They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but what about videogames? When Namco Bandai sent me a copy of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy for the Nintendo 3DS, I took one look at the cover art and shuddered. The title treatment was bland and faded into the art, which wasn't exactly eye-catching itself. So it was with great trepidation that I popped the cartridge into my 3DS and began to play.
So did this turn out to be a game as bad as its cover? Or another case of a good game being saddled with crappy packaging?
The concept behind Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy is pretty much the same as any other game in the Ace Combat series... or any flight combat game, for that matter. You're a pilot, you're given a series of missions to complete, and ultimately you save the universe/world/whatever. It's all overly macho, with your character, Phoenix, leading what's called "Scarface Squadron," but not annoyingly so. In fact, I found the macho posturing kind of amusing in its ridiculousness.
Graphics are a treat. There are quite a few planes to choose from, and they're all rendered very realistically. The environments are limited, but look great. At least, from above. Fly too close to the ground, and the city reveals its two-dimensionality. But that's only an issue in the missions that have you flying low to hit ground targets. From above, everything looks very impressive. You can switch to an in-cockpit view, but I found I preferred to see my entire plane during combat. And the 3D is terrific. These kind of flying and racing games where you propel yourself into the screen really shows off what the 3DS does well, which is create a realistic sense of depth.
Sound is a mixed bag. The macho posturing lends a fun cheesiness to the voice work, and the sound effects are fine, but the music is really schizophrenic. One mission you'll be shooting targets to some inspirational classical tune, and the next, to a completely bizarre hip hop number. It's very weird.
Namco Bandai wisely didn't opt to use the 3DS gyro as part of the control scheme, so flying is pretty straightforward. You've got a button for your machine guns, one for missiles, and another for your special move. See, they added a little tweak to the gameplay that some purists might cry foul at, but I appreciated, not being very good at flight combat games. Basically, when an opponent is on your tail, a meter fills up in the corner of your screen, and once it's full, you press a button to activate it and you basically do a loop-the-loop and swoop around behind the enemy, giving you a quick chance to lock on and fire on him for a change. Since I often lose sight of my opponents in games like these, this was a godsend. For expert flyers, there's not actually an option to turn it off, but I guess you don't have to activate it once the meter fills up if you want to do things yourself...
There's a straightforward mission tree with over two dozen missions to choose from (a couple branching pathways gives you options of which you'd prefer to take, but you have to replay the story mode to try the others), and three difficulty levels to choose from. Once you've played a mission in Story Mode, you can replay it as a Free Mission in Challenge Mode to better your score. Also in Challenge Mode are Survival Missions where you are given a specific task and they add a time limit to raise the difficulty level a bit. And for the truly dedicated, you can also try Extra Missions. And completing missions and challenges unlocks more planes and parts that allow you to customize your aircraft to your liking. So there's some variety of gameplay to keep you busy, but it's strictly a single-player game, unfortunately.
I have to say that not being a fan of the genre, I wasn't entirely enthused to play Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy, but was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed the experience. The graphics are quite impressive, and the 3D effect makes the flying that much more immersive. With all the high-profile 3DS games being released for the holiday season, it would be a shame if a solid title like this got lost in the shuffle. If you're a fan of this genre, definitely check it out!