Ace Combat: Assault Horizon review
Wait! Don’t skip the page. We know you’ve clocked the whiff of flight sim, so you’re no doubt imagining this is as dull as lighthouse cleaning. But you’d be wrong.Assault Horizon couldn’t be further from the mundane ‘shooting-tiny-specks-in-the-sky’ genre if it featured bright pink jets piloted by aerially adept orangutans. For one thing, it’s unapologetically exciting.
And that’s down to one headline new feature: Dog Fight mode. It’s a lock-on mechanic triggered by hitting L2 and R2 once you get close enough to an enemy bogey.
These shaky-cam pursuits are nothing short of a revelation and the sensation of speed as you weave and pirouette between skyscrapers, towering industrial chimneys and cloud banks is constantly thrilling. It gives the game’s aerial duels an incredible immediacy older Ace Combats simply couldn’t replicate. It does for flight sims what Resident Evil 4’s over-the-shoulder camera did for the action genre. Really.
For purists worrying that the slightly handheld nature of Dog Fight will dumb down the serious, furious aerial battles, well, don’t. Duels still have a hefty tactical edge to them, thanks to the game’s counter manoeuvres. At any time, the AI can shake your barrage of machine gun and missile fire with a swift somersault that sees the roles reversed as they pelt you from behind.
Luckily, you can also perform these mid-air counters by decelerating until an enemy is right on your tail, then following an on-screen prompt. On A4, that sounds less thrilling than a night of Trivial Pursuit: Complicated Trigonometry Edition. In practice, it makes every battle a relentlessly tense game of cat-and-mouse where the deadly tables can be turned at any moment.
The strengths of these core duelling mechanics are backed up by brilliantly responsive controls. Each fighter plane handles with grace and precision. Despite the overcomplicated controls of a few Apache chopper missions, the whole package feels super refined and polished.
For the first time, Ace Combat now boasts real-world locations, including Miami, Washington DC and cities in Dubai and Eastern Africa. Viewed from high up, these landscapes look almost photorealistic, with stonkingly handsome particle effects selling the action. On-rails minigun sections and a level that apes COD4’s satellite-cam murdering also mean pacing hits just the right varied note.
There’s not much to gripe about. Sure, some missions have a tendency to drag after you’ve just downed what seems like your 152nd jet. The generic plot also carries all the emotional clout of tumble dryer instructions. But these unfortunate quibbles never truly sour the flight.
In fact, chuck in a few power ballads, a hint of Tiny Tom and a scene where that doctor from ER bites it in a moment of epic ’80s emotion, and this would pretty much be Top Gun: The Game.