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Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (Xbox 360) artwork

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (Xbox 360) review

"Then there's the payoff: an up close, incredibly detailed look at the destruction that never gets tiresome. Smoke engulfs metal, wings break off, and you'll sometimes actually see the pilot flail uncontrollably out their aircraft! I excitably let loose an explicit the first time I witnessed that."

Let's be real here: while the last two console titles, Zero and 6, were nice games, they weren't on the same wavelength Ace Combat 5 was on. That game set the bar for what every new AC title should achieve to become, yet its two successors felt content on delivering competent, albeit underwhelming performances. One more sequel like this, though, and the series would've officially been on auto pilot. That's the kind of pressure Ace Combat: Assault Horizon faced nearing its launch date, coming four years after the release of Ace Combat 6. With all this time for Project Aces to think, ponder, and reassess the path the franchise was heading, the most dramatic contribution they did with Assault Horizon, and for the series, was include one simple feature: Dogfight Mode.

What better way to introduce this addition, too, then by forcing players to learn it the very second the campaign mode starts? Really, the first mission begins with your fighter pilot already locked on to a bogey flying over a battle-torn city of Miami, also making this the first console AC to use real world locations. Next thing you know, the game pauses to inform you to press both the LB and RB buttons, and before you can process anything, you're in a zoomed-in chase with a plane weaving through skyscrapers, causing a freak out. Making matters worse, the fighter crashes into a building, and assuming the lock-on is lost, you try gaining control in a panic, attempting to avoid an impending collision! But you eventually find yourself free from the confinement of the towers anyway, and the game eventually explains the inner workings of Dogfight Mode, aka DFM.

Only 30 seconds have elapsed, and you're already feeling the adrenaline! The great news is it only gets better from here.

The best way to explain how DFM works is that it's the equivalent to using a lasso on a wild animal; if you manage to fly close enough to a plane, a circle will encase the enemy, cueing you to press LB and RB, and from there, it's a crazy chase through the skies. You'll do your best holding on to that invisible rope as your prey tries desperately to escape. The entire time, there will be this circular target cursor rocking around the bogey, and if you steady your aim when the plane's inside long enough, the circle will turn red, indicating your missiles can do greater damage when released. Then there's the payoff: an up close, incredibly detailed look at the destruction that never gets tiresome. Smoke engulfs metal, wings break off, and you'll sometimes actually see the pilot flail uncontrollably out their aircraft! I excitably let loose an explicit the first time I witnessed that.

This new feature sounds like it's going to make Ace Combat much easier, but that's far from the truth. As progress is made in the campaign, the rival pilots become more aggressive in DFM, as they swerve, roll, and do outrageous maneuvers to run from the lock, at times flinging your jet into the ground. Dangerously so, the enemy will frequently perform DFMs on you! Escape by acceleration is possible, but if you're risky, take a chance by decelerating and attempt a counter-maneuver, flipping you behind the pursuer. Another great thing about this new addition is it allows an appreciation of the surroundings, thanks to the zoom-in, noticing details one would never spot in past AC games. Granted, this is helped in part to certain DFM fights being scripted, but that doesn't take away from admiring the scenery of a chased plane releasing flares inches above a river bridge, then watching the missed projectiles splash into the water, one by one. Or speeding insanely close to the ground as your plane plows through an oil field being hit by missiles.

Multiplayer benefits greatly from DFM, as well, because it makes the playing field rather balanced. Something I noticed with AC6's multiplayer is how, when someone gets behind you, that's it, you're really screwed. With the DFM and its counter-maneuver technique, you have a fighting chance to strike back. The actual modes are basic and so few (4 in total), and it comes with the usual requirement of unlocking and equipping perks you've seen in other games, but they get the job done when it comes to planes attacking planes.

Still, Capital Conquest, a territory-style mode, ends up the most riveting of all four. Here, you have to destroy the opposing team's headquarters via air strike, and vice versa. However, the radar tower and its legion of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) in the center of each map needs to be destroyed in order to open a lock-on path for said air strike... and vice versa. It's an exhilarating sight with eight against eight as each side scramble to blow away one another, ground targets, and scattered bases that act as spawn points. And when an air strike is possible, you'll see players quickly switching to bombers or stealth fighters, then go to Airstrike Mode, similar to DFM, except your aircraft slows down in limited space while diving for the kill. The tension reaches absurd highs as the beautifully orchestrated soundtrack pounds away, enemy planes try to shoot you down in a panic, and you're just murdering the headquarters with every type of ammunition available. This is something that really needs to be experienced with a full lobby.

There's one issue I have with the multiplayer, unfortunately, and it's with matches involving attack helicopters, a new method of flying introduced in Assault Horizon. These sessions are inanely slow and stilted, and cheap tactics like camping in front of spawns are easy to pull off. I highly advise avoiding these type of matches. A shame, since the two helicopter missions in campaign are pretty fun. The controls are basic, but that's to be expected for a new flight mechanic to the series, and the action is simple, most battles only ever needing circle-strafing "strategies" to be victorious. But raining hell on rocket launching soldiers with bullets in Africa and gleefully seeing speeding trucks flip into the side of buildings with help from your missiles are guilty pleasure moments. I especially enjoyed single-handedly kicking the ass of armies in Moscow, but that's because it brought back memories of playing the final stage in Soviet Strike...

An overhead bombing mission and some on-rail gatling gun levels also provide brief breaks from the norm, and they're fun intermissions. However, don't believe these new level types take away from the classic Ace Combat gameplay that fans have been accustomed to for years; the plane missions are still the heart of Assault Horizon, outnumbering the alternative stages overwhelmingly. You'll get your staples, like the landing sequences, shooting down a slew of bombers in tight time limits, chase rockets, destroy bases and SAMs in air strikes, and so on. But with DFM, the action is more aggressive and intense, giving this recent serving a more arcadey vibe.

The series has, again, reached another enjoyable benchmark, one I didn't fathom would be a reality due to lack of spirit following the 2004 installment. It will be interesting to see how the Project Aces dev team does with a follow-up to Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, but I hope it'll be more of this, plus a bit more mission variety and some tinkering with the helicopter elements, if they decide to bring that back. In summary, more! However, until that day comes, we can relax... because we finally got another awesome Ace Combat!


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (October 16, 2011)

You have no idea how close I was to using a Cool as Ice quote for my Riding Hero tagline...

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honestgamer posted October 16, 2011:

This was overall a great review, pickhut, one that let me get a feel for how the series has been doing and one that wound up with me glad to hear--and convinced--that it is back on the right track. Your introduction detailing the first 30 seconds of the game was a solid way to start your review, as well. The problem I had as I read is that this felt less polished than a lot of your previous reviews. There were grammatical errors throughout and a few awkward phrases and even some unfortunate typos, like when you used the adjective "inane" when I'm fairly certain you meant "insane." When you've had some time away from the review, you might want to come back and clean it up a bit because, aside from those few issues, this is an effective and very enjoyable review. Good job!
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pickhut posted October 16, 2011:

I actually meant to use the word inane. Though, looking back, it wasn't the best choice for that scenario. I was trying to avoid repeating certain words in the review, and noticed I hadn't used that yet. I guess 'absurd' is more fitting.

As for the review itself, I didn't notice anything glaring, other than stuff I purposely left in, but I will take a look at the review a few days from now to see if I missed something. I usually tend to have more problems with "longer" reviews since there's more stuff to keep track of. Thanks for reading, too. Glad you liked it even with your issues with it.

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