Previews// Ace Combat: Assault Horizon

Posted 17 Aug 2011 12:36 by
It was only a matter of time before the excellently camp Ace Combat series starting going for more of a Top Gun flavour. The convergence of the game and movie industries in recent years has made this an inevitability - but Namco Bandai is not simply Hollywoodising the franchise for Hollywood?s sake.

For Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is being considered as something of a rebirth for the franchise, taking as many references from first person shooters as it does from films that happen to star Tom Cruise in a fighter pilot?s uniform. The result is a gameplay experience that gets you closer to the action than ever before.

The tagline for the game is ?Make Metal Bleed,? and everything that I?ve seen so far really highlights the idea that these fighter jets are more than just mere machines. Each craft is an extension of the pilot that flies in it - it?s a part of them and losing in battle is tantamount to have an arm amputated.

Indeed, during the demonstration I played there was a scene where you face overwhelming numbers of enemy planes in the Miami sky and have to make the crucial decision to eject yourself out of your ride and parachute to safety. Miami itself has been faithfully recreated in digital form using satellite data, making the action feel even more real as you barrel roll between the tallest skyscrapers.

With a story written by popular military author Jim DeFelice and a much more Western approach to matters, you can see why Namco Bandai is calling this the ?Michael Bay, or Jerry Bruckheimer of Ace Combat games.? Whilst in the air, everything reacts to gunfire. Bits of plane fly off as you pepper your enemies with bullets, and oil spits out of malfunctioning engines before they explode in a satisfying ball of flame.

The coolest part about playing Ace Combat: Assault Horizon - the bit that makes the whole experience feel the most immersive - is in the Dogfight mode. It allows you to somewhat track an enemy, but you still have to do some work to keep your target in your sights. The camera zooms right in, almost as if you?re lining up your aim in an FPS game, and as things get destroyed and shot at, a close-up view of the flying debris really puts you on the spot.

Strangely, despite all the changes, it still feels just as much a Japanese-developed title as past titles. The rocking soundtrack, the missions and the finely-tuned controls... all staples of the Ace Combat series. The effect that the Western influence appears to have had, at this stage, isn?t detrimental. In fact, it?s resulted in a more engaging and modern experience. And that?s the kind of East-West collaboration that works.

It?s not just planes you?ll be manning this time around either - for the first time in the series, you can now ride in helicopters. I?m told that there will be different controls and different responsibilities for each kind of aircraft, so hopefully these missions will be carefully considered. It would be a shame to see this element of the game let it down on release.

As it stands right now though, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is looking like the evolution that the series desperately needed.

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