Reviews: Ace Combat Assault Horizon

Enthralling fun but frustratingly short


Assault Horizon throws the last bits of realism out the window for the cinematic Rule Of Cool, spicing up the classic Ace Combat with the new dog-fighting mode. I was suspicious of it at first but now, I don't care if no real plane can fly like that—it still looks awesome. The core fighter gameplay is nicely diversified by helicopter and Rail Shooter sections, with a gunship mission and a bombing run thrown in. Diversity is always a plus for an action game. I must, however, admit that learning unfamiliar controls on-the-fly cost me quite a few replays.

I have finished the game in two sittings over a weekend, which is sadly two-fold: a testament to both the game's fun factor and its short length. Sixteen missions plus a prologue is not a big improvement over Ace Combat 6. While I agree that it is better to cut the fun a little short than to overstretch it, I feel that ACAH still had potential for even more.

Story (spoilers)

To get his out of the way: I'm not a fan of the US foreign policy in the last decades, so I cringe at the unsubtle political messages of the game and believe that Strangereal would have been a better setting for it. However, the more I think about the plot, the more I come to appreciate it. It is less emotionally gripping than in some previous games, yet more intellectually subtle—too bad that the game keeps pushing you forward, not letting you look around. ACAH would have profited immensely from more pauses in the action and dialogue scenes.

Although I didn't begin to care for ACAH characters as much as I cared for the Wardogs and Pixy, they don't feel flat... just hollow somehow. They have distinct shapes but lack weight. If only more time were devoted to how Bishop's nightmares affect him; to Guts' fear of being The Load; to Rehl's frustration about having to fly gunships instead of bombers... Ironically, the strongest characters are the villains, despite their late characterization: the Broken Ace Markov with his spiteful mockery of Americans and the doggedly devoted Major Illich who congratulates Bishop on defeating him. Some amazing irony hides in how the aces and their wingmen mirror each other. Too bad it takes some thought to see it... which the game hardly encourages you to do.