Originally Published: 9/22/11 on EGMNOW.com

Stay on target…

The Ace Combat franchise has seen a lot of change in recent years and Assault Horizon looks to continue this necessary evolution of the series in order to keep it relevant in a market flooded by various kinds of wartime shooters. Where Joint Assault paved the way for the series to find roots in the real world, Assault Horizon looks to find a way to let the series flourish there by improving the A.I. and adding new mechanics that could increase the game’s accessibility to a whole new audience. Of course, being the first game in the series to be multi-platform doesn’t hurt either.

I had a chance to jump into the first few campaign missions for Assault Horizon and anyone who has played this franchise before is definitely in for a shock to their system. You’re immediately thrown into a fighter jet cockpit over a major metropolitan area in a sink or swim kind of tutorial where you’re very likely to get shot down if you don’t pick up on the controls quickly enough. The major purpose of this though is to introduce everyone to the new “Dogfight Mode”, an attempt at preventing the most effective way of shooting down enemies being a game of chicken like in some previous Ace Combat games, which had led to repetitive and dull game play at times. What Dogfight Mode does is when you get to optimal engaging distance, it allows you to lock in behind an enemy and assists the player in sticking to an enemy’s rear to try and get that perfect lock-on for a homing missile or to shred them apart with machine guns. Mind you, to prevent the game from being too easy, this also leaves you open for another enemy to settle in behind you for a missile lock as well if you fly too predictably.

With this new mode comes a drastic increase to enemy A.I. as well to prevent the ‘missile spamming’ also seen in previous games in the franchise as some of your tougher opponents will easily shake off your missile locks. This will force you into either surprising them with some special maneuvers like barrel rolls or using the Dogfight Mode and riding their tail. Of course, trying to get that close to these enemy aces will put you at risk of falling into their sights though and having them shoot you down before you can get into Dogfight Mode and that adds a new nuance of strategy.

Even with all these drastic improvements to air combat that should allow players of all skill levels to pick up and play this game though, the game play feels like it could get repetitive if you stayed in the cockpit of an F-18 for the whole game. To fight this, Assault Horizon finds a way to mix in a compelling story woven through some solid cinema scenes while also giving you tremendous mission variety. After only a handful of missions we were thrown into a Black Hawk helicopter as a door gunner, moved into the pilot seat of another copter, and cleared the path for some guys on the ground via an AC-130’s cannons. And of course a couple of traditional missions in fighter jets. With all of these different missions being set in real world locations in a possible near future. For the first time being able to fly helicopters and various other aircraft may provide just the twist and variety this series has needed for a long time to rejuvenate it and really grab the attention of arcade flight fans. I know I’m excited to grab my flight helmet and see just how far Ace Combat: Assault Horizon can go.

PARTING SHOTS: We were able to only get a few missions in and yet we had a larger variety of experiences than in probably all the previous Ace Combat games combined. The big question will be can the game keep up that variety over the course of the full campaign before the experiences we saw become repetitive in their own rights and can the story hold it all together.

Are you folks excited for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon? Are you fans of the new direction this game is taking or already missing the old-school mechanics? Is this something that can reach new heights or will it be crushed by the mid-October competition it will be up against? Let us know with comments below!