Review by Zietgiest

"A rather uneven entry in one of gamings greatest franchises...."

Ace Combat in many peoples minds is easily one of the most anticipated titles that arrives on our shelves on a fairly routine basis. Although not as popular or as sought out as say COD or GTA but it has always done a fairly good job of delivering on a simple premise: the best air combat "sim" on the market. At the time of writing this that really hasn't changed but that moniker could very well fall into new hands with this latest entry.

The Good:

The attention to detail still remains quite high despite very unrealistic battle conditions, I call AC a "sim" because at face value it is rather realistic in how it operates and plays but delivers well on the promise of nail biting action. Sure you have a nearly unlimited supply of ammo but the handling and tactics are quite similar to real air combat in many ways. As promised the planes are carbon copies of their real life counter-parts, this time around it feels that they are a little more geared towards their respective roles as well. Meaning fighter-bombers and alike aren't set up or perform as well in air to air and fighters aren't suited for air to ground attacks. Something previous entries were a little nebulous with.

There have been some rumblings about the inclusion of near COD style gunship attacks and helicopter battles but I honestly have felt that this series needed these sorts of game mechanics earlier as they are just as much a part of the genre as straight up dog fighting and air to ground missions. I would be lying if I haven't put COD in my console just to play "Death From Above." The move to a less fantasy based environment has also drawn sharp critique but previous entries were no different, just different names for different countries or factions.

Multiplayer returns with some new tricks that will keep people occupied long after the campaign has ended, it appears a little more team based this time around, something that might alienate lone-wolves like myself, but the myriad of modes and new game features still manages to entertain. Sound wise and graphically not too much has improved, but for a game that has always looked good, this one doesn't step backwards.

DFM (dog fighting mode) and ASM (air strike mode) has also drawn a great deal of heat from the public, the latter being a pretty excellent feature and the former being, well, I'll get to that later. All and all there is a great deal to like in this title, but unfortunately there is a great deal not to like as well...

The Bad:

The aforementioned new features bring a lot to the table in terms of gameplay but the actual final product has some issues that could be dealt with moving forward. As mentioned I kind of love ASM as it squarely puts you into the shoes of a weapons officer marking ground targets but DFM, while not a complete mess, spends most of its time working against the flow of the game in general. I'll agree with other critics on a number of points; it really takes you out of the moment of a heated battle when it really doesn't have to, the "on the rails" aspect of it is derivative, and the uneven nature of it's concept does lead to some frustration.

Spending an unequal amount of ordinance while in DFM seems counter productive but when it is the only way to down certain craft it's a feature that can't simply be ignored. In addition it's use is so critical that you spend more time in DFM than just simply flying around and tagging targets for stand off battles. I don't mind having a fast paced and in your face few moments of play, debris raining off a chassis as you pump 40mm rounds into it, but the peal off animation and the quicktime event feel of it just kills the pace of the game in more ways than one. It feels like it is supposed to be cinematic but in the end it just feels cheap. That isn't to say the mode should be scrapped, it just needs to be pruned to the point where it becomes less of a feature but more of a goal.

The Ugly:

While AC has always been and felt like an experience more than a game, this entry in the series doesn't fall a bit flat on that note. Finishing off a primary target suddenly makes everyone else you've been fighting simply vanish, something that has happened in prior entries but this one seems to really push that point out front. Swarms of incoming fighters suddenly appearing hundreds of feet off your nose begs to ask the question; can't they spawn a little farther out just to give the illusion that they are joining the battle from elsewhere? I don't feel this is nit-picky but just common sense in game design.

MP while fun also seems wildly uneven on launch for some reason, maybe I haven't spent enough time leveling up but the competition is pretty fierce right out of the gate on this one, something I haven't encountered in the past.

And I'm not one to complain about this normally, but the campaign seems a little too hard on even the easiest settings. That isn't a huge issue but I would assume it would turn off a few less seasoned players to the title and persuade a few vets not to bother with completing the campaign on all difficulties. I know there have been more than one occasion where I've been killed or lost a mission multiple times for what seemed like cheap or unreasonable conditions, something the series in the past has always been particularly good at.

Closing:

AC:AH isn't perfect by a mile and a half but it is still worth picking up if you've enjoyed the previous entries in the series, new comers might find the game to be an excellent fighter sim and wonder what the fuss is about as well. Despite it's short-comings I will probably hold onto it and get my moneys worth out of it, hoping that the next one will knock it out of the park like others in the past.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 10/17/11

Game Release: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (US, 10/11/11)


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