Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Project Aces
It’s no secret that I enjoyed the newest Ace Combat on home consoles quite a bit, as it was a pretty fresh departure from what the Ace Combat series has been for the past few years. So it seems a little odd that this game, releasing just weeks afterwards, tends to go right back to the well. I think the experience is geared towards a handheld platform, with missions that are just the right length and difficulty for portable gaming. But coming off of Assault Horizon, I’m left wondering why Namco Bandai is so eager to go old-school again.
While this game is a remake of Ace Combat 2, I don’t think you need any working knowledge of the original to gain an appreciation of Assault Horizon Legacy. I couldn’t tell you much about Ace Combat 2 at all; it’s been a long time since I laid hands on a PS1 Ace Combat. But the 3DS version isn’t a bare bones port of some sort, and it’s certainly a better looking game than the original it’s molded after. It’s more in tune with the PSP Ace Combat titles, with sharp looking jets and slightly muddy ground textures. It’s not astonishing by any means, but works well enough. The 3D effect isn’t super noticeable when flying around in a 3rd person view, but if you go for the optional cockpit look you’ll get better use out of the effect.
The game is divided up into 23 missions that tell the tale of Scarface Squadron. You’ll be playing the role of ace pilot for the squadron, and take your marching orders from a singular talking head. On occasion you can opt to take a partner out on a mission with you, but there are only two choices and the difference between them seems to be pretty negligible. The game’s strength certainly isn’t in its plot or characters, but that tends to be the case for most Ace Combat titles.
The actual dogfighting is at least decent, and overall I enjoyed playing through the story missions. The game incorporates a style of aerial combat that’s pretty similar to another Project Aces title, The Sky Crawlers, which debuted on the Wii a year or so ago. In Assault Horizon Legacy you’ll switch between a couple optional missiles and machine gun fire, with the ability to lock on to targets when you draw close, or lock on via the touch screen. If you manage to fly close enough to an enemy pilot you’ll fill a meter which allows you to perform an instant maneuver to get behind the enemy. This works almost without exception on every run of the mill enemy you encounter, but if you try to go toe to toe with another ace pilot, it won’t always guarantee a hit.
Besides your offensive capabilities you can dodge incoming missiles when prompted by pressing the Ybutton. The bottom screen will display an alert, and when it begins to flash red you’ll need to be ready with a quick button press. At the same time you hit Y you also need to tilt the slide pad left or right to dodge the oncoming missile. My only complaint about this system is that it becomes pretty damn easy to dodge any kind of significant threat in the game. Overall you’ll find the game to be pretty easy anyways, but even ace pilots won’t land a hit on you once you become accustomed to the dodge system. And random fire, either from AA ground weapons or machine gun fire from other planes is pretty much a non-threat throughout.
And really, that’s almost the game’s biggest pratfall, is that it’s too easy. There’s a whole lot of stuff to unlock, what with various jets, parts for those jets, and so on, but it’s rare that you even need to switch between them. The only time I failed a mission is when I was required to out race an enemy missile before it hit a city, and that was because my current jet was too slow. By that time I had accumulated enough unspent money that I had no issue buying the fastest jet available and breezed through that mission without breaking a sweat. It’s a bit of a change from some of the other Ace Combat titles I’ve played in the past, as I never found the other portable titles on PSP to be such a cakewalk.
Another aspect I was slightly disappointed in was the lack of gyroscope controls. This seems like a perfect game to use the feature, and it actually worked really well in Starfox, which is about as similar as you can get to Ace Combat on the system. It seems like a natural fit, but outside of the touch screen targeting which is largely unnecessary, the game does little to make use of some of the hardware features. And again, the 3D looks pretty good in cockpit mode, but if you opt to fly around in the default view it’s kind of underwhelming. I also felt like the game lacked a real sense of speed, as I never really felt like I was hurtling through the air like I do in other Ace Combat titles. Finally, the framerate isn’t always consistent, as some of the final missions managed to make the on-screen action crawl across my screen.
Overall this isn’t the best Ace Combat experience, but it’s a passable bit of portable fun. I’ve enjoyed the Ace Combat games on PSP a little more, but if you’re a 3DS owner looking for a dogfighting fix, this is just about all you’ve got to look forward to. There is a lot of content to uncover; it just doesn’t take much effort, outside of time, to see it all. The challenge missions that are optional and unlocked by completing story missions are a little tougher, but not by much. I think you’d be ok with skipping over this particular release, unless you’re really jonesing for some portable jet fighter action.