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Why would anyone overlook the latest Ace Combat? Oh, right, it’s a flying game, and who plays those anymore? If you missed Assault Horizon, however, you missed the most balls-out, boredom-searing firestorm of fun that came out this year. You don’t need a fetish for planes that go neeeeorrrrrewww to love this game – the sheer audacity of the dogfight mode, the ridiculously pumping soundtrack, and the wonderful variety of missions mean that if you ever enjoyed Top Gun (for reasons other than the volleyball scene), Assault Horizon will grab you by the gonads and never let go.
Screaming narrowly past skyscrapers, unloading a roar of bullets into the tailpipe of an ace nemesis merely one plane-length ahead, as fiery construction work rains down all around you. Skimming the snowy skyline of Moscow in an Apache and doing freaking barrel rolls to avoid anti-air fire while saturating the streets below with rockets. For heaven’s sake, this game has a quick-time event for a fist pump. Assault Horizon flies in the face of “serious” games, transforming moments of seeming action absurdity into transcendent bliss.
Was this game created with the intention of being overlooked? Its pedigree: developed by a team headed by someone that worked on Okami; a hard to pronounce name; very, very Japanese. So we could understand why the world might ignore El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, and after it garnered lackluster sales even in Japan, it was only a matter of time before our fears for the US and European launches were validated.
Shame, because El Shaddai really is one of the year’s most memorable games, if not technically “the best.” Judged solely on gameplay, there are valid complaints. The combat is fun but basic, while the platforming is manageable but sometimes painfully annoying. Those concerns really don’t matter, though, because El Shaddai is a rare case in which gameplay is an inconsequential method for getting from one gorgeous stage to the next.
You’ve never played a game that looks like El Shaddai. Each stage is a wonder of colors, sound, concept and technique. Each level is distinct from the last, whether it’s an aquatic wonderland or a futuristic cityscape. The beauty of the game is singular, and thanks to its sales failure, will never be repeated.
Take Suda51, the mind behind No More Heroes and Killer7, as well as one of gaming’s undeniable (and undeniably crazy) auteurs. Pair him with Shinji Mikami, the man who reinvented both horror and shooter games with his Resident Evil franchise. Then, just for good measure, throw in the famed composer of Silent Hill’s hauntingly beautiful soundtracks, Akira Yamaoka. What does this development dream team get you?
Somehow, a commercial flop. Perhaps the ridiculously named demon hunter hero, Garcia Hotspur, didn’t appeal to gamers… which is unfortunate, because he’s also ridiculously badass and, as a Mexican protagonist, ridiculously one-of-a-kind. Perhaps gamers assumed the undead-massacring combat was something they’d seen before… which is a mistake, made instantly clear the first time you kick a zombie in the crotch or battle a 900-foot horse-eating, darkness-pissing goat man. Perhaps the juvenile humor, with guns named Boner and a setting composed entirely of naked women’s bodies, was too much for some gamers… those gamers should learn to recognize the difference between cynical sexual pandering and gleefully unabashed, unmalicious raunch.
Or maybe, thanks to a lack of marketing or a poorly chosen release date, you just forgot this game even existed. Consider this a reminder, then, and a strong (hard, throbbing) recommendation.