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First Impressions: Ace Combat Assault Horizon

Posted by: Sean Cahill at 10/10/2011 11:54 PM
Ace Combat Assault Horizon is out today, giving fans of the Namco Bandai series the first full title for a console since Fires of Liberation launched back in 2007. We were promised many changes by the developers, and they have delivered. It will take some time to truly see all of the minor tweaks and changes, but after playing a couple of missions, there is still plenty to go over before the final review is done.

I previously stated in my demo impressions that the fictional world of Ace Combat seems to have been scrapped. No longer will you hear country names such as Osea, Yuktobania, Emmeria, Estovakia, Belka, Ustio, and so on. I actually found this news to be a little disappointing since this has been one of the major staples of the series. However, the story itself has been handed over to Jim DeFelice, a best selling author from the New York Times. The game takes place a few years in the future in 2015, and as you would expect with any Ace Combat title, all hell has broken loose. For the first time in an Ace Combat game, the protagonist isn't just a faceless man with a single name callsign. You play the role of Lieutenant Colonel William Bishop, so there is an added element to the storyline simply from seeing how your character reacts to various events throughout the game's timeline.

The gameplay's basic mechanics have changed very little. While the option is there to have an assist mode where the game will auto-turn you just by turning the analog stick, veterans of the game will certainly want to go back to the original mode to have the most realistic feel of flying. Additions of helicopters and side-mounted gatling gun missions give far more depth to this game. In a time where first person shooters dominate the market, it's good to see a flight sim adopting a few elements of FPS games into their repertoire to improve itself.

The biggest change in the game is the addition of what is known as Dogfighting Mode (DFM is how the game refers to it in short), which is just as it sounds: A close combat battle that might shake more than just the screen itself. In past Ace Combat titles, you could easily “fire and forget” at most planes from a distance and have to work a little harder in up close battles. Now, the long distance fighting has been curbed and the close combat scenarios have been greatly improved upon, increasing the difficulty of every mission. Regular targets will still succumb to conventional attack styles, but any target labeled “TGT_LEAD” which is an obvious reference to that aircraft being the lead fighter of the squadron, practically requires going into DFM. You will learn quickly that chaffing and flares are going to be used often by the AI.

The game is very smooth, building upon the big jump that we saw from The Belkan War to Fires of Liberation, benefiting mainly due to the jump in technology from the Playstation 2 to the Xbox 360. I feel that the extra time spent on this title has really helped in the overall finished product. You can tell a lot of work was put in by Project Aces, the development team behind Ace Combat, to make sure that it wasn't just a revamped title with a few additions polished up. The story isn't cheesy in the least thus far, which is a vast improvement from the generic story scenes that we saw in Fires of Liberation. I don't expect it to take that cheesy turn at all, which is a credit to DeFelice's writing. There is far more to go over, but that will be saved for the final review.