Great use of 3D, perfectly paced for portability, addictive customization
Bland story and limited mission design
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy is not an amazing game; it is simply a fun, well made title that will keep fans happy and probably appeal to a few others who are looking for things to play outside of Nintendo’s major releases. This might sound like a rather ho-hum statement, but games like this is exactly what 3DS needs– quality third party products that fill in for underrepresented genres and can entertain gamers without having to be a Nintendo product.
Considering the fact that the Ace Combat series has only shown up on a Nintendo platform once before, a top-down GBA shooter completely unlike the rest of the games, some of you might want a quick crash course on what the game is all about. Assault Horizon Legacy is a jet fighter combat sim that leans a bit more toward the arcade side of things while still maintaining a roster of real planes and a few nods to actual physics. The end result is an enjoyable balance of mechanics that has made the series a continued success and pretty much the yardstick by which all other fighter sims are measured. Assault Horizon Legacy might have to take a step back from its major, home console predecessors for the sake of hardware restraints, but it still mostly delivers on what the series has always promised.
The single player campaign has always been the heart of the series, often intermixing oddly dramatic stories with the core gameplay to varied effect. While this portable take on the franchise embraces the core gameplay just fine, it forgoes unnecessary dramatics for a simple tale of a made up country having to defend against attacking rebels. The characters are simply talking heads during briefings and missions that have just enough depth to offer the occasional amusing aside of exchange. For the most part though, the game focuses on just setting up the mission as quickly as possible to allow you to take to the air that much quicker.
Once you get in your plane it doesn’t take too long to get into rhythm with what Assault Horizon Legacy has to offer. Missions rarely get overly bombastic, often focusing on simple dogfights, bombing runs, objectives to defend, and various mixes of these elements. In an era where massive set pieces usually define a game, this simplistic approach might seem a little outdated, but it actually works for the better. Each level plays out quickly and clearly, never growing too long from unnecessary complexity and always maintaining a pace and flow that works extremely well for a portable game. If you are the kind of person with a half an hour commute or just occasionally have ten minutes to kill, Assault Horizon Legacy will work incredibly well as a way to pass time as you blaze through a mission or two.
The core flying mechanics also go a long way to making the experience enjoyable. Steering your jet and locking on to enemies works as expected, but the extra emphasis on maneuverability is the game’s major success. Slamming on the brakes and boost simultaneously while pulling in any direction results in rapid changes of direction that can turn the tables in a dogfight or send you plummeting to Earth as the sudden drop in speed stalls your plane. Also adding to the fun are special maneuvers pulled off with the Y button; evasive rolls can be used to evade incoming missiles, but the real fun comes from waiting for the meter in the bottom right corner of the screen to fill up. As you draw a bead on your target, the meter will eventually reach capacity and with a single press of Y you will be launched into a daring and cinematic maneuver that places you directly on your foe’s six and draws the camera in closer, giving you a perfect shot with your guns or more than enough time to lock on with a missile. At first these tactics might seem easy, but they are absolutely necessary when combating enemy aces, more fun than standard dog fighting, and reward you with more points.
Speaking of points, they are what will really keep you playing the game. The campaign offers branching paths and is decently long, but the real appeal for progressing and replaying earlier levels comes from the points you earn. These points level you and your planes up, unlocking new planes, parts, paint jobs, and special missiles and bombs. While this aspect of the game might not appeal to everybody, but rather to rabid fans of collecting and customizing, this is what makes the game worth it. The story might be bland and the challenge might be a bit on the easy side, but some of you might find all the enjoyment you need out of tricking out an F-14 or tweaking your planes to create the best war machine for bombing sorties.
Topping the game off is a very solid, if not somewhat above average aesthetics package. The soundtrack and effects are about what you would expect from a game made in the vein of Top Gun, but I have to give Namco credit for adding passable voice acting for all dialogue throughout the entire game. The visuals definitely fare better thanks to great use of 3D. Texture work is a little underwhelming for both the world and vehicles, which are actually very well animated, but the way in which it all comes together is what earns the game my praise. I personally believe 3D really proves its worth in big, open environments and few environments are bigger than the sweeping landscapes and unlimited ceiling Assault Horizon Legacy has to offer. Once you start diving between mountains and chasing down bogeys, you will be very glad you are playing this game on 3DS.
Add everything together and you have a perfectly enjoyable game in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy. You can ding the game for its uninteresting story and relatively simple mission design, but the game works incredibly well as a portable distraction, makes great use of 3D, and offers plenty of unlockables and customization to ensnare the obsessive gamer. Sure, all the other elements might be merely mediocre, but the pluses ultimately exceed the minuses so one can’t help but walk away from this game with positive feelings.