Ace Combat has been doing fighty flight sims for a while now, and for a genre that's so limited in its form, it's done a great job of keeping it fresh. Assault Horizon tries still more new things to keep the elusive lettuce of gameplay crisp - with mixed results.
The good bit is Dogfight Mode. While normal planes can be taken down by getting behind them and training your infinite-ammo machine gun and homing missiles on their tender wing flaps, group leaders will casually shake off basic assaults, forcing you into a more personal battle. Get close and tap both shoulder buttons and you'll slip into an intense close-combat pursuit mode.
Keep them central, and you'll build a lock to fire a short-range missile. Get closer and the lock builds more quickly but you open yourself up to counter-manoeuvres. When someone locks onto you, the trick is to slow down, let them enter that dangerous too-close area, then flip off a loop and put yourself in prime machine-gunning position.
These moments take you flying lower through valleys and exploding factories. The satisfying AI makes it feel like you're throttling a soapy cobra and it's more satisfying playing against friends. Squirming out of their tracking circle and counter-manoeuvring, there will be moments where you realise you've been holding your breath.
The problem is the pacing of the game. Missions are too long and repetitive, which causes the drama of the dogfight mode to wear out. The problem is worse in helicopter missions, where the strategy of the dogfight mode is replaced by panic rolls when missiles are close and some rude checkpointing.
Missions where you're door-gunning are worse again. In an FPS, they're a change of pace and a welcome break from bullet-filled corridors. In Ace Combat, trading the open sky for an on-rails point-and-shoot has exactly the opposite effect. Judged on the planes alone, Assault Horizon is a fine fighter with a great gimmick, but it's weighed down with too many less well-developed ideas.
Rocket-fuelled with too much extra baggage
- Close-combat DFM works really well
- Plenty of planes
- Patience-testing missions
- Helicopter missions lack nuance
- Door-gunning is dull