I finally got a chance to play the demo of Ace Combat Assault Horizon on Wednesday. Long story short, regardless of my reservations of how I feel about where the series is going (it’s really just the story that concerns me), I came away satisfied with what I played that day. The demo offered two missions to play: one fighter jet, one helicopter. One played a bit differently from the previous entries, and the other is an all-new experience for the Ace Combat series. After the break, I’ll start with the tried-and-true fighter jet gameplay.
The fighter jet mission starts off with the pilot narrating about him dreaming about his own death. So while you may forget until the very end of this mission, you are playing this man’s dream. Which reminds me, this is the first time we actually get to see the person you are playing as in an Ace Combat game (we never saw the faces of Mobius 1, Blaze, and Garuda 1). Once you assume control, the game begins to show you the controls for the jet (which thankfully is defaulted to the “novice” controls). The new layout for the controls might take some time to get used to if you’ve played any of the other AC games. Once a target showed up on screen, my old AC instincts kicked in and I fired two missiles at it. No problem. Did the same to more targets that popped up. Then the Target Leads (on HUD as TGT_LEAD) show up. This is where the the new Dogfight Mode (DFM) is taught.
DFM is activated by pressing L2+R2 when you are close enough to the enemy (indicated by a circle over the target). To put simply, DFM locks you to the path of your enemy when you get close enough. The game will assist your flying (i.e. fly the plane for you a bit), so all you have to do is focus on shooting. in DFM, a circular reticle shows up, and your job is to keep that reticle on the enemy until it charges. Once fully charged, you fire you can fire a missile with increased accuracy (and they are sure to hit). You can also fire your machine gun to increase damage (which can now overheat unlike previous entries).
While some may find that the addition of DFM might make the game a bit too easy, the enemy can activate DFM on you too (and also do it while you DFM someone else!).In these instances, you can accelerate to escape, or slow down and perform a maneuver. This is indicated by a blue and red arrow indicator. When you slow down, these two arrows come together. When they overlap long enough, a rotating arrow appears, to which you press L2+R2 to perform a maneuver and put them into the receiving end of DFM. Obviously, there is a risk & reward system when doing this as failing means a missile hitting you, and success means a chance to retaliate (even the game tells you to “take the risk”). Although to be honest, this method could be less cumbersome as I tend to decelerate and turn, and the game sometimes won’t let the arrows meet. Also, the window for doing the maneuver is small and it’s easy to not press both shoulder buttons at the same time under that kind of stress. But overall I do like this newest addition to Ace Combat as it makes the fight more engaging and fast paced. Let’s just hope this doesn’t have to be done for every damn enemy in the final game.
Helicopters, The news addition to flying in Ace Combat, comes with a different set of controls and rules than their supersonic counterparts. Just like the fighter jet mission, the controls are explained to you. Since this is very new in Ace Combat (unless you count the easy-to-hit helicopter targets in the other games), the controls take a while to get used to. The mission takes place in town in Northern Africa, and most of the targets are on the ground. Previously in other Ace Combat games, ground targets were mostly stationary and the only thing that posed a threat were the SAMs (Surface-to-Air missiles). Here, AA gunners, trucks, and personnel–all non-threatening targets in the previous games–are very much a threat here and can shoot you down if you’re not careful. The Rocket Launches here are just as dangerous as the SAMs were, if not more so as you’re not as mobile as a fighter jet. Then again, you can press L2+R2 to perform a barrel roll (yes, a barrel roll in a helicopter) to dodge missiles.
The controls may feel unwieldy, but about seven minutes into the mission you’ll get used to it (and probably be a pro in the second play through). My only gripe so far is that I can’t look around without move the whole helicopter. While in a jet, I tended to look around to see if there were anymore targets (or see where my allies were or take in the scenery). I could do all this without moving the plane. Here, the right stick moves the reticle and the helicopter. Maybe the control pad lets me look around. If so, I’ll come back and amend this statement. But for now, it’s pretty annoying. It was was fun flying a helicopter, but I’ll hold back my final word on it until the final release.
Regarding gameplay in the general sense, missions are tackled in smaller bits. In other words, a handful of targets would pop up for you to destroy, and then more targets would appear. The is contrary to what was done before, where you would had a map littered with 50 to 100 targets for you to take out during a time limit. The music, as I said before in a previous article, is really good and really sets the mood for the mission. The bgm for the jet mission is especially cool as it sounds like they mixed elements of The Liberation of Gracemeria with modern rock tastes. Some may find this going a bit too close into douche-rock territory. And it almost does, where it not for the violins and brass tat kick in and carry the melody.
Expect a full review of Ace Combat Assault Horizon launches in the U.S. October 11.