A turbulent flight
My tastes may trend toward anime-infused RPGs, but whether it’s the space duels in Star Fox on the N64, the legendary humans-vs.-Kilrathi matchups in Wing Commander on the PC, or the cartoony jet action of Airforce Delta Strike on the PS2, I’ve always loved a good dogfight. And I’ve certainly enjoyed the Ace Combat series in the past—Namco Bandai’s formerly distinctively Japanese dogfighter that’s now taking a more realistic, Western-inspired bent along the lines of Call of Duty. This incarnation also offers a decent amount of variety, with choppers and gunships added to the mix along with jet fighters.
And I’ll be honest—I approached this change with a bit of trepidation. For me, one of the most depressing things about September’s Tokyo Game Show was the apparent trend of Japanese developers seemingly “selling out” to the American and European markets, abandoning their traditional art and design philosophies in an effort to snag the Modern Warfare and World of Warcraft player. Assault Horizon’s development openly embraced this trend, with American author Jim DeFelice penning the narrative—which definitely feels like standard-issue Western military storytelling. At the same time, Assault Horizon should absolutely be commended for actually featuring female pilots in a way that doesn’t feel like pandering.
But Assault Horizon’s main problem isn’t with its overly serious faux-Western design or laughably absurd Tom Clancy–esque plot—what exactly are Russians and Americans doing fighting in the middle of Africa, anyway?—it’s that its mission objectives just aren’t very fun. In most cases, you’ll simply face wave after wave of enemies, with each battle taking about 15 minutes longer than it needs to. In other cases, you’ll wish you had more time, including a ridiculous scenario in which you must discover a group of mortars on the ground within a minute or so in real time—fail, and you’ve got to start over. And on three occasions, I had to restart after completing an objective because the game automatically flew me out of the combat zone—disqualifying me for going out of bounds—after a cutscene.
The chopper and gunship scenarios definitely help change the pace and, but they, too, fall prey to the same design flaws as the jetfighter sections. Thankfully, the game does offer ample checkpoints, but the problem is that in order to succeed in some cases, you’ve got to die several horrible, flaming deaths first—some missions are actively designed for you to fail until you figure out what you’re actually supposed to be doing. I’m all for trial-and-error gameplay in certain cases, but there’s a difference between letting the player figure things out and actively pulling the wool over their eyes.
That’s a shame, because Assault Horizon always looks amazing, whether you’re flying over a football stadium in Miami or buzzing the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Still, there’s that definite sense of satisfaction when you track down an enemy MiG, lock on, and unleash a missile right into its engine—in Assault Horizon’s case, though, it just doesn’t happen often enough to make the countless frustrations worthwhile.
SUMMARY: Assault Horizon’s main problem isn’t its overly serious faux-Western design or laughably absurd Tom Clancy–esque plot, it’s that the mission objectives just aren’t very fun.
- THE GOOD: Diverse selection of vehicles and missions
- THE BAD: Mission objectives feel more like chores than fun
- THE UGLY: Evil Russians again? Really?