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Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy - 3DS Review

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Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy

3DS | NAMCO BANDAI Games | 1 Player | Out Now 
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26th January 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

If I were to ask you to name off five 3DS titles that truly capture a feeling of immersion, would you have trouble? How would you do if I then said you can only reference third-party titles? Based on my own experience with this little test, I get the feeling most would be hard-pressed to come up with five different games. The fact is we've had a recent string of merely decent releases that aren't exactly proving the 3DS' sustainability in the market. Some titles have managed to get away with it in the name of solid gameplay, but not all developers seem to be on the same page as Nintendo and their vision of having deeper, immersive experiences. However, one title that is on the brink of fully realizing just what Nintendo has been gunning for is Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy. Simulation titles haven't exactly had the greatest success on 3DS at this stage in the game, but fans of this genre of gaming would do well to consider picking up NAMCO BANDAI's aerial combat title.

    In this game, you lead the Scarface Squadron on a campaign to neutralize the Rebel Forces who stand opposed to the Allied Forces. Overseen by an experienced military Commander who goes by the name of Keynote, an amateur pilot shouldn't have to worry about going it out on their own. Before the start of a mission, Keynote will prepare you by providing intel on the enemy force as well as the type of assault needed for a specific environment, whether aerial- or ground-focused in nature. The game's Story Mode is spread out across more than 20 missions. The first few will be simple sneak attacks, but by Mission 4, you'll get to fly with one of two allies -- Slash or Edge -- each with their own style of support. You can decide to forego the teammate if you really want, but if you do end up enlisting their help, you'll incur a slight cost at the end of the mission. Other objectives include stopping cargo from parachuting down to ground forces, passing through multiple lines of defense to destroy a command HQ, uncovering hidden technology inside silos, and even stopping a giant missile from destroying a city to bits. 

    Throughout the game, you'll be piloting all sorts of different jet fighters that can be unlocked for purchase and later customized to your liking. Playing through the adventure, traditional parts as well as bombs and missiles will become available, affecting the kind of approach you take in a mission. Some of these parts have special functions, like Autopilot (which will reduce the success ratio of crashes at low altitudes). Slowly but surely, you can also gain experience points to improve your overall rank.

Getting to the controls now, the entire system works really well. The Circle Pad definitely allows for great control of each of the fighter planes, with the L and R Buttons allowing for on-the-dime maneuvers between speeding up, slowing down, or using both to perform sharp turns. It works really well, much like Star Fox 64 3D's controls. Not only does this become crucial for executing advanced techniques, but even when flying low to the ground to destroy tankers and other vehicles, you can pull yourself up from a nosedive rather realistically. Pressing the A Button will fire your standard weapon, but if you actually hold the button for a second or two, you can actually change the camera to the viewpoint of the missile to see where it lands. Of course, you can't really take advantage of this that often since things move so fast and you can't afford to leave yourself open to attack like that.

    As for the layout of everything, all data pertaining to your speed, altitude and incoming missiles is displayed on the top screen with a pretty easy-to-follow setup. Players will need to keep an eye on the vertical bar along the left as it rises to the top with each throttle boost, and sinks when using High-G turns. Altitude you're at will affect how low and how quickly this bar will sink before you lose a bit of control and have to stall the plane. In terms of cursors, enemies that appear on-screen in the distance will immediately have a green square around them. As they get closer and closer, you'll have to line up multiple lock-on cursors with yellow meaning you have a simple lock-on while red is more of having an enemy directly in your sights. There are also standard W and O cursors as part of the cockpit HUD, and if you manage to line all three of these up, your missile or bomb will be that much more likely to actually collide with your opponent. When coming up against multiple targets, you can even press the X Button to adjust the lock-on mechanism so you can tail someone else more effectively.

    The HUD on the Touch Screen focuses on the radar, the time limit and scoring, as well as a few indicators for damage and your ammo supply. The game takes a stab at being intuitive by allowing for more precise long-range shots by allowing you to tap on the screen and pull up a green crosshair. But because this can put players off in preparing for quick evasive maneuvers, I often found this didn't really serve a noteworthy purpose. It'll leave you a tad vulnerable in the game and slightly awkward outside the game, so based on that, it's best just to leave it where it is.

After successfully clearing a mission, you're given the ability to watch a replay of your run and the game even has a not-so-obvious feature that allows you to save up to 15 of these onto your SD Card. I enjoyed seeing the different camera angles they gave you like the tracking view, as well as the simplified replays on the Result screen where aircrafts would be represented as arrows in a grid space. One thing I didn't like was the way how even after receiving a final message from the command center at the end of the mission, you wouldn't get sent back to the menus quickly. Sometimes it would take a while for it to play out, which created the possibility of failing by crashing into something even though you technically beat the mission. It's a pretty minor thing, though.

    Looking down at some of the environments where you do battle from up above, they do feel underwhelming at times, but this is a feeling you easily brush off as you move past the early missions and make your way to the more challenging batch of levels. Snowy mountains, islands, and cities are just some of the new locations that switch things up, and the presentation in general from here on out is pretty good. Usually you'll be given free rein in open environments except for Mission 13 where you're flying through a narrow ravine at low altitude.

    I did encounter some hard-to-miss framerate dips during the Dryman escort mission, but thankfully I didn't happen to notice these reductions in other missions. 3D doesn't do a whole lot for the visuals or even the vastness of the battlefields, so you wouldn't be missing out on anything if you chose to play the game strictly in standard mode. But the effect is kind of like what Ubisoft was going for in Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, and although it is pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, it does add something.

Continuing on the subject of good production values, I was really impressed with the game's music! The entire soundtrack totally sounds like it is trying to make Ace Combat feel more like an epic movie than a game, which is wonderful. Also worth noting is the voice acting in this game which is carried through till the very end. None of the voice clips made me cringe, so that was a good sign as I went along.

    Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy is challenging from time to time, but because of the realistic AI, downing enemies feels satisfying through and through. Harder difficulties require you to act much more swiftly with openings become less frequent. Whatever difficulty setting you choose to play on, very close combat will always ensue, and there are many times where you'll catch yourself saying "Come onnnnnn..." as you try to score a hit on an elusive enemy. In keeping with this tailored difficulty, there are a few instances where you'll encounter a surprise boss fight. They're usually tough and quite intense, but boy are they fun! I always found boss battles to be thrilling, which, at least from my experiences, is another early "first" for the 3DS that the developers can feel proud of.

    Anyone who typically enjoys flight simulators like I do will find Ace Combat to be very addicting. The game may be slow to pick up at first, but with the controls allowing for such fast reaction time, the gameplay feels very solid. I must confess there was one mission in particular that really bugged me. Mission 22 has you attacking a submarine in a very brief fight sequence, but once this is over, a giant missile (referenced earlier) is launched. Because of how fast the thing moves and the way you're required to cut it off for a small window of opportunity, the whole thing just feels so cheap! Other than that, I honestly enjoyed nearly every moment I had with this game. This wasn't one of those games where I felt frustrated and lost motivation to continue playing, although that's a thought that could have easily crossed my mind given the difficulty. Instead, it quickly becomes one of those games where having a grip on the side of the 3DS would prove invaluable because of how into the game you can get.

The main campaign lasted me about six hours which is a fairly good length I think. Story Mode does have a few breaking points where you can only select one of two missions on the first run, thereby encouraging you to go through the campaign once more for the second option. So with that, plus the range in difficulty settings (which, incidentally, does impact the gameplay), there is some replayability to be had there. Under Challenge Mode, you can replay missions you've already encountered, or participate in either Survival or Extra Missions that you unlock as the campaign takes its course. Some of these didn't provide enough reason to visit these areas of the game (would you have interest in defeating 100 fighter plans in 20 minutes?), but aside from that, you will feel that this is something you can continue playing and putting time into even after you've seen the main mode to completion. 

    Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy easily makes its way to the top of the 3DS food chain as one of the few third-party titles out for the system that really delivers. A few minor concerns aside, while the game doesn't knock it out of the park, it's still a strong title that you would do well to pick up at any price.

26/30 - Very Good

Gameplay 9/10 - Controls really well, can pull off advanced moves with ease, great layout of the two screens, gameplay can be intense, different missions
Presentation 8/10 - Locations look pretty good for the most part, really good movie-like soundtrack, 3D adds a bit to the experience, framerate dips
Enjoyment 5/5 - Challenging yet very satisfying aerial battles, boss battles are thrilling, feel motivated to keep playing, an immersive experience
Extra Content 4/5 - Ranks to strive after, some branches in the Story Mode, additional settings add difficulty in a way that's satisfying, extra missions

Equivalent to a score of 87% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy
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