Namco Bandai did away with the sequel number (this would be Ace Combat 7, if you’re keeping score) and instead decided to go with Assault Horizon. Did developer Project Aces do a great job with their attempt at a reboot?
No Razgriz Here…Just Russians
Gone are the fake, anime countries going to war with one another, gone are the embarrassingly bad localization radio chatter statements like, “You must use your courage to defeat the enemy!”. Obviously, Project Aces sat around a table and said, “Hey, you know what’s popular right now? That Modern Warfare game. What can we do to turn Ace Combat into Modern Warfare?” And that is what they attempted to do. Nuclear detonations in game? Check. Evil Russians? Check. Somewhat realistic storyline where you jump around between characters? Check. An AC-130 Spectre gunship section? Check, check and check.
Turns out the story for the game was written by New York Times bestselling military thriller author Jim DeFelice, and it absolutely shows. Not so much for the over-the-top Bruckheimer-esque storyline and action sequences, but more for the fact that you feel like you’re a part of an actual American air squadron, as opposed to Japan’s best guess at what the West would enjoy. No weird fictional countries, just a Russian coup with rebels having nuclear capabilities that needs putting down, and an NATO task force assigned to go after the bad guys. Mission briefings make sense, radio chatter sounds realistic, and even banter between the main characters sometimes devolves into chat between friends. It all sounds very authentic, and much to Mr DeFelice’s credit, while the overarching story may not win any awards, it definitely felt a lot better than the usual Ace Combat nonsense.
While the storyline makes it feel like an all new experience, there are several new mechanics along with the regular flying that really make AC:AH take a breath of fresh air.
First off, you’re not only flying around in various strike fighters. For a good chunk of the game, you play as Lieutenant Colonel William Bishop, going on a variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions that most Ace Combat players will be familiar with. However, there are several new components that break up the regular flying, including several stints as a Blackhawk minigun door gunner, the obligatory AC-130 gunship mission straight out of Modern Warfare, and most notable are the missions where you take the role of Captain Doug “D-Ray” Robinson, an Apache pilot. The game goes from dogfighting to close combat support similar to a first/third person version of the Jungle/Desert/Urban Strike helicopter games from the mid-90s. Fairly great way to break up the monotony of doing one “shoot down an entire air squadron” mission over and over again.
Secondly, the game feels…dirty? Raw? I’m not sure the right word, but you’ll know the first time you shoot down an enemy aircraft at close range and get its transmission fluid smeared over your view screen. When you think of pilots engaging in dogfights, you can’t help but think of two multimillion dollar aircraft engaging from range at 30,000 feet in a kind of crisp, sterile environment. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon feels less like a gentlemanly duel and more like a bar fight. Like the game’s tag line reads: “Make Metal Bleed”, that’s the feeling they are going for and I feel they succeed at.
Wings Over Dubai
One of the advantages of the developers not making up their own countries and landmarks was that they could use real terrain. One of the first levels you’re on, you’re flying around Dubai’s legendary Tower of the Arabs and Khalifa Tower; you don’t realize you recognize those landmarks, but you will as soon as you are chasing an enemy team lead over the man-made peninsula of one of the world’s tallest buildings. You find yourself across a variety of major cities, such as Miami and Moscow, where you’ll literally be flying around the city seeing things like the Kremlin. Pretty impressive stuff.
Going to wrap this up on the next page!