Review by dancer62

"Aces high"

It's another Ace Combat game, this time on a Nintendo system rather than Sony, and actually it becomes a good argument in favor of buying a 3DS. The last Nintendo Ace Combat was on the GBA, and was a two-dimensional overhead view game incorporating Ace Combat elements. Assault Horizon Legacy is a full-fledged Ace Combat game, three-dimensional air combat maneuvering and all. Legacy is a remake of Ace Combat 2, with enhancements drawn from the most recent AC portable game, AC: Joint Assault as well as from the Wii Aces game, Sky Crawlers. It's another addictive yank-and-bank-fest, with wide-open skies and spectacular explosions.

First impressions are favorable, the menu scheme is self-explanatory, and, although the dual screen is a bit disconcerting at first to an AC veteran, it quickly becomes a useful part of the game. The control scheme carries over from the PSP Ace Combat games, joystick nub for the fighter stick, and the gun and missile buttons in the customary places. Changing weapons and radar range ends up on the Dpad, which does not require a huge adjustment of muscle memory developed on other AC games. An addition to the controls is the "action" button from Sky Crawlers, tailing an enemy fills your action gauge, when full, pressing the action button sends your plane through wifferdills that place you on his six for a zero deflection shot, often an instant kill. BTW, you can earn a special medal for completing all missions without using the action button.

How does the stereoscopic 3d work? From my experimentation, I guess it works about as well, or poorly, as any other 3DS game. I'm not a fan of the parallax 3d screen of the 3DS, and leave that feature turned off. It is fun to mess with while watching replays, but I find it distracting in gameplay. Stereoscopic effects aside, the screen is sharp and bright, and the game looks good. The planes seem shinier than in the PSP games, the textures are pretty similar, and there are more 3d ground objects than in Joint Assault. Transparency effects of flying through rain and mist are well done and add to the feeling of flight. The graphics are pleasant and attractive. Like the PSP games, the HUD and targeting carats sometimes become washed out and difficult to see against the sky. There are no real-world landmarks, but I really appreciate the level of detail, for example, in the port city of Anchorhead, with lots of skyscrapers, bridges, and piers.

The audio is good, music is typical Ace Combat, I find myself humming the music after playing. Sound effects are appropriate, shells whistling past your canopy when you're being shot at, missiles leaving the rails, the whine of your gatling cannon or the thumping of your machineguns, explosions when your enemy goes down in flames. There is a jukebox for just listening to the music tracks.

Combat records are accessed through the mission menus, rather than from the data viewer, which makes it a bit more difficult to keep track of your statistics.

The gameplay, of course, is the thing that makes or breaks a game. AC:AHL takes us back to the world of Strangereal, after our brief sojourn on Planet Earth in AC: Joint Assault. There are few cutscenes, and little real story, just a series of missions against the Rebel Alliance.. no, that's Star Wars.. just the rebels. The rebels are remarkably well financed, with a well-equipped army, air force, and navy, giving us lots to destroy from above. There are no flying fortresses, I'll say that again, no monstrous flying wings the size of an ocean liner. No shockwave weapons (on either side, I really enjoy completing missions instantly in ACX by launching a tactical nuke). There are a couple of obligatory tunnel runs, a couple of flights down twisting ravines, but the more frustrating missions of Ace Combat fame were left out of this one. There are interdiction missions, rescue missions, escort missions, ground attack and naval attack missions, a chase-the-cruise-missile mission, and strongholds to attack. In most missions you can choose a wingman, who is actually useful in taking out targets and watching your back. There are no real tear-your-hair-out-in-frustration missions in the main campaign, but a couple of the extra missions approach that.

That's right, in addition to the main campaign, there are four difficult Extra missions, and six brutal Survival missions. The Extra missions take elements of some of the campaign missions, and crank the difficulty up to eleven. The Survival missions mirror some of the campaign missions, but give you limited time, limited munitions, limited aircraft durability, and make you earn extra time, "health", and ammunition by shooting additional targets. The survival missions are a frantic scramble against the clock to try to keep ahead of the "Mission Failed" banner.

For the aviation buff, there are planes, and more planes! 28 planes altogether. Most planes are real-world fighters or prototypes, from the F-4 to the YF-35, with a couple of imaginary planes thrown in, the ADF-01 Falken with its Tactical Laser weapon, and the superbly maneuverable XFA-27 Apalis. The WWII F6F Hellcat and A6M Zero return from their previous appearance in Joint Assault. Another feature from Joint Assault is the ability to customize all the planes, not just the fantasy planes, so you can tune armor, engine power, HUD software, and flight surfaces for a balance of speed, maneuverability, defense, and offense. Fans of the Yukikaze anime will appreciate the Apalis, it looks futuristic enough to be a FAF fighter.

A note for those who point out that it's unrealistic for a plane to carry 80 or 90 missiles or bombs: in most missions you are performing the actions of an entire air wing, CAP, Wild Weasel, Strike, so it makes sense that you are equipped as a wing of planes rather than as a single plane. It's more fun that way: you don't have to wait for the Weasels to take out the radars and SAMs, you ARE the Weasels; you don't have to loiter flying top cover for the mud-movers, you get to do the strikes, AND the air-to-air!

So, a variety of missions, in attractive surroundings, challenging without being unnecessarily brutal, with a variety of planes to fly, tune, and test, and unlockables including planes, parts, weapons, and medals. A campaign can be completed in 3 hours or so, it will take several runthroughs to unlock everything, and unlocks are not as well documented as in previous games, some of them seem more random. In general, completing missions with a particular airplane will unlock colors and weapons for that airplane, ranking up through experience points by completing missions will unlock planes, destroying special named targets unlocks parts. At 65 hours of gameplay, I need to S-rank a few more missions to earn the one medal I need for 100% completion.

AC:AHL takes Ace Combat 2, retains the story and most of the missions, adds customization of planes, adds graphics, adds "action" button maneuvering, enhances some missions, and makes some missions a bit easier. It's an interesting mix of the PS1 game and features from the latest PSP and Wii Ace Combat games. Takeoffs, landings, and aerial refueling didn't make it into this game, which is a little disappointing because my best replays are usually my landings. And the story is abbreviated, if I had only played this game, I would wonder if I was fighting on the right side because the rebel viewpoint seems attractive, but reviewing information about Ace Combat 2 makes it clear that this was a military coup hijacking the legitimate government, not a popular revolution against tyranny.

So, is this a great game, or what? Yes, it's a great game, and a good reason to buy a 3DS. It's a nice blend of classic and evolved Ace Combat, with attractive graphics, addictive gameplay, and a host of unlockables, good for tens of hours of gameplay. If you're an Ace Combat fan, or an aviation buff, or like exciting action games, or ever wanted to star in a movie like "Top Gun", this is a must.

Pro: Attractive graphics
Addictive gameplay
Nicely gauged difficulty

Con: Weak story (but you can fill in the gaps with a little online research)

Score: 9/10, an outstanding game


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/10/12

Game Release: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy (US, 11/15/11)


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