I love it when a game surprises me. That’s exactly what has happened with Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, a title that wasn’t exactly on my fall gaming radar, but when it arrived for review it suddenly became my responsibility to check out the game. Perhaps the lack of hype and a co-op mode that was only announced a week before release gave it the clean slate it needed.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon takes place in the not to distant future of 2015, a Russian terrorist group has plans for world domination through the use of a new weapon called “Trinity.” You’ll be in control of several allied characters in an effort to unravel the plot and stop the destruction. It’s all very Tom Clancy, and rightfully so, the game out does what a lot of recent Tom Clancy games have been able to achieve in terms of story, pacing, action, and music.
So what exactly is Ace Combat: Assault Horizon? It’s still a flight game, though not necessarily a flight simulator. It’s still a game with jet fighters and planes in it, though it’s not just a game about planes. Instead what you have is a tightly crafted campaign that immediately drops you into the cockpit and gets you familiar with the new and exciting gameplay elements Assault Horizon has to offer.
The first of these elements is called DFM, or Dog Fighting Mode. Having played flight and space sim games since the days of Wing Commander on the PC, I can tell you they’ve all had one problem in common - the endless dance of you and an enemy circling around each other as one of you tries to get the other in their sights to shoot them down. What DFM does is turn this into an action sequence; get close enough to a target for a few seconds and a HUD queue will tell you to push the bumper buttons, bringing you behind your target in a semi-on rails fast action sequence. You’ll need to keep a targeting reticule on the enemy or use your machine guns to bring him down. These sequences sometimes take place in the open sky, sometimes they bring the planes low to the ground, other times you’ll find yourself flying through a city. Every time though it’s an adrenaline rush when you finally pull off that killing blow.
This gameplay mechanic gets extended to other areas of the game as well, including special moves to break out of missile lock in a true “hit the breaks and watch them fly by” moment. Similar to this is also a mode called ASM (Air Strike Mode) which is used to attack ground targets along a set path.
But the game’s mechanics aren’t the only thing keeping Assault Horizon fresh, the variety of mission types are able to achieve this as well. You’ll find yourself as a gunner out the side of a helicopter, or even piloting an Apache helo while supporting tiny special forces soldiers on the ground storming an enemy compound. Even later missions have you using a DC-130 like that famous mission from Modern Warfare 2 or piloting a bomber and dropping laser guided bombs on targets. These small breaks in the air combat really go a long way to making the game stand out.
Another thing worth mentioning is the game’s production values. Graphically every mission stands out on its own - whether its a desert, snowy mountains, rainy coastline, or the cities of Miami, Moscow and Dubai - Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is simply gorgeous. Explosions of the aircraft are varied and impressive, and there’s little touches, like oil splattering your windshield when using the machine gun on the enemy that goes a long way.
Outside of a truly excellent campaign, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon offers versus modes, including a team based conquest mode that ties itself to a web meta game. There’s also persistent multiplayer progression to that ties to various unlocks which you can assign to your craft during these matches as well as the game’s cooperative mode.
Co-Op DFM is a ton of fun - just don't shoot your buddy!
The co-op mode in Assault Horizon is playable online for three players. Pilots can select a handful of individual missions from the campaign to play in co-op. Sadly, you’ll need to actually play through and complete these missions in single player to unlock - though someone can invite you to a game even if you didn’t unlock the mission. Most of the co-op missions focus on the jet based missions, but the Apache is playable in a few, including that ground support mission I mentioned earlier.
Co-Op expands on the DFM and ASM of the single player, allowing multiple players to join into the fray. While another player is in DFM, you can move up to the target and press Up on the D-Pad to initiate a team based sequence. It’s exactly like the single player version except you have multiple reticules and you can see all the jets during the sequence. It’s incredibly intense and a ton of fun. Similar to DFM, ASM locks everyone into the same path for destruction as well making sure no ground target is left alive.
Co-Op is a bit easy though, there doesn’t really seem to be a way to fail a mission through death, instead you can only fail if you miss an objective. There’s even some generous checkpoints available in co-op. With only a handful of missions it only takes about 2 hours to complete all of them in co-op.
Really that’s the only major fault I can find with Assault Horizon is that, despite a ton of great parts to it, they are all rather short when left on their own. At times I just wanted more, I wanted to see what the next trick developer PROJECT ACES could pull out of their sleeve.
When all is said and done I’m afraid Ace Combat: Assault Horizon will be lost in the Fall shuffle. The game truly competes with the likes of the Tom Clancy franchise games. While it’s not a perfect experience, and it won’t satisfy flight simulator fans, it’s simply a fun flight game. Sometimes we forget that’s what it’s all about - fun.