Gamescom 2011: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Hands-On Preview - Make. Metal. Bleed!
Written Thursday, August 25, 2011 By Lee AbrahamsView author's profile
Ace Combat is one of those games that has always been massive in Japan, but a bit of a mystery to almost everyone else. With fanciful stories, fictitious warring factions and a multiplayer mode dominated by hardcore fans, it always felt a touch unapproachable to regular fans. This year Namco wants to change all of that and is heading back to square one with Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, in a bid to revitalise the franchise and open the doors to a whole new set of fans.
Producer Kazutoki Kono was on hand to run us through some of the multiplayer features and show us a bit more of the main game, including the frankly impressive looking dogfighting engine. This time around players aren’t just going to be taking to the skies in fighter planes either, as a whole host of helicopters, bombers and other hardware is going to be available. The AC-130 will certainly be familiar to fans of Call of Duty, as the night vision enabled heavy gunship capable of smashing even the toughest of defences, but it may well be the ability to take a chopper to the sky that holds the most appeal. The ability to strafe your foes and make quick maneuvres to outsmart even the nimblest of planes is one that could prove valuable.
With a whole host of missions, mooted to be roughly eighteen in number, then you can expect action to hop between various aircraft and roles. Namco were keen to do away with lengthy briefings and make things more seamless in terms of storytelling, so after watching our hero roll out of bed he then glances out of the window to see a helicopter squadron fly by. The action immediately zooms to the squad and you are in control of a gunner in one of the birds, tasked with clearing a hot spot teeming with enemy troops. The opening level shows off plenty of dynamic action as well as plenty of destructible environments and perfectly crafted set pieces.
Each mission has also been designed to end on a mini-cliffhanger that perfectly segues into the next mission, via interactive cutscenes, so the story feels a lot more fluid and is less jarring than constantly returning to base after each and every task. Not to mention the fact that it helps add a layer of mystery to each mission as you strive to stay on top of events that are starting to bubble over. Taking place in real world locations that have been accurately mapped, and using top of the line fighters and equipment, it is easy to see that a lot of care and attention has been lavished on making this game as enthralling as possible while also providing the realism that most gamers crave.
Of course, realism isn’t everything and the game still retains that same high octane combat as its predecessors while introducing a new close combat mode that is guaranteed to keep you interested. The problem with most flight games, including recent efforts like HAWX, was always the constant circling to get enemy planes in your sights. This has been negated in Ace Combat with a new mode that enables you to zoom in on the action once you get in close, and keep an accurate bead on your enemies. It makes it amazingly satisfying to see shards of metal being ripped from the opponents chassis as you go in for the kill, guns blazing. However, more safety conscious pilots may want to hang back and utilise the handy missile camera to take out foes from afar.
The single-player aspect of the game is shaping up quite nicely but plenty of time has been spent on providing a satisfying multiplayer experience as well. One of the main features will be the Capital Conquest mode, which sees two teams of eight players fighting it out over the skies of real world cities such as Sydney and Washington. The overall goal is to take out the opposing teams base, but to do so will require some level of co-ordination and a variety of aircraft. Obviously everyone wants to take to the sky in a Stealth Bomber but that would leave you shockingly weak in air to air combat. Therefore a mix of fighters, bombers and helicopters is needed to ensure victory. It certainly looks like a neat variation on the standard deathmatch and domination modes that will be available.
Planes can also be customised, so if you want to take to the sky in a bright pink F-14 then you can make that dream a reality. You can also tinker with your weapon loadout and various skills for both yourself and your team. Enabling faster missile lock, improved armour and so on, can all turn the tide of battle and with over 40 skills to choose from there should be something for everyone. With the ability to share skills with your allies too, it makes sense for teams to co-ordinate for the best results.
As a fresh reboot for the series this game seems to be doing everything right. High speed, high intensity combat is the name of the game and this title is hitting all the right notes when it comes to variety and action. Ace Combat: assault Horizon looks, sounds and plays amazingly and it really should be the shot in the arm that the rather under appreciated genre has needed. However, it has to be said that a lot of flight games have rather fallen off the radar when it comes to sales, so hopefully fans can get on board when the latest Ace Combat lands in stores. Rest assured we’ll be back with more plane analogies when the game turns up for review.
Prepare to take to the skies come October 11th in North America and October 14th in Europe in a bid to dogfight your friends to an early (but virtual) grave.