The first thing I discovered about Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy upon starting the game, was that it was developed by Project Aces with involvement from the developer of Deadly Premonition, Access Games.
The other thing I discovered was that, while it’s titled Assault Horizon Legacy, it actually has nothing at all to do with Ace Combat: Assault Horizon on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. From what I understand, Legacy is a remake of Ace Combat 2, which was originally a PlayStation game. You play as “Phoenix,” the leader of a squadron called Scarface, serving the Allied forces.
This was my first Ace Combat game, so I had very little idea of what to expect before I actually played it myself. I used to play old PC flight simulators like Jane’s Combat Simulations when I was a kid, but Ace Combat is a lot more about pew-pew with arcade-y controls and a lot less about managing an entire keyboard, so it didn’t take very long at all for me to get comfortable.
Assault Horizon Legacy is mission-based. You sit through a mission briefing where you’re filled in on your objectives, and you can then choose an aircraft to pilot through the mission, and one of two wingmen who will assist you. At the start of the game, the missions are fairly simple and limited to objectives such as “Take out all targets” or “Destroy the enemy base,” but as you play more and more, they start to get pretty complex.
Mission 7, for example, has you destroying a fleet of enemy aircrafts at night, but they’re being accompanied by stealth crafts that are capable of blocking out your radar. Here, you have to rely on visual sight as your radar is practically useless. Another mission has you trying to intercept enemy supplies before they reach their destination. The supplies are dropped via parachutes from supply crafts, and you have to fly around the map shooting at them with your machine gun before they touch down on the ground. Since you’re used to using your lock-on missiles to take out the majority of your targets by this point, being given incentive to learn how to aim and use your machine gun is fun and feels like a nice change of pace.
Yet another mission requires navigating through a narrow valley to destroy a submarine. A similar mission later on requires you to do the same, except your targets are enemy silos. In both these cases, you’ll have to navigate very carefully, as it’s all too easy to go headfirst into the side of a cliff if you don’t keep your speed under control and make some really sharp turns.
I soon learnt that these aren’t even the harder missions in the game. At one point, you’re asked to take out a fleet of designated targets at an extremely high altitude that your aircraft wasn’t designed to maneuver in. Making sharp turns of any sort causes your engine to stall, sending you spiralling downward until you can pull yourself back in control. Meanwhile, the enemy crafts constantly dance around you like ballerinas, laughing at your clumsy behind, and firing sprays of bullets your way.
The way to succeed at this mission is to keep the enemy on your radar and fly below the clouds, at an altitude low enough where you can maneuver freely. Once you have them in your sights, you’ll need to fly back up to a higher altitude and make your shots count before they fly past you. It sounds easy on paper, but it was one of the hardest missions I played, and it really felt like I was fighting with the yoke of an airplane sometimes. That said, I always appreciated that the game kept throwing different kinds of missions my way, so there was always some sort of twist on how I would fly and fight.
Different kinds of aircrafts are suited to different missions as well. Initially, you may be inclined to stick to a single aircraft, and while this will work for several missions in a row, eventually, you’ll feel the need to change to something else. Additional aircrafts are purchased using money that you earn by completing missions.
Once you’ve got enough cash to indulge in buying three or four different aircrafts and all sorts of individual parts that you can customize them with, you can begin experimenting.
Customization has different effects on your plane’s stats. You can customize your engine, your wings, your weapons, and so on. Different stats like mobility, speed, defense and stability are all influenced by which parts you have equipped, and experimenting with different kinds of load-outs is part of the fun.
Speed, mobility and defense speak for themselves. I believe stability has a bearing on how much manhandling your craft can take before it stalls. Stalling seems to happen primarily from using your brakes too forcefully, whether it’s to slow down or make sharp turns.
Actual flight and combat in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is pretty simple. With default controls, you use the R button as your throttle, the L button as your brake, and steer your aircraft using the analog stick. The B button fires your machine gun, which you have to manually aim by steering your aircraft, while the A button fires missiles that home in on enemies, once you have a lock on them. You can toggle between your primary and secondary missiles (you can select the latter from a variety of options) using the D-Pad. Finally, the X button toggles between nearby targets.
While flying, you can also pull off evasive maneuvers. These are done using the Y button. If an enemy fires a missile at you from behind, a cursor shows you which direction to evade in. You have to swerve in the indicated direction and hold Y to perform a barrel roll that will let you avoid being hit. The Y button is also used to perform attack maneuvers. Once you’re in range of an enemy aircraft, an attack gauge gauge begins to fill, indicating just how optimal a position you can get in, to attack them. Pressing Y at this point makes you do a fancy manuever that puts you behind the enemy and gives you a chance to lock on with your missiles.
Attack maneuvers work well on most common enemies, but the better enemy pilots know how to outfly you. In such cases, it might be a while before you can get a lock on your opponent, and will involve a lot of out-maneuvering attempts on the part of both pilots. The game has certain “ace” pilots who are a real challenge to take down, and in some of these battles, Assault Horizon Legacy made me pull on the analog pad so fiercely, clutching my 3DS for dear life, that my hands started to hurt.
In most missions, you’re allowed to have a wingman accompany you, as well. You can choose from two wingmen: John “Slash” Harvard and Kei “Edge” Nagase. John’s a little older and has a sense of humour, while Kei is younger and a tiny bit of a tsundere (but without the moe, which makes her genuinely cute). You can buy and select aircrafts for them, too.
The 3D effect in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy is subtle while flying through missions, partly because there isn’t a whole lot up in the sky to look at. When you have 3D turned on, the action looks like it’s happening “inside” the screen, and readings like your velocity and altitude are pushed into the screen as well. I still kept the 3D on the entire time, as it makes the game look better to me, as with most 3DS titles.
Food for thought:
1. Once you complete a mission in Story Mode, you can replay it again whenever you want in Challenge Mode.
2. Challenge Mode also lets you play a series of timed Survival missions. You have primary objectives, but the timer starts out low. In order to increase your time, you need to take out certain additional targets.
3. On top of Story Mode missions and Survival missions are Extra missions, also in the Challenge Mode. These are for veterans. That’s a whole lot of missions, so you won’t run out things to do too quickly.
4. After completing a mission (or failing it), you can save a replay of your playthrough. I was excited about this feature at first, but replays aren’t always very exciting to watch, especially when the missions take place in wide open spaces where there’s nothing around you for miles. You can either pick a camera angle, or set the camera to “random,” but either way, the replays don’t usually give you a very good view of the overall action.
5. I’m thankful that my analog pad didn’t break while playing Ace Combat. Some missions are so hectic, you really have to fight with your analog pad to scrape through sharp turns at the very last second, to avoid crashing or being shot down. While this feels great, I was so sure I was going to utterly destroy my 3DS by the end of it all. Thankfully, that never happened.
Note: While one of the screenshots above has Japanese text in it, this playtest was written based on the North American release of the game.