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Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Video Game Review

by on January 19, 2012


Ace Combat: Assault Horizon

Publisher: Namco

Developer: Project Aces

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is a deviant entry in a long-running franchise with one of the strangest background stories out there. Most of the series, despite using real jet aircraft, takes place in a world called Strangereal. As the entries in the series grew, the world of Strangereal became more difficult to understand, to the point where newcomers would be stymied. However, in spite of the story, Ace Combat has always been about being fun and arcade-y. This is no flight sim; Ace Combat has more in common with Rogue Squadron than classic 90’s military flight simulators. 
Assault Horizon takes a different approach. It aims for a dramatic military fiction story that takes place in our world, and openly tries to grab the attention of the zillions of gamers who’ve played the Modern Warfare or Battlefield series. The story and script is even written by veteran military fiction author Jim DeFelice, and plays like a typical military video game story with a bomb with the force of a nuclear explosion without the radiation (called “Trinity”) and a conspiracy centered around Russian nationalists.

  • A story mode about 10-15 hours in length depending on the difficulty
  • Planes. Lots of planes. 
  • Brand-new helicopter, stealth bomber, and AC-130 gunship missions
  • Online multiplayer with multiple modes, including the new “Capital Conquest” mode
Gameplay: The gameplay tries to be a combination of classic Ace Combat but with an added twist to appeal to Modern Warfare fans: Dogfight Mode or “DFM”. DFM switches the player into a close chase scene where you’re locked onto a single plane and try to shoot it down with missiles or with your machine guns. It’s virtually the only way to kill “ace” pilots and is often the easier way to kill mook planes as well. While DFM has its appeal, and you do a fair share of crazy and exciting stunts while in DFM, it can often be aggravating to try to pull off, especially if the enemy pilot escapes from DFM. More than once, I would lose an enemy pilot and then find myself having no idea where the ground is (and inevitably crash) or locked into a stall. 

Another way the development team tries to appeal to the Modern Warfare set is including missions when you’re controlling the gun of an AC-130 gunship. It’s identical enough to Modern Warfare’s interpretation that it’s uncanny. You also get to fly an attack helicopter for some missions, these are generally the most difficult and aggravating as you can be easily taken apart from the ground or from the sky especially on harder difficulties. In short, the best way to play is the traditional Ace Combat way, though I think the helicopter missions are a worthy attempt to expand the franchise’s horizon. 

The missions have multiple objectives in them and can change environments at a moment’s notice. If you’re shot down a lot, a mission can easily take you almost an hour to beat. This makes the game quite a bit longer than your typical military video game these days. Assault Horizon’s story mode is easily twice as long as Modern Warfare 3, perhaps even two and a half times, though a lot of it has to do with the game’s difficulty. If you’re new to the franchise definitely pick “easy” difficulty, or you’re going to be shot down a lot.


Graphics: The game is gorgeous to watch. While the gameplay is anything but realistic, the planes certainly are. The faithfulness is fantastic, with the cockpits being true to the real thing, and even markers like “Langley AFB” are strategically placed on planes. Although flying close to the ground is ill-advised unless the game forces you to, the attention to detail when when you fly that low is astronomical. Not once does it look like the developers cut corners in displaying cities or streets or mountains. Not one texture looks the slightest bit off.


Controls: It may take you a little bit to adjust to the controls if you’ve never played a game in this series before. While I picked it up after about a half-hour, I spent the entire half-hour in the tutorial mission crashing into the ocean or being unable to find the target I was supposed to be shooting. You may have such a learning curve. Once you learn, the controls will become intuitive and you’ll be able to get better and better as the game continues. It’s not the most simple control scheme, and going into the new, close-range “Dogfight Mode” is likely the only way you’re going to be able to shoot planes down in the higher difficulties, or against human players, and DFM controls are their own beast that I can only say you’ll love it or you’ll tolerate it. 

Sound: The voice acting is generally great, with the characters well-acted despite some iffy dialogue and the variety of accents (and foreign languages) being presented. In combat, while some phrases do repeat there’s enough variety that you’re not rolling your eyes at a phrase being repeated for the umpteenth time. Yes, there are multiple ways to yell “You’ve got someone on your six”, and this game thankfully proves it. Anime fans will note Kari Wahlgren voicing the pilot of Spooky 01, the callsign for the AC-130 you’re shooting from. 


The music is the game’s strongest point. I wish Modern Warfare 3’s lifeless score was replaced with this. I wish instead of a Hans Zimmer score for flunky action movies, producers would hire Assault Horizon’s composing team led by Keiki Kobayashi. Unforgettable from the first note, the music deftly shifts from ethnic percussion and strings to symphonic rock to grand orchestral motifs and dark electronic ambiance, with wailing Latin choruses during climactic battles. While on paper this is similar to typical Hollywood scores these days, the difference is in the execution. The music perfectly compliments and drives what’s seen on the screen, and stands out gloriously on a soundtrack CD. If you’re able to find a limited edition copy with a soundtrack disc, get it. You won’t be disappointed.

Overall: In short, despite a few flaws, this game is a lot of fun to play, especially for someone like me who’s been starved for a game like this since Rogue Squadron’s heyday. This is one of the few Japanese games that successfully imitate a typical American action game in tone and gameplay. While I would like Ace Combat to not continue in this direction and stay with what makes it unique, an entry like this provides something different for AC veterans and adds accessibility for newbies. is a nice break from the Strangereal storyline and provides something different for AC veterans and adds accessibility for newbies.

And in the end, it delivers what we desire most from games: fun.


Score: 9.0
Graphics: 9.5
Controls: 8.0
Gameplay: 8.5
Satisfaction: 9.0
Sound: 10

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