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Demo Impressions: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon

October 5, 2011, Author: Stephen King

As a fan of most games with guns, I figured that playing Ace Combat: Assault Horizon would sate my thirst. After all, what are fighter jets, but planes with guns! I was especially interested, having only limited experience of the previous games in the series. So, it seemed like a good idea to check out what people have referred to as the “Call of Duty” of flight simulations.
The easiest way to talk about this demo is in two parts; the reason being that the Ace Combat no longer contains just planes. This time you will get to fly assault helicopters too.

The campaign is what is on display here and the first part of that is about showcasing the fighter jet. From the outset it is clear that Assault Horizons is an attempt to make this a more appealing game to the masses. The introduction of a story line and the fact that you are playing as characters seems to cement this. My memory of the older games in the series is that they were purely combat simulation games, with very little attempt to attract you with plot and characterisation. As soon as the demo hands over control to you, you find yourself in a dog fight.

This mechanic allows the player to trail behind an opposing aircraft with very little effort so that they can concentrate on the shooting. In essence, they have turned it into a rail shooter in the sky, which has its pros and cons. On the plus side it allows you to be taken through the scenery and pre-rendered scenarios that they have concocted.

On the down side, these are rather bland and uninteresting. Despite taking place at a high-speed, with bullets flying, buildings falling and missiles launching, you just never really feel the exhilaration that you would want from a flat-out dog fight in the sky. When the game eventually brings you back to the regular flight simulation the first thing I noticed was the camera placement; it was far to close to the plane. Although the other option was to have the camera inside the cockpit, I couldn’t play like that, so I just had to persevere with the poor camera on the outside.

The disappointing part of this is that it becomes tedious so quickly, with more and more of the same encounters, you just lose interest. After battling your way through mindless encounter after mindless encounter, you are attacked by an enemy leader, who you are advised is probably not going to be brought down easily.

This, unfortunately means that they want you to go into dog fight mode, resulting in yet another on rails experience in which you push a combination of buttons to fire and eventually bring down the enemy. The real excitement from the game seems to come from being attacked.

Eagle One! Fox Two!

When the enemy has their sights on you, you get a circle following you on the screen and when it turns red they have a lock on. You have to brake, dodge, flip, boost and do anything you can to avoid being hit, which is actually really fun. Sadly though, it is over all too quickly and you will find yourself back on the offensive. This continues on for a while in total repetition, until someone announces the arrival of the big bad guy who, let’s face it, is going to be the focus of the campaign. You are shot down, left performing a quick mini game to eject from your crashing plane, while the ending cut-scene has the enemy flying straight towards you before cutting to black.

Moving swiftly onward, it is time to take a look at the helicopter portion of the demo. I was particularly excited about this part; mostly because it was a first for the series. However, after several attempts at trying to get passed the opening part of the demo, I gave up. I have never been more infuriated, mostly by how difficult it was to get any idea of what I am supposed to be shooting at.

Clearly they were ground troops and were camouflaged, which I understand is realistic, but it was not helping me one bit. Even with the big green HUD targets, it was just too difficult to hit them and the reason is the camera placement. As I mentioned before, the camera position is not the best and when it comes to the helicopter, it is pretty much the worst. It isn’t just too close; it’s placed so that your view is practically obscured.

Essentially this is the gaming equivalent of someone waving their hand right in front of your face saying “Not touching can’t get mad”. All the while the anger builds up inside of you, because it is annoying. So imagine trying to fly a helicopter under those conditions. All in all, not a great experience.

It is very difficult to try and find a market for this game. Too much of an arcade game for simulation town, and too much of a simulation game for arcade town. It seems that the sad reality is that it doesn’t excel particularly well at being an arcade shooter or a flight sim.

To me, it looks like they have made a very quick decision to try to change the very core of the series and it hasn’t paid off in the slightest. They are more likely to have alienated all of their fans while turning off the potential new ones. Only time will tell, but if this demo is any indication of the final product, I would suggest that this may be a game to avoid.