31 October 2012
A Look at Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
Early last year, shortly after the notorious PlayStation Network outage, I started trying out the Ace Combat series on the PS2, first off with Ace Combat Zero. I like it quite a bit, and eventually went off to try out the older games. Eventually, I found out that a new Ace Combat game would be out on the PS3 (and on the XBOX 360). That would be Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. Heck, I even made a couple of blog posts about it too.
It's now been a little more than a year since its release. After playing the game out of a the blue again recently, I think it's time to give it a review of some sort.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon sets its story in the real world with relatively believable settings, which is an unusual departure from its previous games. In late 2015, NATO and Russian forces are assisting East Africa's nations to fight off against an organised insurgent group, which is found to possess powerful weapon of mass destruction called "Trinity". It is later found out that a portion of Russian military is behind the actions of the African insurgents, and plotted to overthrow the Russian government under the name of "New Russian Federation", with rebel Russian general Ivan Stagleishov and mercenary ace pilot Andrei Markov leading the coup d'état, plunging the nation into a civil war, and threatening the rest of the world with the Trinity that they possess. Throughout the story, Colonel William Bishop of the United States Air Force faces Markov on a number of occasions, who happens to be the one Bishop faces death from in his recurring nightmares.
The player takes the role of Colonel William Bishop of the United States Air Force in most missions involving jet aircraft, but for a change the game also has missions involving helicopters and as well as an AC-130 like in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and even large bomber aircraft like B-1B and B-2.
The mission layout in general is pretty straight forward and consistent in the whole game: destroy enemy units as you go along, and more of them will spawn in waves. This unfortunately gets repetitive as you are always facing the same kinds of aircraft, and there is not too much variety in between. It's understandable that it may be difficult to implement some of the more interesting scenarios from previous games into Assault Horizon as the story is set in a real world, hence limiting the variety of situations deemed acceptable in the story. No tunnel flights, massive airborne fortress, or other crazy superweapons.
The addition of attack helicopters as playable aircraft is an unusual addition to the game. The controls took a bit of time to get used to as it's very different to that for jet aircraft, but it's simplified enough for casual gamers to get adjusted to. I personally like this particular addition, but there are only two long missions for them in the story; perhaps having more shorter missions would be a bit better?
Jet aircraft combat in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon has also been given cinematic-style new features, called Dogfight Mode (DFM) and Airstrike Mode (ASM) for dogfight and ground attack respectively.
DFM can be triggered when the pursuing aircraft reaches towards the rear of a target aircraft, which then takes the pursuer directly behind the target and turn into something like a rail shooter, with some of the maneuvering controls simplified for the ease of the shooting part. The one being pursued can still control their aircraft as usual, and can escape the chase by outmaneuvering their opponent, or do a counter maneuver and reverse the tide if conditions are right.
In ASM one finds and enters from one end of a pre-defined attack route, of which then the game somewhat guides the control of the aircraft while the player focuses mostly on attacking ground attacks, which is similar to DFM but for ground.
The new combat features in the game, especially with DFM, causes rather polar views among the players. DFM helps breaking the old dogfight problems of players circling around each other for ages, and is more visually appealing combating opponents up close rather than shooting them far away as tiny planes or even pixels. However, there are complaints on its scripted play at times in singleplayer, as well as it potentially making combat easier due to the guided controls. I too have a bit of grudge with it when there are unexpected bugs encountered during the heat of gameplay, or that some parts just don't feel right at all.
The multiplayer aspect is a little better received, especially for the competitive play. Apart from the typical deathmatch and area control domination mode, the capital conquest is the most popular online game mode, focusing players to destroy the enemies' headquarter while defending their own over real cities such as Washington DC and Moscow. Co-op mode features 8 missions in singleplayer for up to 3 players, but otherwise nothing terribly new from the singleplayer perspective (which is a pity since I really like co-operative gaming).
There are other tidbits that are not critical, but would help making the game experience a bit more appreciating. The lack of mission briefings and debriefings made story progression seem a little disconnected and jumpy, and the absence of free flight mode is a pity as it would be to fly in a plane you want appreciating the real world landscapes. The custom aircraft colouring is a nice addition though, if you like colouring your plane to your own liking, or even making it bright pink and shooting missiles with green smoke trails (if you really want to).
Overall, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon feels more like a spinoff from the rest of its series due to the addition of new features and the lack of some of the recurring ones. If you are new to the series, the game may be worth trying out, but those who are used to the older Ace Combat games may find it rather... Different and perhaps not very "Ace Combat". It's not surprising that some people call this game "Call of Duty: Modern Combat for Ace Combat".
Oh, and last but not least, Happy Halloween!