better than this display of alpha male bravado. Assault Horizon provides heaps of the visual spectacle you'd see in a summer blockbuster--but absolutely no depth. Gone is the devotion to heartfelt storytelling of previous Ace Combat games. Gone are wingmate commands, varied mission objectives, and even (mostly) the fear of crashing into anything. Assault Horizon is about being in your face. Like most visual spectacles, those in this game draw your eye for a short while, and even provide some shallow entertainment. But no matter how loud and bright the explosions get, they can't disguise the obvious: Assault Horizon is so easy and repetitive that it almost plays itself. It is so busy being a movie that it forgets to be a game.
6339029Helicopter missions might look exciting, but looks can be deceiving.NONE
Most missions put you in the cockpit of an aircraft and whisk you to the skies, where fighters and bombers soar through the clouds, waiting for your missiles to strike. Like previous Ace Combat games, Assault Horizon is more of an arcade flight combat game than a simulator. You fly a number of different aircraft, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. But they are similar enough that you feel immediately comfortable regardless of your choice. In the sky, you lock on to enemies and let your missiles fly when they are in range, or speed in close enough to let loose a barrage of machine-gun fire. These are real-world jets, albeit ones that don't need refueling and that carry an unrealistically large amount of ordnance.
Assault Horizon takes the arcade aspects of previous games and distills them even further. Now, you don't even need skill to triumph in the air; when you close in behind an enemy jet, you can tap the shoulder buttons to initiate dogfighting mode. In a dogfight, the camera zooms in, and you automatically follow your target in a minigame in which you must hover your reticle over your foe and fire missiles when it turns red. Dogfights aren't fully on rails, however. You can break out of the dogfight if you need to evade other aircraft, and must maneuver to keep your intended victim within your sights. You can also turn the tables on fighters that engage you in this manner, tapping your shoulder buttons at the right time to circle behind and change your role from victim to executioner.
When in doubt, let the missiles fly.
Dogfighting mode makes a slick first impression. The cinematic camera angles impart a sense of speed and danger as you hurtle through the air at the mercy of your enemy's whims. When your fatal missile hits its mark, the camera might cut away from the action to show the flaming wreckage plummeting downward. It's a flurry of fire and metal that's enjoyable to watch and listen to at first. Sound effects are bombastic, without ever drowning out radio chatter. The blurry ground textures of previous Ace Combat games have been replaced with nicely detailed cities. Most past installments occurred in fictional settings, but Assault Horizon takes place in our own familiar world. Care obviously went into the choice of locations. Dubai, for example, is an effective backdrop because its man-made geography is instantly recognizable from the air.
But games aren't just meant to be seen; they're meant to be played. And Assault Horizon falls quickly into a rut because its entertainment value lies solely in the production elements. The gameplay? Hollow and repetitive. Everything has been reduced to a minigame. Need to win an air superiority mission? Initiate dogfighting mode again and again. Done deal. Have to take out a series of ground targets? Initiate another kind of on-rails sequence that removes any potential challenge. Even landing is a minigame in which you just hover a cursor in the right place. You can sometimes (but not always) avoid dogfighting mode if you want a more traditional flight combat experience, but doing so hammers home how thin the missions are. Previous Ace Combat games had you taking on giant airborne carriers, flying through caverns, and battling in monsoons. Assault Horizon's few attempts to mix things up--an attack on an aircraft carrier, taking down a few bombers--are comparatively trifling.