Is Namco’s ego writing cheques that its body can’t cash, or is the eighth entry in the Ace Combat series a highway to the danger zone full of frantic and enjoyable dogfights? Either way, we’re already out of Top Gun references, and there’s still plenty to talk about.
The Assault Horizon demo opens over Miami. This is the first game in the series to involve real countries and locations, rather than the paper thin allusions of previous titles. You’ve arrived at the scene of an aerial battle in an F-22, and go through the in-game tutorial disguised as a flight check. After you get the hang of the pitch, roll, and yaw, it’s time to start shooting down Ruskies.
Normal operation applies here: select your target, get up close, shoot some missiles or gun him down. Easy enough, maybe you need to do a little fancy flying to get behind your target as well. However, if you’re close enough you can enter a dogfight mode called Close-range Assault (CRA). By pressing both L1 and R1, your aircraft goes into autopilot and closely follows the enemy. While doing this you still have some control over the movements of the plane, allowing you to aim the cannon onto your foe.
As well being able to more effectively use your guns, you can also obtain a more powerful lock on that allows your missiles to have far greater accuracy and damage. To do this, you just need to keep the reticule over the enemy for a few seconds. This is easier said than done though, as when playing against leaders and aces who require to be in CRA to be taken down, their flying will be much more erratic in an attempt to shake you. Sometimes they’re successful, but most of the time you’re shooting dead air as you wrestle with the controls.
There’s a cool little trick you can pull off when someone is homing in on you. A couple of arrows on the HUD will overlap as the enemy gets closer to you, and this allows you to perform a quick spin maneuver with the tap of L1 and R1 to get them into CRA and take them down. It adds a little something to the game that lets you mix up the combat so it doesn’t get stale. Meanwhile, at the end of the demo there was a QTE scene involving ejecting from the aircraft. It wasn’t entirely taxing, but adds a little bit of interactivity to some of the long winded cut-scenes.
Assault Horizon is also the first game in the series with rotary wing aircraft, in this case an Apache Helicopter. Our time with this was very brief, but we can tell you that it flies like you would expect a Helicopter to fly. It can hover, turn while hovering, and also ascend and descend, along with being able to move side to side and backwards and forwards. The HUD has been altered to reflect the different play style as well.
Of course, the game is also very pretty, with the planes lovingly animated, and oil from exploding aircraft momentarily smearing the edges of the screen as you fly past them. This Maverick in the series is definitely bringing something new to the franchise. Oh, and we managed to make another Top Gun reference!