“You can have computer sights of anything you like, but I think you have to go to the enemy on the shortest distance and knock him down from point-blank range. You’ll get him from in close. At long distance, it’s questionable.” — Colonel Erich ‘Bubi’ Hartmann, GAF.
By beating mission eight (“Pipeline”) in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, I’ve more or less come to the halfway point in the game. There are still eight more missions to go before I finish the game, and insofar, I’ve flown over the deserts of Africa, Dubai, the Suez Canal, and Derbent, Russia. After Colonel Bishop’s dream of being shot down by a plane with a Shark on its nose, he is sent to help the NATO task force suppress a rebellion in East Africa, but discovers the presence of a weapon with the power of a tactical nuclear warhead. Dubbed “Trinity”, Warwolf squadron is tasked with defending cities marked as targets by Stagleishov’s forces. I’m now at the point where I’ve shot down the Trinity warhead over Derbent following an intense close air support operation to take back the city from rogue forces. The story, set in the real world, has been criticised for being too similar to that of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’s, but quite honestly, given that the game is set in the real world, such a story (though generic) is quite plausible; because we’re largely familiar with the setting, the plot isn’t as intricately developed as those of the previous Ace Combat games. However, there is enough of a story to link the missions together, and as such, the hunt for a weapon with the power of a tactical nuclear warhead is sufficient for me to get behind piloting cool aircraft, Ace Combat-style.
- After flying the F-22 Raptor, one of the most advanced fighters around, Colonel Bishop returns to flying an F-16. A few days after the sale and trying out the first mission, I decided that classic controls via keyboard was my preferred setup. The mouse wasn’t sensitive enough, and optimal controls were too restrictive, but a bit of practise with the keyboard yields a control scheme that I am happy with.
- Assault Horizon is set at fictional and real locations. The desert missions have a very hot feel to it; contrasting the cooler missions set under grey skies, these missions have a summer-like feeling to them, and I can definitely see myself playing these missions again once the thermometer rises again, under the summer’s blue skies and the setting sun after a day at the lab.
- By the day’s last light, Colonel Bishop finds himself under fire from rogue Russian forces that were once allied. In the following dogfights, Colonel Bishop encounters Markov for the first time. The previous mission was a helicopter mission; the player assumes control of an AH-64 Apache to provide support while forces retrieve Major Illich. Helicopter combat does involve the mouse, and although controls are a little stiff, a clever use of keyboard commands with the mouse will get the job done. I especially liked using the rocket pods to fire volleys and devastate whatever was underneath the crosshairs.
- I’ve skipped ahead to the Dubai mission, after finishing mission five (“Blue on Blue”), the next mission puts the player as the gunner to an AC-130 Spooky gunship. The mission is familiar to the one in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and I also recall the iOS game Zombie Gunship, both of which I played two summers ago. According to the game developers, Dubai was chosen simply because of the fact that there are many skyscrapers to fly over.
- The mission over Dubai is to shoot down bombers that allegedly carry the Trinity warhead, but even though none of the bombers carry it, they do have munitions that can damage the city below. Failing to shoot them down before they begin their bombing run will lead to an automatic mission failure.
- Because this mission is anti-air, the preferred aircraft are air superiority fighters with QAAMs or 4AAMs for quickly downing airborne targets. One of the cooler aspects about this mission was getting level with the rebel bombers, and using the vulcan to blow away the propellers on the bombers. Taking out two is enough to sink one, although the more traditional method of unloading missiles and cannon fire at the bomber also gets the job done, albeit at a much slower rate.
- So far, I’ve flown an F-16, F/a-18, F-14 and now, at the game’s halfway point in “Pipeline”, I’m piloting the F-15 with the 4AGM as special weapons, as this mission is intensive on the ground combat. Set over Derbent, Russia, on a moody, rainy and cool day, Colonel Bishop is tasked with taking out air and ground forces to allow for the city’s recapture from rogue forces.
- Airstrike mode (ASM) is the ground equivalent to dogfight mode; in ASM, the plane flies through a preset route, providing more precision towards hitting ground targets. Weapons reload faster and overheat more slowly, providing an additional advantage, although some players eschew ASM and attack ground targets manually. Of course, the ground targets are pretty week and cannon fire will be enough to blow them away, although missiles provide splash damage and allow multiple targets to be destroyed at once.
- There is something magical about flying on overcast days that I can’t quite explain. There’s a possibility that such weather reminds me of the day I got my driver’s license three years ago; the weather was moody and overcast, and after I finished the road test, I went home, bought and played Chopper 2 for iOS and settled down to watch Break Blade. While it’s not visible here, if I were to gain some altitude and fly through the clouds, raindrops speck my screen. These details, though subtle, contribute to the atmospherics in the game.
- In general, Ace Combat provides a good bit of story through dialogue between the pilots, allied forces and even enemies. The radio chatter adds quite a bit to the story and also informs the players of the mission status. Where am I going to go from here for the blog? I will do a reflection on Saki: Zenkoku-hen and BioShock Infinite next, followed by a special series on Gundam Unicorn leading up to the finale and reflections about Metro: Last Light. There are also two special talks I also would like to get around to doing before May is over: after May, my blogging frequency may decline, and there will be an explanation for why in due course. Unlike some bloggers (who disappear and are never heard from again), it is the least I can do for the audience as thanks for taking the time to read this blog, by explaining what is going on.
In previous Ace Combat games, all of the missions involved jets, whereas in Assault Horizon, a few of the missions allow the player to experience events from a Black Hawk’s door gunner, an Apache pilot and a AC-130 gunner’s perspectives. The shifts in gameplay are undeniably reminiscent of the style employed in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, but they do add some pizzazz to the game; in fact, the Apache missions are rather entertaining, and I love using the rocket pods to decimate the ground targets. Now that I’ve gotten used to the controls (classic controls using keyboard only), flying is fun, and the dogfight mode adds a nuance to the game. I’m no longer circling opponents endlessly, waiting for my missiles to lock on, and instead, can fly behind an opponent and shred him with the cannon. Sometimes, these dogfights can be harrowing, taking me between skyscrapers or mere meters above the ground. The gameplay as a whole is reasonable, and I’m enjoying it. However, the thing that stands out most is the atmospherics for the later missions, especially those set under grey, moody skies. For some reason, this weather evokes a sense of excitement that’s perfect for flying, bringing to mind the cold, snowy days when I would go to one of the malls in my neighbourhood and see Ace Combat: The Unsung War in one of the video game stores.