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17 April 2014

It came from the console! Ace Combat Assault Horizon Enhanced Edition

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Ace Combat finally makes its way on to the PC and makes some interesting changes to its tried and true formula of pure awesome. Let's see how it handles transitioning to the PC.


Missile jousting!

 

How was the surgery doctor?

Surprisingly, the transition from console title to PC was painless.

Under settings there's not much we can do on the PC other than set the resolution, anti-aliasing or full screen options. Fortunately we can still rebind keys, even if the process is about as clunky as it could be made. The re-bind menu doesn't allow you to simply overwrite keys that were already doing something else, so you will have to find a key that isn't being used by anything. Other than that troublesome mess, I'm quite glad we even have the option as some ports to the PC flat out refuse to allow rebinding of keys.

When it came to controls, I was a little concerned at first. I found it odd that there was no mouse support for the main menu but that didn't really matter since it worked fine with input for the keyboard. What was really worrying was that when I started playing I had a bug where the mouse was not working for flight on aircraft. Once I fixed it, I found that flight with the mouse, other than in helicopters, wasn't really working out for me. Unlike Strike Suit Zero, players don't just move their cursor in the general direction they want their plane to turn and cause it to go in that direction until they point it another way, instead, players have to constantly move the mouse to turn, like they would in an FPS like Planetside 2 or Battlefield 3. Others may not have found this to be a problem but I personally found that it made doing the precise, high speed maneuvers I needed to pull off on Elite and Ace difficulty more than a little tricky and annoying, even on the tutorial level. Which is why I learned to fly with the keyboard! Once I became accustomed to this, it was so much easier to fly.

 

Yeah... It was kinda like that at first.

 

Keyboard and mouse not your thing? No problem, Ace Combat Assault Horizon Enhanced Edition also supports game-pads and even joy sticks. Both are better alternates to flying with the keyboard but if you have the option, use a joystick. Joysticks had the best response and feel for playing Ace Combat Assault Horizon on the PC. Just one thing! If you're using a Sidewinder joystick like I was, from back in the 90's, the stick doesn't really offer much in the way of resistance so precise control can be a little difficult. I found this odd since, when I was on the desktop, it handled just fine. Newer joysticks should work fine however, seeing as the Sidewinder hasn't had new drivers in who knows how long.

Ditching the fictional nations for America and those wacky Russians.

Normally, the Ace Combat series takes place in a fictional setting where they can do whatever they want with the story and technology available, even if 90% of the aircraft players will get their hands on are all from the real world. There are things like huge laser beam defense grids that cut through the air, taking out entire wings of fighters, massive flying fortresses that also serve as aircraft carriers and all sorts of other amazing situations that made Ace Combat such an awesome series. That's also ignoring how good the stories were for my first two forays into the series.

In this iteration of Ace Combat they decided to ditch the alternate reality setting with all of the awesome and crazy situations for what was a much more tame and realistic setting. Like many military games set in the present, more or less, the story involves Russians staging a coup for whatever reasons they might have this time, and they go about wreaking havoc around the world, much to the dismay of everyone. Ace Combat Assault Horizon tries to play this off as NATO against the Russian rebels, but lets be fair, all of the pilots players take control of, and their teams as far as I can tell, are American.

It's the US vs Russia again which wouldn't be an issue if the over arching story was better. But that's what's going on in the larger picture which wasn't terribly exciting, story wise anyway, and there was a noticeable lack of other Ace pilots out there. These guys gave a huge personal touch to Ace Combat: Zero and the generally awesome and spectacular situations that previous entries in the series provided. The more interesting part of this tale is the smaller story of the rivalry between the main character, Colonel William Bishop, and the only other ace pilot in the series, Andrei Markov, or Akula as he is referred to so often. Bishop may not say much, but the tension is certainly there and having an Ace to deal with is a refreshing change of pace from fighting the other nameless unimportant pilots in the game. Finding out Markovs motivations for joining the coup was quite interesting.

 

He is so fun to fight! Also the single most interesting character in the game.

 

Even your own flight team feels relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things because of how little interaction there is with them and how rarely they say anything imortant.  D-Ray and Guts were the only memorable characters on the players side but that's because they were fairly vocal and had a personality to them, whereas the main character Bishop hardly says anything of any importance. Then again, the main character in previous Ace Combat games never said anything either, but at least they were the strong silent type who's face you never saw rather than an uninteresting character with a face and a voice, so you could try to fill in the blanks yourself.

 

Oh Guts. You're so silly.

 

A battle of the Aces.

This is certainly not one of those games that you come to for an interesting story.

No, we come to it for the action. Excluding the lack of ridiculous situations like having to deal with submarines randomly popping out for a few seconds from beneath an ice-covered ocean or an amazing prototype fighter piloted by an ace coming to duel you with the aid of an absurd number of crazy drones that can out-maneuver anything you can do, Ace Combat Assault Horizon is still incredibly fun.

Players will be able to fly three types of aircraft in Ace Combat Assault Horizon, fighter jets of all sorts from all nationalities, bombers and my least favorite, helicopters. There is also an AC-130 gunship level which unfortunately plays just like Call of Duty. I was hoping to actually have to do the flying while someone else went to town on the forces below or at least position the gunship myself before we got to the shooting, fortunately it's only one stage.

When it comes to helicopters, Ace Combat Assault Horizon doesn't really do a good job at it. Half of the helicopter missions are rail shooters where you play a door gunner on a Black Hawk, providing support for infantry, usually special forces teams, as they go about their missions. These are a fun change of pace every now and then and they don't over stay their welcome. You can even do  awesome things like use your door gun to shoot rockets and missiles out of the sky. But then there are the missions where you fly an Apache Helicopter, which is the only one the campaign gives players access to. It feels much clunkier than it really needs to. The mouse controls where the gunships turret is pointing along with the camera, while WASD took care of the direction the helicopter flew in. It took some serious getting used to before I could handle it well, especially in the last chopper mission on Elite and Ace difficulty. Playing in third person view often ended up with the chopper blocking most of the screen and the way the camera worked just bothered me in first person, so I had to use the HUD only view just to be able to be see what was going on around me and what I was shooting at.

 

Go go rockets!

 

There are also one or two missions where players will take control of a bomber, and these were pretty cool because players had to fly in under the enemy radar before they arrived at their target to commence bombing. There's even the terrifyingly intense moments where your big, slow bomber has to deal with being chased by fighters on its tail while hoping that your fighter escort shows up in time to get them off you.

Finally there's the stars of the show, the fighter jets. These will be your primary go to craft in Ace Combat Assault Horizon. Most of the missions will involve flying one of these, and they're the best part of the game. Fast paced combat, screaming across the skies at high speeds with bullets and missiles flying in every direction - Ace Combat Assault Horizon still has it, and it still has a large variety of fighters to fly. In the campaign you are limited by what fighters are available for the mission, unlike in previous games where players earned points to buy different aircraft. Once in free mode however, players have access to every single fighter the game has available to it. This does include actual prototypes as well as some fictional craft from the series past.

 

My little friend would love a word with you!

 

But what's this about Dogfight mode? This new feature that is supposed to bring new fans into the series. In the past some players complained that you were just flying around chasing green squares until they turned red. I can understand that, when I first played Ace Combat I had a hard time keeping up with enemy fighters and essentially relied on missiles to deal with all of my problems, even if that's what I hear real combat between jets would be like these days if it actually happened. Before long though I was flying right on the tails of my enemies shredding their jets with my guns. But new players might not want to deal with that, so dogfight mode was invented! Dogfight mode, to some degree, makes chasing your enemies and engaging them with guns much easier... If you can keep up that is. Once players engage in dogfight mode they are in a semi rail shooter behind the enemy fighter. There is a little bit of guidance for chasing your enemies, but players still have to provide some direction and velocity in order to keep up with their targets. If they don't, dogfight mode will disengage and players will be left flying freely once more. What dogfight mode does to make the game awesome is that it give combat a much more visceral feel. Everything moves faster and even though you can already see shrapnel, smoke, fire and pieces of enemy jets scattering about as you gun them down, this lets you take a much more closer look at the steel carnage taking place. The screen will often receive a nice coat of shrapnel and oil as these fights go on. There are even special evasive maneuvers that are unfortunately only available in DFM, but so are the counters to these maneuvers.

While dogfight mode already feels pretty awesome, some of these are fairly heavily scripted, which is good and bad. The good is that the AI will actually take players on a high speed chase through normally difficult areas to fly through, like a city, which you can rip apart with your guns and missiles if you miss your target, amplifying the already cinematic feel of DFM. The bad is that some of these fights are heavily scripted. Normally a fighter or bomber engaged in DFM will take so much damage before it dies, but if it is a scripted fight, you can dump all of your ammo into an enemy to try and save friendlies, but the game is going to have its dramatic flair regardless of how awesome of an ace pilot you are. There are also some wonky things that happen with DFM, like engaging it at certain angles just looks odd as your jet positions itself behind an enemy, at times if you don't disengage in time, even if you're turning along with the enemy DFM will slam you into a something which was otherwise easily avoided, and that's generally bad news even if you don't crater into the ground. Other times when it comes out of the kill cam the jet is left pointed towards the ground or a building, even though during the time it was on the kill cam you have zero control over your jet ,which feels like a pretty cheap way to kill you, especially when playing on Ace difficulty. These things didn't happen too often but they are there! Just a warning.

 

Faster! Faster! Before the refinery collapses on us!

 

Speaking of difficulty! Ace Combat Assault Horizon has pretty solid difficulty even on the normal setting of pilot and it doesn't really hold the players hand beyond the tutorial levels. As the difficulty increases enemy pilots also get better, and because they get better, DFM mode feels like it's less and less of an on-rails experience until you unlock Ace difficulty, then you can barely tell the rails are even there. One thing I will complain about though is that, like far too many games these days, your fighter, helicopter or bomber will regenerate its armor so long as you are not taking damage. It seems that nanites are repairing your jet mid air in all difficulty settings except Ace, which is the most realistic difficulty setting in the game. If your jet takes a missiles, you will be lucky to survive the impact, and the game is not so forgiving here in letting you regenerate your armor. Ace mode has to be unlocked by clearing the game on elite however, so no skipping straight to the best difficulty.

You can be my wing man any time. 

Multiplayer is another awesome feature of the game, which only has one major flaw that may break the deal for a lot of PC players. Like many other console ports from Japan, for whatever reason, Ace Combat Assault Horizon Enhanced Edition uses Games For Windows Live. It's a dreadful "service" that nobody has wanted since it reared its ugly head on the PC and tried to bring the same scummy business model it gets away with on Xbox Live to the PC. Nobody liked it then, nobody likes it now, and I don't see it redeeming itself any time soon. That being said, I decided to bear with it and its horrendous stability issues and numerous other flaws to have an awesome time in Ace Combat Assault Horizon.

Ever wished that the wingmen in the campaign were, you know, useful pilots? Well now they can be! That's right, Ace Combat Assault Horizon features co-op play with up to two other players, which is an odd number considering multiplayer co-op is usually a two to four player affair, but at least it's there! Players can drag along two other friends with them to play through eight missions from the campaign that were designed for co-op play and yes, you can engage in DFM in co-op. After a long campaign on my own it''s kind of odd to see a friendly fighter in front of me chasing the same enemy I was chasing. Just don't try to shoot your buddy down. There are also supposedly ace pilots that show up only in co-op mode and would require players to gang up on them to bring them down, but I haven't seen any yet! Maybe I just didn't notice them through all the smoke.

 

Splashed another one.

 

Then there is the competitive scene with team death match making a return from Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (not my favorite story in the series but still fun to play) and two new game modes. Capital Conquest and Domination. In Domination players fight over control of cities encountered in the campaign, kind of like king of the hill only with jets. Then there's Capital Conquest, which I wish had a much higher player cap because this is my favorite game mode besides straight up death match. Players are split up into two factions and fight over control of major bases in, you guessed it, capital cities around the world. Capital Conquest makes use of all the aircraft available to players, fighters, bombers and attack craft like helicopters.  But fighters are the star of the show! Why would anyone want to fly anything else? You can't play the objectives without some team work. The fighters obviously take care of the dog fighting and flying cover for the other two types of aircraft so what is it that they do? Well the bomber is just what its name implies. It's no good in a dog fight but if you need something on the ground turned into a smoking crater, they're your go to craft. Fighters and strike craft can do damage to the base, but a bomber just decimates the enemy base quickly. While they are the weakest craft in the game, they can fly low under the radar and while they aren't good at taking out other craft other than helicopters, they can quickly mop up anything on the ground before a bomber manages to make an U-turn and cover the ground in explosions once more.

Everything's prettier at super sonic speeds.

Oh yes it is. Ace Combat Assault Horizon promised steel carnage, and it certainly delivers. Dogfights are beautiful and the scenery down below is going by so fast that, unless you splatter right into it, it's always going by at such speeds that it's just a big blur (not that I advise stopping to take in the scenery while a battle is raging all around). Unfortunately there are helicopter segments in which you will slow down, a lot. You will see the blurry textures and low polygon models that infantry and vehicles use. I was really hoping that the PC version would at the very least use higher resolution textures and better models for the helicopter segments.

 

If only the extra care had been taken clean up the models and textures for these segments.

 

At least where the graphics count, everything is beautifully animated and detailed, a little bit lacking on the texture department but that's nothing modding can't fix. Aircraft move properly, going into the cockpit view feels like you can touch the buttons inside, but sadly the game does not allow players to ogle the entire cockpit, which I felt was a a waste of all the detail that went into them.

Ace Combat Assault Horizon also features an awesome sound track that really got me into the action, almost always matching and amplifying the action on screen. Every once in a blue moon though the music got a little bit too relaxed at the wrong time, which was quite odd. I specifically remember when it happened. Flying in for a high speed strafing run on my A-10 Warthog, firing everything when suddenly the soundtrack suddenly mellowed out for a bit! It caught me so off guard that I almost stopped shooting. Speaking of shooting, when firing guns and missiles, you hear the sound of impacts on hulls and the environment around you. All of it was amazing and further immersed me in the steel carnage of Ace Combat Assault Horizon.

 

I don't always lead a pack of F-22's into battle but when I do, I do so in an SU-47.

 

Is it worth getting on the PC?

If you don't mind dealing with Games For Windows Live, Ace Combat Assault Horizon is well worth it. Dogfight mode brings some fresh air into combat flight sims for those looking for a more action packed experience than that of the past. Story's not really the games strong point but, if you enjoy high speed action action and explosions everywhere it is well worth picking up. If you've been looking for a different multiplayer experience, I've not seen very many games in recent days with an aircraft focused multiplayer, especially not ones that mix fighters, bombers and helicopters into the same fight. Multiplayer can get really intense, especially when engaging and evading other fighters in DFM.

 

 

What do you think about Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Enhanced Edition? Let us know by commenting below!

Last modified on Thursday, 28 March 2013 18:54

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