Ace Combat: Assault Horizon gets a sneak peek

The Ace Combat series has never been interested in simulation levels of realism, but the latest version, dubbed Assault Horizon, has taken things even more into the arcade realm. Is it a dumbed-down attempt to snatch casual players? We don’t think so, at least based on the brief glimpse of gameplay we got recently. The newest Ace Combat goes for the standard near-future setting, this time in 2015 Africa, where the hero, William Bishop (there’s a hero’s name if we’ve ever heard one), must attempt to seek out and destroy some new-fangled weapon of mass destruction. You’ll get to play as other characters as well, but how important is the plot, really? What we want to know about is the flying.

Assault Horizon introduces a new play mechanic that is the core of the dogfighting, so the change to gameplay is considerable. A common complaint about previous Ace Combat games was that a lot of the time you were shooting heat-seeking missiles at distant, tiny silhouettes of planes. Assault Horizon has addressed this issue by bringing in what it calls Close Range Assault, or CRA. Once you are tailing a bogey, keeping them within your reticle for a few seconds allows you to activate CRA with a tap of both shoulder buttons. This locks you into a close chase where you’re always right on your enemy’s tail. This allows for more exciting chases, lets you get to appreciate the detailed aircraft designs, and also brings the machine guns into the forefront, which helps mix things up from the repetitive nature of “lock, fire missile, find new enemy.”

Above: Here we see the CRA in action, although it often takes place at even closer ranges than this

Firing away with cannons at a plane at close range causes hunks of metal to peel off the fuselage and for smoldering plane parts to hurtle past your own plane and right into the camera. The camera itself is so close to your craft that it reminds us of the over-the-shoulder cam now popular in third-person shooters. Indeed, we saw moments when the player’s jet obscured most of the screen for a second or two. It’s possible that this could become annoying, but it’s hard to say until we get to play it. Visually, it was striking and made the chase feel like something out of a movie. Indeed, this movie-like approach extends to the kills, where every time you take down a bogey using CRA, you get a quick cinematic showing their wreckage ripping apart and spraying pretty blossoms of fire, smoke, and debris. It lasts only a couple of seconds, so it doesn’t interrupt the pacing of the combat. For a final nifty touch, often you fly right through the defeated bogey’s fireball as player control resumes.

Above: Kind of like scraping the burnt parts off of too-toasted... uh... toast

It’s possible for enemies to get on your tail as well, of course, but Assault Horizon provides you with an escape route that isn’t realistic, but sure looks fun. You have to time it just right, but you perform a counter maneuver where you do a super-quick loop and end up right on your opponent’s tail. We’re not sure if performing this move is required to pull off the finisher attack we saw, but what followed was a camera switch to the underbelly of the player’s plane, where a hatch opened to reveal a rack of four missiles, which then all fired off at once, each one streaking to a different enemy, and in a symphony of carnage all four missiles struck home simultaneously. A nice reward for getting the jump on your opponent.

Above: It's like plane-belly porn

That’s all we really saw of the game so far, but we must say it looks promising. It’s possible diehard Ace Combat fans will take issue with the new approach, but it certainly made us want to get our hands on it so we could see how the CRA plays out. Assault Horizon is set for a late 2011 release on PS3 and Xbox 360.

Feb 4, 2011

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  • Spybreak8 - February 7, 2011 2:27 a.m.

    AC6 was good but I hated the campy japanese anime story. Make a game like it with a decent story and I think you'll have a good Ace Combat.
  • FoxdenRacing - February 4, 2011 10:09 p.m.

    I'm torn on this one, especially from the multiplayer angle. Hopefully it cuts down on the number of twerps spamming the nearly-impossible-to-dodge weapons, but hopefully it doesn't simply become 'lock on CRA, fire weapon, find new enemy' instead. I loved AC6, so I really hope they don't screw this one up...though I will give them bonus points for coming up with a creative potential solution.
  • IceBlueKirby - February 4, 2011 9:32 p.m.

    I've never played an Ace Combat game, but this might be where I start. I've been looking for a good arcade-style flying experience since Dark Void's too short flying segments.
  • Entreri10 - February 4, 2011 7:28 p.m.

    I hope this is good I love the Ace combat series and I hope this new approach isnt Hawx all over again.
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - February 4, 2011 6:59 p.m.

    That belly-cam screenshot does look pretty low res, but when we saw that view in motion, it looked awesome. It happened fast and there wasn't time to linger on the textures.
  • TruckThunders - February 4, 2011 6:52 p.m.

    I'll have to play a demo before I can make a solid purchase or no decision. I've played both AC6 and HAWX and like each for different reasons. But I didn't buy HAWX 2 because I didn't like the new features they added. As long as the HUD and plane detail stays as good as it was in AC6, this could be a good game.
  • EricBratcher - February 4, 2011 6:48 p.m.

    I'd bet dollars to donuts there will be some sort of in-cockpit camera as well by the time the game ships. Kind of like almost every decent racing game offers that first person, "license plate camera" even though they default to a trailing, over the car cam.
  • icedoesnthelp - February 4, 2011 6:43 p.m.

    That last screenshot looks...awful. Look how pixelated the gray things pointing (sorry don't know what to call them) out of the "belly" of the plane (i take it) compared to the rest. Well, as long as its better then Hawx, I'll try it.
  • InFeRnOg - February 4, 2011 6:24 p.m.

    Ah ok...I know I'm not liking the third-person (third-plane?) perspective. In my opinion, cockpit view is the only way to play these types of games... I would've rather seen them take that to the next level in terms of realism, with more visceral and realistic effects such as vision narrowing as you pull too heavy Gs for too long (and give us the sound and feeling of the breathing and muscle techniques), perhaps a more intuitive target watching system, and accurately modelled cockpits. Not sure how often it happens with contemporary munitions either, but why not have missles fail to detonate etc. too? I am reminded of one of the most intense and satisfying moments I had in another genre altogether - WW2 sub sim (Silent Hunter 4 to be precise) - in which I had a battle with several destroyers and then another showed up out of nowhere and I dove right under her keel and proceeded to try to outmaneuvre the fleet and deal with low ammunition to finally sink them after a long stretch. While the feeling of a modern flight sim would be an entirely different experience, the feeling of accomplishment of pulling off the perfect maneuvres, pushing the pilot to the limit of Gs to get that killshot in - those would be far more compelling experiences for me. And to give more casual gamers their fix, follow the Silent Hunter route and allow everything in the game to be toggled or tweaked so you can have as realistic a sim as you'd like.
  • runner - February 4, 2011 6:18 p.m.

    Isn't this CRA the system from Sky Crawler on Wii? Good thinking Project Ace.
  • KiwiCommander - February 4, 2011 6:12 p.m.

    I think HAWX failed because of its missions, the gameplay was very ace combat ish but there was not enough cool missions like taking out the Arc Bird (OMG LAZERS ON A SPACE SHUTTLE), Hrimfaxi sub, ADFX Morgan or the excalibur tower.
  • InFeRnOg - February 4, 2011 5:50 p.m.

    Didn't HAWX try to be arcadey and fail miserably? Not sure how I feel about this new approach...sounds a bit too arcadey/dumbed down to me but we'll see.

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