Ace Combat gives you wings
Taking a page from Top Gun's book but adding a distinct 21st Century chapter to it, the latest entry in Namco Bandai's Ace Combat series sees the franchise flying out of its earlier fictonal locations and into the real world, guns blazing. The single-player story mode casts you as Lt Col William Bishop, ace pilot and leader of the Warwolf Squadron, caught up in a surprisingly engaging tale of hidden super weapons and international insurgencies.
The core of any Ace Combat game is always the aerial combat though, and while earlier entries had you shooting down enemy jets presented as dots in the distance, Assault Horizon brings a much needed update to the system. A new Close Range Assault System - essentially a loose lock on - brings you in for the kill shot, tailing targets from behind and trying to match their moves before sending them plummeting to their doom with an assortment of weaponry. Combined with easy-to-understand controls that see you soaring through the sky like a pro, the CRAS makes the game fantastically immersive.
Assault Horizon makes helicopters playable for the first time, bringing you closer to the cities you'll be defending. Generally used to take out ground-level threats, the choppers are slower but more manoeuvrable than the all-powerful jets, giving a very different gameplay experience. Occasional missions with stealth bombers add further variety.
It's in multiplayer where the game comes alive though, particularly the 8-on-8 Conquest mode. With players on each team able to control either jets or copters, matches become frantic duels to the death, with true skill coming in how best to utilise each vehicle's specific strengths and weaknesses.
Some of the changes may annoy Ace Combat purists, but they massively expand the scope and appeal of the game. It's not hyperbole to call Assault Horizon an airborne Call of Duty, with all the connotations that appellation brings.