Ace Combat Assault Horizon review

  • DFM is the bleeding edge of fun
  • Great variety of missions
  • Super epic music makes everything even more exciting
  • Missions aren't as open as Ace 6
  • Vets may think it's been dumbed down
  • Regenerating plane health?

Ace Combat Assault Horizon is like a love letter to the idea of fun. The delivery method for said letter is to fold it into the shape of a paper F-22 Raptor, attach jet engines, machine guns, and missiles, and then run up a hill while making “neeeeeroouuuu” airplane noises before hurling that sucker into the sunny blue sky. We frame it this way because Assault Horizon is unabashedly an arcade flight game, with fancy camera tricks, regenerating plane health, and helicopters that can do barrel rolls (from a complete standstill no less). There is nothing dry and realistic here, nothing to scare away people who loved Top Gun but cringe at the word “sim.” This also means that Ace Combat fans may not be happy with what their beloved franchise has become.

We were happy. Very, very happy. We suspect if you play Assault Horizon and don’t enjoy yourself, you may just not like fun. That, or you’ll allow hangups about realism and “skill” to trick you into being unaware of how much fun you’re having. Yes, we realize we’re implying that people with different opinions from ours are just plain wrong and we know how silly that is, but we’re doing it to emphasize how stupidly, insanely entertaining Assault Horizon is. They key is to go in and not convince yourself that there’s a particular way the game “should be.” Just take it in, drink it deep, and let it blow your hair back. Way, way back. If that doesn’t work, take a moment and really listen to those heavy metal riffs – they’re telling you something.

Dogfight mode, or DFM, is what makes Assault Horizon into a big screaming rock concert at 30,000 feet instead of just another air combat game. Purists may decry it as a baby mode or something, but to do so requires ignoring the sheer glee of smoke, fire, bullets, and burnt metal flying in your face at Mach 2. The devs identified a problem in regular flight combat: most of the time you’re locking on to little specs that barely look like planes. Not only did they solve this problem, but they turned the fix into its own work of art. Get close enough on a bogey’s tail and a green circle appears around him. Tap two shoulder buttons and DFM begins. The game becomes semi on-rails, but we really must stress the “semi.” You get assist that helps keep you on your enemy’s tail, but only to a point – he can totally shake you if you’re not on your toes, and even so a squirrely enemy will keep you busy just trying to keep him in your crosshairs.

DFM isn’t about making things easy for you – it’s about making things more exciting, and wow does it succeed. You get to see the pretty enemy planes all up in your face, you get to view the action from super-sexy under-belly or “over the shoulder” camera angles, you get to actually use your guns since the targets are close enough to hit, and you also get taken on rollercoaster rides. See, sometimes when in DFM your target will take you on a scripted flight path between skyscrapers, along canyons, and even past landmarks which explode spectacularly or have collapsing crane parts for you to dramatically swoop under. The amazing part is all of it happens without any clear setpiece introductions – you are the one who initiated DFM and there’s no cutscene or anything to make the scripted flight path feel like it isn’t happening naturally. In fact, if you don’t engage DFM, you may never see these setpieces.

Above: Would you rather not fly through this?

In order to keep DFM from being your unfair advantage against the AI, the devs allow enemies to engage it against you. Once engaged, it’s difficult to shake an enemy, just as he has trouble shaking you. Your best bet is to perform a counter-maneuver – a red and green triangle will appear onscreen indicating how far behind you your pursuer is. If you hit the brakes and get him to be right on top of you, you can do a quick loop or barrel roll and suddenly you’re on his ass instead. Of course, enemies can do this counter-maneuver when you’re chasing them, but if you’re really quick, you can do a counter-counter-maneuver. You’ll need these fancy moves because there are “boss” pilots that are much more skilled than the average jet jockey.

DFM alone makes Assault Horizon incredibly fresh, but the devs were not content to just leave it at that. While air-to-air fighter missions make up the main course of the game, there are also side dishes in the form of helicopter missions, chopper gunner missions, a bomber mission, some ground attack missions, and an AC-130 gunner mission. These missions are never as deep or meaty as the dogfighting missions, but they’re all fun and they round out the game nicely and break up the pacing to prevent monotony. Highlights include a bomber mission where you have to fly low and avoid radar installations, an anti-ship mission where you strafe cruisers with rockets and guns, and a chopper mission in Moscow in the middle of a blizzard.

ASM, or Air Strike Mode, is like the ground-attack equivalent of DFM. In strafing missions you’ll have flight paths highlighted on your HUD – entering one switches to ASM where your guns do more damage and your missiles/rockets recharge faster. Like DFM it’s designed to bring the action more in your face, and though it’s decently fun, it doesn’t bring quite the excitement factor that DFM does. It does succeed in mixing up the action, much like the simplistic gunner missions.

Above: Strafing runs against cruisers in an A-10 Warthog are always welcome at any of our parties

There are other differences between this Ace Combat and its predecessor, Fires of Liberation, and how you feel about them is a matter of taste. Assault Horizon is much more accessible, with a simple default flight control setup where you don’t have to bother with rolling for turning – you just press left to turn left. The missions aren’t quite so open-ended, and even could be described as linear in certain circumstances. You don’t access your squadmates HUDs or call in special air strikes. So Ace Combat vets might call this a dumbing-down, but to them we say this: set the game on Hard mode and change the flight controls to advanced, but regardless the DFM provides so much intense awesomeness you’ll be too busy to miss the other stuff. Assault Horizon pares back some things to bring the dogfight into sharp focus, and it works.

Multiplayer is similar to Fires of Liberation, with some tweaks and improvements. Whereas co-op was a sad two-mission affair before, Assault Horizon presents a decent-sized mini-campaign of tweaked versions of missions from the single-player, with the difficulty ramped up to account for extra players. The multiplayer has a couple of new modes: Domination is what you’d expect – teams try to hold control points, but each is defended first by neutral Anti-air, and then faction-based AA once controlled. It’s a helicopter-focused mode, because while some maps allow any type of aircraft, if you want to hold an area you’ll want to be able to hover – of course you could mix your team so some members are the hunters in jets. The other new mode is Capital Conquest, which is similar to Siege Battle from Ace 6 with the exception of the new ASM mode – each team must destroy the other’s AA defenses to earn the right to engage ASM on the opposing HQ, and you’ll need ASM because the HQ is resistant to non-ASM attacks. We’re not sure yet how the multiplayer will fare with Ace Combat vets, but it was at least fun for a few hours.

Above: The good 'ol Apache brings a nice change of game flow to both single- and multiplayer

Ace Combat Assault Horizon walks that dangerous line many modern franchises are attempting these days: make an old formula more accessible and streamlined without alienating the hardcore fans. While we’re certain some fans will scoff at the changes, it’s difficult to argue, when you’re in the heat of a DFM moment chasing a “boss” pilot with guns roaring and skyscrapers hurtling past in a blur, that you’re not experiencing the closest thing to living Top Gun that you can imagine.

Oct 11, 2011

More Info

Release date: Q4 2011 - PS3, Xbox 360 (US)
Available Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: Flight
Published by: Namco Bandai
Developed by: Namco Bandai
Franchise: Ace Combat
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Alcohol Reference, Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence
Matthew Keast

My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.

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  • X5&K - April 16, 2012 11:54 a.m.

    2 things i don't like about the game 1: is customization we all know u can unlock color options but there isn't many and i get very angry when i cant get a the shark face on all my jets I also don't like having that one guy in every match with a pink f-22. 2: Ace Combat loses it Xbox live luster because of its stupid membership so when its like 34.99 at Game stop there's no co-op and if im lucky i run into a capital conquest match. Overall its fun but i wish more people would go on xbox live so then there's more activity on the good games that are not bf3 or mw3
  • miningguyx360 - October 15, 2011 1:42 p.m.

    Watched the GiantBomb Quicklook. I never play FlightSims but this looks pretty cool. I might pick it up next year when its 20 bucks
  • chen-everest - October 26, 2011 10:20 a.m.

    Good idea. This game really only worth for less then $20, no more then $20. Got in on Friday, finished it on Tuesday, played 3 more days, sold to gamestop.....spent $62 (with tax) but only got $26 back (no time to do online just go with easy method). Compare to this game, I rather spend my time to play Ace combat 6 and 5 for 2 more times. The only reason I purchased it was for the online play. Just wanted to see how the new system and story could be and both factors were failed. If you want to enjoy using gun to shot down an airplane, then go ONLY with this Assault Horizon. Never in the past versions that gun shoot can be used as the main weapon. So easy to get shoot man madel within 6 hours of play. It used to be the hardest thing to do as gun shoot only works well when within 600 meter (I use km, not mile), just use the FDM, you can be within 600 meter so easy....||| Totally lose the excitment of DOG FIGHT----> ACES' COMBAT.
  • chris-lafer - February 2, 2012 10:28 p.m.

    You can use only the gun in 6, it's just a pain in the ass. But there's an achievement for it and everything.
  • RReDDoGG17 - October 15, 2011 12:33 p.m.

    An unwelcome and disappointing deviation from a formula carefully crafted over decades to produce near perfect gameplay for fans of the franchise, resulting in a $60.00 slap in the face. This installment preserves all the frustrating aspects of it's predecessors, while simultaneously stripping the game of almost everything you've come to enjoy about the series. What once was unparalleled freedom of movement is now on rails. What once was responsive, and at some points even made you sympathetic, AI to the point of being integral to the storyline, has now been reduced to simple onlookers taking up valuable space in the sky. I recall being engrossed in the storyline of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, eagerly awaiting the outcome of each mission to progress the story. In the case of Assault Horizon; I've so far tolerated the lather, rinse and repeat actions of each mission to be rewarded with a quite predictable and uninspired tale. Even the Replay viewer has suffered from austerity, losing almost all of it's features. Save yourself the time, money and irritation. Continue to play Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation, until project aces produce a worthy heir to the air supremecy genre.
  • chen-everest - October 14, 2011 12:05 p.m.

    Well... some typo...retype my comment --------------------------------------------------- Just want to say out my "UNHAPPINESS" with this new game.......Assault Horizon is definitely one of the best new concept/system.....and I got it on the released day from Walmart, which is the seller with the best present for buyers other then Gamestop. in my had, and I tried the online mode as first thing .....only one though....What the HELL!! CRAP design!!! The preset controller system was so SUCK. I never feel vomit when playing games, except FPS games. In Assault Horizon ......I could not turn the flight upside down and do sharp turns...which led to the situation that I was attacked by enemies VERY frequent and hard as I could not escape as usual----as in the previous versions. The control of the airplane was sensitive, which was good....but when you have sensitive but lack of the motions/actions that you want to perform the whole screen just turned to FPS situation and I felt so sick...almost wanted to puke......same feeling as when I play FPS games..... I have no idea why the designer took out the spin/rotate motion from the default control. Later I found there was setting for advanced gamers.....I will try tonight and hope I can get my 360 degree spinning/rotating back....
  • chen-everest - October 14, 2011 12:06 p.m.

    By the way...because the default setting, I felt I was such a super bad newby ever.....never felt like this when playing ACE Combat games.
  • chen-everest - October 14, 2011 11:46 a.m.

    Just want to say out my "UNHAPPINESS" with this new game.......Assault Horizon is definitely one of the best new concept/system.....and I got it on the released day from Walmart, which is the seller with the best present for buyers other then Gamestop. in my had, and I tried the online mode as first thing .....only one though....What the HELL!! CRAP design The preset controller system was so SUCK. I never feel vomit besides playing FPS games. In Assault Horizon ......I cannot turn the flight upside down and do sharp turns...which led to the situation that I was been attacked by enemies VERY frequent as I could not escape as usual----as in the previous versions. The airplane was king mumbling...... I felt so sick.....same feeling as when I play FPS games..... Later I found there was setting for advanced gamers.....I will try tonight and hope I can get my 360 degree spinning/rotating back....
  • IceBlueKirby - October 13, 2011 9:58 p.m.

    I had trouble getting into the other Ace Combat games, but this sounds like it does away with everything I didn't like, so I'll certainly have to try this out soon.
  • Trade-X - October 18, 2014 3:01 a.m.

    No, you simply just weren't good and fuck this review too.
  • FoxdenRacing - October 12, 2011 1:59 p.m.

    So what you're saying, GR, is that this follows a recently-budding industry trend of taking exceptional games that could have easily stood on their own and/or kicked off entire franchises and instead bank on name recognition, no matter how inappropriate? That's the best review I could've hoped for. I'll have to give it a whirl on the demo station when I pick up Forza 4, and see about plunking cash down on it too. Count me as swapping from skeptical to excited. To wax philosophical for a moment, I don't get it. Shift didn't need the Need for Speed name. Neither does 'The Run'. I'm sure if I put in more than 30sec of thought, I'd be able to come up with a pile more. From the sounds of this glowing review, Assault Horizon doesn't need the Ace Combat name [and let's face it, 'Assault Horizon' would've been a lot effin' cooler as a title rather than a subtitle!]. Does the industry think we're so stupid that name recognition is the only thing that decides whether or not we'll buy?
  • FoxdenRacing - October 12, 2011 2 p.m.

    What deleted all my formatting. BAH.
  • ThatFanInThePeacoat - October 12, 2011 5:48 p.m.

    I'm feeling something similar. As a longtime fan, I was very skeptical at first, but this article has really turned me around. Thank you, GamesRadar! I rolled my eyes at regenerating plane health and barrel-rolling helicopters, but I'm willing to accept those if it means I get to play another Ace Combat, especially with this new DFM. I was very skeptical with it at first, but GR has me convinced that it can't be all that bad. As for the multiplayer, I'm really interested to see how it has grown since Fires of Liberation. I'll take Assault Horizon for a spin, but not until after Skyrim and Dark Souls have had their turns.
  • FoxdenRacing - October 13, 2011 9:45 a.m.

    Multiplayer-wise, I'd be happy with just more maps and some decent netcode. Getting blown out of the sky without even getting the warning lights got old fast. Especially when I know my flying isn't exactly poor; I'd thread the needle [between upper and lower decks, between the vertical supports] on the bridges in AC6's 'WMD' mission at full burn to keep the first half of it from getting boring...and to duck missiles in the second half. Either way...I'm looking forward to this one now; it sounds like a very good flight game, and a really good flight game is worth playing regardless of whether or not the Ace Combat title is inappropriate.
  • Teaspoon - October 12, 2011 11:19 a.m.

    It's a shame that this game has to come out this year, close to the release of Forza 4, Arkham City, Skyrim, Halo CE Anniversary, Assassins Creed Revelations, Saints Row 3, and of course BF3 and MW3. All of those games are casting their big, meaty shadows over this little gem... It's for that reason alone that I won't be buying this, although I wish I could. God dammit, why are games so expensive?!
  • Revolt189 - October 12, 2011 8:14 a.m.

    I have but one concern: is there a story to this game? That's what has always drawn me into Ace Combat.
  • Gahmah - October 12, 2011 8:30 a.m.

    As someone who picked it up last night, yes I assure you, and it's moving pictures this time! Surely "I saw my death in my dreams" tipped you off that this was most definantly ace combat. I'm loving it so far.
  • Plan10FromOuterSpace - October 12, 2011 3:36 a.m.

    im so glad to hear this game is good, ive always had a bit of a interest in flying games having played a lot of them on PC when i was younger but a recent trip to HAWX 2 put me off the idea of trying to regain that love for them on console. Ill defiantly look into picking this up at some point....
  • TheZigMan - October 11, 2011 10:16 p.m.

    So this is better than Halo Reach? hehehe
  • SideOfBeef - October 11, 2011 8:31 p.m.

    This kinda worries me. I loved the crap out of AC6 because it offered so much variety that I could replay it over and over. This sounds like I'd play it once or twice and be done, and that's not worth my money.