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E3 2011: Ace Combat Assault Horizon

by Andrew Yoon, Jun 15, 2011 3:00pm PDT

QUICKTAKE: I have never played an Ace Combat game. But Namco Bandai's latest, Assault Horizon, makes me wish I had. Project Aces' newest addition to the franchise adds a "Close-Range Assault" system that lets you lock on to a target and zoom in to the cockpit for a vertigo-inducing dog-fighting experience. It was explosive and absolutely thrilling, especially for a newcomer like me. Helicopter battles, on the other hand, proved to be very difficult.

THE DEMO: There were two parts to the playable demo at E3. The first took me to the very beginning of the game, giving me a tutorial on how to pilot a fighter jet. Immediately, the game teaches you how to use the cinematic "Close-Range Assault" mode. By getting close to an enemy jet, you can hit L1 and R1 to lock on to the target. The camera zooms in very close, making for some cinematic dogfights. After fighting a few squads, the level ends, and I'm taken to a new part of the demo.

Controlling the helicopter was nowhere as intuitive as the fighter pilot. Perhaps I needed a tutorial, because circling around an enemy compound, I repeatedly got shot down. Much to my embarrassment, I had to give up after repeated failure.

DETAILS: Namco Bandai is definitely trying to broaden the series' appeal. The "Close-Range Assault" mode not only makes for truly cinematic trailers, but it actually makes the gameplay feel a lot more dynamic. No other mode in the game makes you feel like you're in the cockpit quite as much as that. When you're chasing another plane, trying to keep it in your sights, you can almost feel the G-force that's being exerted on your craft. It's simple enough to activate, but taking down a target was still challenging enough to make it feel rewarding.

Beyond the new perspective is a new approach to storytelling. Project Aces is definitely going for a big budget action movie feeling, enlisting the help of military author Jim DeFelice to pen the story. While there's obvious talent there, I am a bit concerned, though. While Assault Horizon definitely has the potential for great action sequences, I wasn't particularly impressed by the game's visuals. When flying low altitude or near buildings, the lack of detail in the environment became much too evident. It was almost jarring, in fact.

Dogfighting is surprisingly intuitive, but I am also a bit concerned about how unintuitive the helicopter was. Considering Assault Horizon is promising a number of vehicles, I hope there will be proper tutorials to teach unfortunate newbies like me how to survive in the sky. Even the tutorial sequence for the jet was a bit confusing, forcing some trial and error to succeed.

Given how much fun I had playing, I do regret not having played earlier iterations of the Ace Combat franchise. The close-range dogfighting sequences are genuinely explosive, and definitely warrant another look at the game. And with multiplayer, I'm definitely going to keep this on my radar.

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