"Ace Combat: Assault Horizon"
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Namco Bandai
ESRB Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, blood,
language, mild suggestive themes, violence)
By Billy O'Keefe
Have a seat, "Ace Combat" fans, because this might hurt.
"Ace Combat: Assault Horizon" is a startling departure that trades in the series' mild-mannered temperament and fictional universe for a crank-it-to-11 summer blockbuster set in our world, and the change of pace — along with how effectively "Horizon" pulls it off — will shock and thrill many who play it expecting the same old aerial dogfighting game.
Problem is, the series' most ardent fans may not be among that many.
Before we get carried away, let's clarify: "Horizon" isn't completely unrecognizable. Most of its missions still take place in a wide-open sky in which the objective is to track, chase and shoot down enemy aircraft. The campaign offers a nice selection of planes to fly, and a few special weapons complement the standard-issue machine gun and homing missiles.
But "Horizon" has a taste for theater that far exceeds that of its predecessors, and it comes frantically alive during dogfight mode, which radically transforms (and, if you're a series purist, potentially ruins) the tenor of its air combat.
Though you're free to shoot down most planes using traditional tactics, you also (if you're quick enough) can toggle dogfight mode when in close pursuit of enemy aircraft. Upon activating it, the action zooms in and speeds up, and instead of freely controlling your plane's flight path, you're handling the aiming reticule while the game handles flight duties.
On paper, it sounds like dogfighting for dummies, but in practice — at breakneck speed and seamlessly integrated with traditional seek-and-destroy play — it's surprisingly exciting. It also works both ways: Enemies can lock onto you, at which point you can eat it, evade or pull off an exhilarating reversal and turn the hunter into the hunted.
With that said, "Horizon" periodically falls a little too in love with dogfight mode's ability to feed into scripted events. Certain special enemies will perish only via dogfight mode, and only when you've chased them long enough to reach a special set piece that participates in their demise. Along with some ill-timed cutaways that disrupt your focus without reason or warning, "Horizon's" occasional inability to moderate its theatrics will annoy new and old fans alike.
Other shifts will prove more polarizing. Sacrificing fantastical planes and weaponry for real-world counterparts is disappointing. But "Horizon" at least tells a more coherent story than modern combat games typically spin, and the visually impressive chance to buzz past the Washington Monument and conduct air raids in front of the Kremlin will plenty justify the change for some.
"Horizon" also hops aboard the "Modern Warfare" bandwagon by inserting diversionary missions in which you attack ground units from a chopper, man a door gun, engage in semi-scripted bombing runs and even pick off enemies from high above in an AC-130.
These diversions come fast and furious early on, and they're certainly proficient. But "Horizon's" second-half shift back to air combat is welcome nonetheless, because dogfighting is still what it does best. In fact, the best diversion of all — a stealth run where you must avoid radar detection — takes place in a jet.
The same holds true for "Horizon's" online multiplayer (16 players), which incorporates dogfight mode perfectly by letting players pull reversals on each other without worrying about scripted intrusions. Standard match types are available, with the star being eight-on-eight territorial team battles, and a game-wide points system allows you to unlock new weapons and aircraft as you progress. ("Horizon" also supports online co-op, but only for missions you've completed on your own first.)
(c) 2011, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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