“When one has shot down one’s first, second or third opponent, then one begins to find out how the trick is done.” — Baron Manfred von Richtofen.
I have long been interested in playing an Ace Combat game ever since Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War was out back in 2004 for PlayStation 2. The prospect of being able to fly a plane in diverse environments to save the world has always held an appeal to me, although I never did have the chance to try it out on a PC environment. This changed when Ace Combat: Assault Horizon was released for PC last January. Despite being set in the real world rather than Strangereal, the game caught my eye with its environments, and so, I decided that next there was a sale on Steam, I would purchase Assault Horizon. Unfortunately, that never materialised: during the Fall 2013 sale, the game was 67 percent off and was sold at a 9.99 USD (it’s normally 29.99 USD). I was waiting until the final day of the sale, so that if it didn’t go on further discount, I’d buy it then. Alas, it was found the product keys supplied with the game had been faulty, and so, the game was pulled from the Steam store before I could buy it. However, just a few days ago, Valve has since restored Assault Horizon to the Steam Store, and more pleasantly, the game went on sale for 7.50, making it a no-brainer to pick up. This purchase marks the second year in a row that an amazing deal happened at this time of year: while there’s no spaghetti and Scrubs this time around, I will probably recall this game as being purchased right before the weather warms up again, on a Friday night with fried pork ribs.
- Miami’s I-95 Expressway is visible as I fly north at the mission’s opening. Assault Horizon returns to the real world, and making use of the technologies that made Google Maps and iOS Maps’ 3D modes possible, the locations have been very accurately replicated.
- I’ve looked around, and there’s no way to do free flight over the various maps in the campaign. Players can replay campaign missions, but that’s about it. Before I continue, I note that I fully understand that Assault Horizon is not a flight simulator, but it’s an arcade flight game. The arcade elements make the game a lot more fun at the expense of realism, but with due respect, if I wanted realism, I would have probably opted to go with another game.
- In Unsung War, the missions that caught my eye most were those set over snowy, mountainous terrain or cities, such as “Journey Home”, which was set over Osea’s November City. The mission was to do a ceremonial fly-over for a war rally held at the stadium, and despite only having seen some footage of that mission, the atmospherics were very immersive.
- The same could be said about the final two missions to infiltrate a utility tunnel and destroy the SOLG’s controls, then the mission to take out the SOLG itself on New Year’s Eve. There’s a sort of mystique about missions set during late December, and in a conversation with my friend, he noted that these missions strike a resonant chord because late December is the holiday season, when most are celebrating. In Ace Combat, on the other hand, wars force pilots to continue sorties even though it’s the holidays.
- Dogfight mode is necessary to take out some of the enemy aircraft. The game notes that enemies tagged as a leader must be engaged and destroyed using dogfight mode: efforts to try and shoot them down are fruitless, since missiles will end up missing entirely or being disrupted by countermeasures, and the cannon will conveniently miss them. With that said (and openly defying the detractors), dogfight mode is quite fun: for a thrilling few seconds, the game takes control of my aircraft and I get to concentrate on shooting.
- Back in one of my Five Centimeters per Second posts, I mentioned that grey skies evoked Ace Combat feelings in me. Thanks to a lucky sale, I now get to experience that for myself: winter’s finally over now, though, and while that means beautiful blue skies and warmer weather, it also means that the winter feelings associated with Ace Combat will probably go on hold. Naturally, I’ll play through the winter missions again come next December to experience said winter feelings.
- Compared to the previous Ace Combat titles, Assault Horizon has a much more minimalist HUD, allowing players to focus on dogfights and missions. I rather like this: the older HUDs feel a little more cluttered (understandably, to display more information). Ace Combat Infinity is the latest title in the franchise, being free-to-play and is set in the real world, albeit with an alternate history. It brings back the older elements, such as HUDs and storylines involving superweapons.
- I’ve heard countless reviews say that Assault Horizon handles and feels like Call of Duty, but strictly speaking, this feeling only arises because the first few missions are set in the desert, which is where Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare occurred. When I played through Modern Warfare, the missions I enjoyed the most were set in Russia and Pripyat, while my least favourite missions were in the Middle East.
- The last time I played as a side-door gunner, it was Battlefield: Bad Company 2‘s “Crack the Sky“, where I spent the mission’s opening blowing away RPGs (actually CG M2 recoilless rifles) at the landing zone before climbing a snowy hill to reach the satellite control center. This time, I’m participating in a strike mission of some sort. From a personal perspective, I think that the comparisons to Call of Duty are a little excessive: I think most reviewers mean that both Assault Horizon and Call of Duty tends to focus on cinematics more than story or characters, producing a generic story.
- However, I find that, despite having a generic story, Assault Horizon does provide the player with a fair chance to engage in some old-time arcade dogfights in aircraft, and at the end of the day over beautiful locales, and at the end of the day, that’s pretty much what I came for. I may go into the multiplayer later, but I also have to start Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The course of action now is that Deus Ex: Human Revolution will take priority once I beat most (if not all) of Assault Horizon. On the blogging side of things, my next posts will be about the Pilot’s Love Song and Gundam Build Fighters. I anticipate having both written within the next two weeks.
I’ve since beaten the first two missions: the first involves a tutorial set in Colonel Bishop’s dreams over Miami, Florida, as he takes on Russian jets and is killed by a plane with a shark mouth painted on its fuselage. The mission is exciting: I particularly love the cloud effects and the details present in Miami. When I checked out Miami in Google Maps, the city layout, buildings and landmarks were easily recognisable. The air combat is very cinematic, and the Dogfight Mode (DFM) adds a new level of interaction. Although it may get old if one needs to use DFM in every engagement, it is immensely satisfying to watch a jet disintegrate after taking enough cannon fire or a pair of well-placed missiles. Moreover, some of the dogfights are glorious, taking the plane under narrow openings and a hair over rooftops. However, Assault Horizon does seem to be a little choppy in places, with the instructions for the controls interrupting the flow of the game. Right as I line up a shot with the enemy fighter, the game halts and tells me that I should use my cannon to shoot down planes with ECM pods since they jam missiles: when I hit enter to return to the game, the enemy plane drops out of my sight. As well, the controls aren’t particularly sensitive for the mouse, forcing me to keep to the keyboard for my controls. Fortunately, the controls in the optimal mode handle similarly to the controls for Halo 2‘s Banshee and the VTOL in Crysis. The original (i.e. advanced) controls, on the other hand, are akin to the jet controls from Battlefield 3, although thankfully, I seem to have gotten the hang of them (otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten far into the game). I’ve seen what the game looks like, and while the first quarter of the game is all desert, I know that there will be a chance to fly in Moscow, over the boreal forests of Russia, Dubai and Washington D.C. Now that I’ve got reasonable experience with the controls, it’s time to go and enjoy flying over some beautiful landscapes.