When a game arrives with a pair of aviator style sunglasses, you know that there will be an opportunity to don a flight jacket, get the room shaking with some cheesy 80’s pop anthems and give yourself a daft nickname, such as Icepop.
Although I may mock the influence of Tom Cruise’s fighter pilot movie on this game, from the very beginning it is apparent that things are leaning heavily towards the “cinematic” in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon from Namco Bandai. There are also plenty of comparisons to be made to the infinitely popular CoD series. But let’s begin at the beginning…
In what I believe is a first for the series, Assault Horizon is actually set in the real world. In keeping with the cinematic feeling, this means that the action will be taking place over real locations that are not limited to drab desert arenas or out-at-sea playgrounds, but also over cities such as Washington D.C. and Miami. Queue spectacular crashes into what are likely well known buildings to residents of these places, adding a sense of realism to the jet fighter action.
The story, as written by New York Times bestselling author Jim DeFelice, casts the player as Lt. Col. William Bishop and involves an insurgent army and a deadly new weapon known as “Trinity”. It carries many ideas that gamers will be familiar with, but is really only any use as a vehicle for linking together the missions. This is not really a bad thing, as caring about the goings on of the pilot will likely be of no interest to most players. This is an action game, and that is why people play it.
The player will get to pilot a nice selection of different real world jet fighters across a variety of missions. This is no simulator and the controls are firmly based in the arcade camp, which again works really well with the cinematic feel of the game. As with all aerial combat games, the controls can take a bit of getting used to for players who are not familiar with this genre, but fans of the series will find themselves comfortable from the offset.
The game introduces two new modes – DFM and ASM. ASM, or Air Strike Mode, is a bombing run that, once triggered, will allow the plane to autopilot along a given route, whilst the player concentrates on destroying ground targets. But DFM, or Dog Fight Mode, is perhaps the most interesting, allowing the player to get up close and personal with other aircraft. If the player gets close enough behind an enemy craft, they can hit the buffer buttons to launch into DFM which will keep the plane following the enemy at close quarters through an aerial roller-coaster ride. The player can then spend their time trying to shoot down the enemy as they weave through the sky. Neither of these modes are completely “on-the-rails” though as the player can still be attacked by other planes or ground units and, in DFM, the opponent can break free of the player and even turn the tables and flip around to follow the player. Both modes offer something different and are quite enjoyable to play through.
Besides flapping around the sky in fancy planes, the player will also have the chance to take a break and try out both Helicopter warfare and manning a door gun on a Gunship. These missions do a great job of preventing the action from getting stale and, whilst not particularly memorable by themselves, are certainly welcome. There is also a reasonably entertaining multiplayer mode, with different modes from the standard Deathmatch to the slightly more interesting team-based Domination mode, and the player can work through missions in co-operative mode with one or two other players.
Assault Horizon is a very good-looking game. Whilst it may not be as realistic looking as some games out there, the cinematic feel that the game is given certainly makes the player feel part of everything that is going on, which is pretty good for a flight combat game. However, the downside of this is that things have a tendency to feel rather scripted. It feels like playing through an action movie in which the player has very little influence over events. Some players may find this to be a bit of a problem, but the amateur dogfighters out there will at least come away feeling like “Top Gun”.
Fans of the series will know what they are in for and will likely be impressed by the changes. But newcomers who fancy getting their “Maverick” on and indulging in some cinematic aerial combat will also find that particular itch well and truly scratched. It may not impress the hardcore pilots out there, but for most this intense cinematic experience will get the adrenaline flowing and leave them humming the theme from Top Gun.