The Ultimate Badass Simulator

There were almost as many explosions as we have screenshots in Ace Combat Assault Horizon.
Author: Scott Rodgers
Published: October 20, 2011
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The Ace Combat franchise is one of the longest tenured and most beloved out there. Though the games have never gotten the mainstream appeal or adoration that you see from many of the industry juggernauts they have had a strong and consistent quality that has kept fans coming back for more. Ace Combat Assault Horizon marks the first time that the series has graced the PS3 and there have been a multitude of changes. Dogfight Mode (DFM) is a divisive feature and there’s also regenerating health, a new story scripted by New York Times bestselling author Jim DeFelice, and, of course, an array of online modes. All of these changes when combined with the lack of wingmate commands, the lack of varied missions (almost all of them boil down to “shoot the targets to win”), and the attitude change will turn off a lot of people and alienate some fans.

Assault Horizon’s story is one of the most memorable campaigns that I have encountered. Instead of taking the player to a made up land, the war you’re fighting is right in your own backyard. Firefights take place above Paris, Moscow, Dubai, Miami, Washington D.C. and other locales with each being lovingly recreated to each minor detail. You’ll see a scene involving Sun Life Stadium in Miami; be able to look down at the Pentagon and Washington Monument while flying dangerously close from crashing into them. While the places you go are quite memorable, the characters aren’t so much.

Most of the time you’ll be put in the cockpit as Lieutenant Colonel William Bishop, with exceptions being made to play as Captain D-Ray Robinson and Major Janice Rehl. Bishop is the fighter pilot, Robinson is the chopper pilot, and Rehl is your go-to gal for stealth and bombing missions. The dynamic works well and the characters interact with one another in cutscenes to help make them seem more like actual people. The problem, however, is in the dialogue and in fact it may be the Achilles heel for the entire story. The lines that the voice actors are given are plain awkward and try as they might it just falls flat and cheesy at best.

The campaign will last you a while, taking anywhere from 6-10 hours depending on your skill and need to reset. While there are some insanely awesome moments the game lacks any sense of pacing, with the combat have a ton of peaks and valleys. It also doesn’t help that the missions aren’t even in length, with some lasting just three firefights and others lasting five or even size. The checkpoints are also particularly brutal, meaning that if you mess up on the very last part of a group you’ll have to start back and lose potentially 8-10 minutes of progress. Almost every time something “big” happens you’ll be safe but I will have to admit nearly having a nervous breakdown taking on some of these missions on Elite, or goodness forbid, Ace difficulty, and losing any sort of headway I had made. For what it’s worth the missions where you’re not in a fighter are a nice change of pace and though some may find them to be glacial paced hurdles that detract from the main story.

The AI is ridiculously good and you’re going to struggle at times in this game. There will be times that you have three or four enemy planes on your tail and with all of them firing homing missiles, it makes counter attacking quite difficult. Boss fights are especially brutal and with your allies being of little use it’s a recipe for disaster. This is made up for by the game’s intensity and don’t be surprised if you can only play in 10-20 minute sessions because of the craziness that’s always going on. DFM does detract from the combat a bit, basically putting you on rails behind an enemy, not even having to steer or do much besides attack and counter attack. You can counter an opponent’s DFM lock by braking or accelerating, keeping a level plane, and massing R2+L2 at the right time and I’d suggest that you get use to it because it’s absolutely crucial in the later chapters. There’s also a counter to the counter where you can hit the triggers as the opponent does (you’ll see a red arrow for a spilt second) and doing so will give you a chance to shoot them with gunfire and inflict more damage. The game does rely on DFM a bit too much, with opposing leaders and bosses being unable to be taken down outside of it. It takes away from the long range combat but I will admit that I prefer it over the “circle around each other until someone can get a lock” combat that was in previous games.
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