Ace Combat is easily one of the most recognizable flight-combat franchises when it comes to console gaming, but PC gamers who want to experience high-intensity, high-altitude aerial combat normally get their wings clipped. The PC is traditionally known for the more serious “flight sim”, but Namco Bandai is about to change all that with their outstanding release of Ace Combat Assault Horizon: Enhanced Edition.
For those who are wondering; yes, this is the same game that released to consoles back in 2011, only this version has been greatly enhanced, both in content and technology, allowing for stunning high-resolution graphics up to 1900×1200, and loads of bonus content previously offered as DLC for the consoles including 8 aircraft, 2 maps, 27 skins, and 9 skills upgrades. So, if you’ve never played Assault Horizon or even if you did and want to relive the adventure, the $35 Enhanced Edition for the PC may just be the cheapest airfare you’ll find this winter.
The PC version maintains support for exciting multiplayer action with up to 16 players as well as co-op missions, but the biggest improvement has got to be the additional support for flight sticks; something the console version lacked. Pretty much every current Windows-compatible joystick is supported and works great, adding greatly to the immersion of the flight-combat experience. For those without a stick, rest assured your gamepad or Xbox 360 controller is fully supported, and yes, you can play the game with a mouse and keyboard but seriously…why would you want to?
Assault Horizon introduces all sorts of new concepts, features, and gameplay modes. First up is that we are no longer flying in the fictional reality of previous games, but this time we are fighting in real world locations like Miami, Dubai, and Washington D.C. You’ll still get a nice mix of environments ranging from deserts and mountain ranges to battles over the ocean and populated cities. The choice of aircraft is staggering with multiples types of planes for each sortie based on air, ground, or multi-purpose superiority, and secondary weapons packages to complement your play style.
This latest Ace Combat introduces a few twists into the standard game formula by adding new types of aircraft with specific missions related to those craft, so you might find yourself hanging out the side of an attack chopper operating a chain-gun, or you might be piloting an air support mission in your nimble Apache helicopter, or perhaps making a nighttime bombing run in a stealth bomber where you have to fly in low beneath enemy radar. You’ll even get to man the guns in an AC-130 for some high-altitude ground support complete with night vision. Keep in mind, these non-fighter missions are spread thinly across the story, so they make for a nice diversion, and they are usually paired up with a traditional fighter mission.
Of course the big new feature for Assault Horizon is the dogfighting, and this is by far my favorite new element of the game. Love it or hate it, you will have to engage in these epic Jerry Bruckheimer-Michael Bay-Tony Scott chase sequences. Gone are the days of flying in circles and double-tapping the missile button every time you get a lock tone. You now have to get into a close proximity and watch for the DFM indicator then tap LB+RB to swoop into position on the enemy six and proceed to give chase, unloading your machine gun and trying to fill up the new missile lock circle to fire close range rockets. During these intense chases your plane will be on partial autopilot. You still need to keep the enemy fairly centered on the screen or the DFM will break and you will have to reacquire your target.
These DFM chases will often swoop down to the deck or twist through city streets, oil fields, shipping yards, or other confined areas creating some of the best and most intense flight combat moments in gaming history. Early in the game I was skimming the coast along Miami Beach less than a hundred feet off the highway then out to sea where my machine guns were sending up giant plumes of water. Midway through the game you are flying over Dubai with that famous building that looks like a sailboat and the manmade landmass that looks like a palm tree. And near the end of the game you’ll be flying and weaving through Washington D.C. and all the familiar landmarks. I even took out a chunk of the Washington Monument.
The longer these DFM chases last the more likely some other pilot will get on your six forcing you to pull an evasive maneuver, and if timed properly, can put you on the tail of a new target. Enemies you are pursuing can also perform these same breakaway moves, but you have a microsecond to counter his move and line-up for a critical hit. It’s actually a sophisticated combat system that is extremely rewarding to master. Much like DFM, you also have ASM, which puts you on a guided semi-autopilot path for ground attacks. Basically, you find the trigger point in the sky marked with a triangle and hit LB+RB and begin your low-level run unloading guns and any ground missiles or rockets you have equipped, while dodging any incoming SAM fire or other planes trying to lock-on.
Assault Horizon looks like a Hollywood blockbuster with amazing camera angles to capture all the action, especially in the DFM mode that will actually position the camera from the point of view of the selected weapons pod (on the wing or under the plane). Until now I have played all my Ace Combat games from the nose camera (sometimes the cockpit camera), but Assault Horizon is the first time I have ever played from the chase view. This was partly due to the incredible plane graphics and detail, but mostly because of the frequent use of DFM, which will take you out of the plane anyway. Those other views are still available and look fabulous, and I did still use the nose view for the chopper missions, even though those evasive barrel rolls made me nauseous.
Aside from the great plane models and fantastic camera views the locations look amazing with plenty of real-world scenery that most of us will recognize. It’s always more emotionally immersive to be fighting over your own soil than some distant land. As always, the satellite photography looks great and unlike the console version where things start to lose their detail when you drop to the deck, the satellite photography and number of 3D buildings rising from the detailed ground texture has been greatly enhanced. Overall, it looks incredible and is still the best looking air-combat game out there.
Where Assault Horizon truly shines is in the audio presentation with what can only be described as the most powerful score since the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. While there is always that underlying military action theme at work, there are also all sorts of original tracks that make use of authentic instruments and cultural genres based on the part of the globe where you are flying. You get these eerie choral parts like you heard in Hunt for Red October whenever Russians are around, and then all sorts of cool tribal/native music when flying in Africa. Even the energetic rock/pop/rap closing credit theme made an impact. And the music knows when to slip into the background of the Dolby Digital mix so you can enjoy the quality dialogue, professional voice work, and authentic sound effects of jet engines, rotor blades, machine gun fire, and missile explosions.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is a surprisingly lengthy game that will take you all over the world in a variety of mission types in various planes and even as a few different characters. There is much greater emphasis on story this time; a gripping narrative written by New York Times Best Seller and military author Jim DeFelice, and the presentation has moved beyond still images and comic panels, and we now have full 3D walking around parts between missions and even briefings where you can control your view with the stick. Expect a solid 8-10 hours to finish the game, and with so many great Games For Windows – LIVE achievements to earn, you’ll easily be playing again.
There is also a significant multiplayer component for competitive online play with up to 16 pilots in deathmatch and ground assault modes, and some awesome mission co-op games that let you bring up to two other pilots into the story with you. The online modes supports drop-in/out multiplayer, so your games are always full, even when other fighters eject in mid-game.
Easily the best, most original, and most complete flight-combat game to date, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon will have you on the edge of your seat with a death grip on your controller or stick as you engage in some of the most cinematic air combat since…sorry…no movie can even compare to what you will experience when you climb into the cockpit of this game.
Ace Combat has finally come to the PC and it’s awesome. Wheels up in thirty…