In 1995, Namco released a game called Air Combat for the PlayStation (and in arcades three years before that), known as Ace Combat in Japan. It was a flight simulation game in which the gamer can take control of several different planes to accomplish their missions, including F-4 Phantoms and Su-27 Flankers. Over the next sixteen years, over a dozen more titles were released in the Ace Combat franchise. However, this is the first one I’ve had the chance to play. Back around when the series first began, I wasn’t that good at dogfighting games, and didn’t really get good until Star Fox 64 was released. Since then, I’ve only played a couple other dogfighting games since, mainly the original Star Fox on the Super NES and Crimson Skies on the Xbox. As such, much like the Skylanders review, this review will be rated on its own merit, and not based on past games. As such, let’s take a look at Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy on the Nintendo 3DS.
You play as an unnamed squadron leader with the TAC name of Phoenix. Under the command of Ulrich Olsen, you are the leader of squadron 37-18, also known as Scarface Squadron. As the USEA is in shambles due to an uprising in the military rebellion, your goal is to eliminate the threat of rebel forces and return peace to the continent. At least that’s what I got out of the first mission briefing where all of that was explained. Your missions will have you take to the skies as you attempt to eliminate any and all threats you come across while trying to complete your mission. At first, taking out anyone in your way is your mission, but later on you’ll have some specific targets to take out. Some missions have you flying in the clouds, some low to the ground. Some missions occur at daytime, some at night. I’ll get more into that in a bit, but let’s see just what your fighter can do when it takes to the skies.
Dogfighting isn’t just fly, aim, and fire, and this game is no different. There’s quite a bit your plane can do that you have to remember, but once you do, it’s actually quite easy to recall how everything works. First off, there are two different types of control schemes. Classic mode makes it so that moving the circle pad left and right rolls the plane, and left and right on the D-Pad slides you over a bit. I can’t get the hang of that, so I use Normal mode, which has left and right on the circle pad turn you in that direction. Other than that, your plane has a machine gun and missiles. The missiles are limited, but you start with a good number of them, but later on you’ll have to learn not to always rely on them. You’ve also got a few moves to help with getting into position to take down any enemy aircraft, or to evade their missies. Aside from making a high-g turn by holding both the accelerator and brake buttons, if you keep an enemy near you long enough, a meter will fill up on the lower-right of the screen. Once filled, a simple button press will put you in prime position to attack your enemy. If an enemy fires a missile at you, you’ll see a red box on screen with a few arrows. Hold one of those directions on the circle pad and hit the Maneuver button to evade the incoming missile. In the middle of an intense fight, it’s easy to overlook, as well as the attack maneuver meter (for lack of better term), but I’ve trained myself to keep darting my eyes to the lower-right corner of the screen to keep an eye on it (the meter will turn yellow when you are ready to get into attack position).
The two modes of play are Story Mode and Challenge Mode. Since the meat of the game is Story Mode, I’ll go into that first. I’ve already explained the story (or what there is of one). I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how many missions there are in total, as I got completely stuck on Mission 11, but the one thing I’ve found with the missions is that, for the most part, they’re repetitive. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Quite a bit of Star Fox 64 seemed repetitive, but that’s also one of my favorite N64 games. At least with Star Fox though, there was constant action, you had moves you could do just about any time in the U-Turn and Loop-De-Loop, and the boss fights were intriguing. With Ace Combat, most of the time my missions went something like this: get near an enemy, wait for my meter to fill up, pull off an aerial maneuver with the press of one button to get behind the enemy, fire two missiles at it while pelting it with gun fire, enemy’s destroyed, move on to the next enemy. Occasionally I’d have to avoid an incoming missile, but for the most part, it’s lather, rinse, repeat. Now granted, it’s not always that simple, but that’s the gist of how most of my time spent with the game was. There was one mission that had me destroying drop shipments before they hit the ground, and one where I was taking out targets on a building at night, but other than that, it’s mostly the same pattern of shooting down enemy planes.
There is a bit more to story mode though.
After each stage, you get experience and credits. Experience helps you rank up (yet so far, I’m not sure what impact that has on the game), while credits allows you to buy new planes, parts, and special weapons…once they become available. Naturally, buying new planes is rather costly, and I’ve never successfully used any of the special weapons, mainly sticking to the massive amount of missiles each plane gives you in each stage. The parts you can buy can increase some stats while lowering others, such as increasing speed and mobility at the cost of defense. The last thing you can buy (at least that I’m aware of) is hired help, so to speak. For certain missions later on, you have the option of hiring one or two pilots to help you out: one specialized in attacking and one specialized in support. However, I’ve found that, at least for me, the help is nothing more than a waste of credits. The only time I hired help was in Mission 11 (the mission I’m stuck on), and the only things he really provided were confusion and the ability to be a decoy. I think he occasionally hit a plane and made it take damage, but where the confusion lied was with the radar. See, Mission 11 is an escort mission (I really hate escort missions in any game), but on the radar, your “help” and the plane you’re escorting are the same color: blue. That means unless they’re within your sights, you can’t tell which plane is your help and which plane is the one you’re escorting. Several times I took down a target only to realize it was the one attacking my partner, leaving three hostiles attacking the plane I’m escorting somewhere in the distance. By the time I catch up, I’ve failed the mission.
While I do hate Mission 11 and have yet to finish the game because of it, that’s not to say it’s a bad game. Ace Combat: AHL is, for the most part, a good game, just with some flaws. One of these is the fact that a few missions have split paths. This isn’t necessarily bad, as at one of these splits, I played one mission and failed badly, so I went with the other path and made it out nearly unscathed. However, while you can go back and re-play previously completed missions, you can’t play the ones on the branching paths that you didn’t play, meaning to play them, you have to start a new game. However, when you get tired of Story Mode, Challenge Mode offers a bit more for you. Free Missions allows you to replay previously completed missions to earn a better rank and points, Survival Missions (once unlocked) allow you to replay a particular mission, but with a strict time limit that you can increase by taking down certain enemies, and Extra Missions (again, once unlocked) allow you to replay a particular mission, but with increased difficulty. However, with Survival and Extra Missions, not every mission you do will be unlocked here. I’ve completed eight missions, and only one mission has appeared each on Extra and Survival. If every mission was available between these options, that would really help replayability. As it is, there’s really nothing making me want to go back and re-play the missions to better my score.
Overall, Ace Combat: AHL is a good game, just with some flaws, but there’s one I haven’t mentioned yet. One thing this game lacks that every good dogfighting game should have: multiplayer. From what I can see, this game has absolutely no multiplayer options. I hate to keep going off track here, but one thing that makes Star Fox 64 a great game is multiplayer. Up to four players can fly an Arwing, drive a Landmaster, or even run around on foot while taking down their opponents. Crimson Skies, while I’m not that good at it, still provided a nice multiplayer experience, and I spent quite a bit of time with it. However, Ace Combat: AHL has no multiplayer whatsoever. Even local multiplayer would have been nice, if not online, but I feel Namco Bandai really dropped the ball here. With no multiplayer and a Story Mode that doesn’t make me want to replay it due to repetitiveness, Ace Combat: AHL is a good game, but it’s just lacking in some areas.