There’s no denying that Modern Warfare has, for better or for worse, significantly changed the gaming industry and more specifically, the games being produced. Its influence was seen quickly, with many games forged in its shadow, trying to get their own day in the sun. Ace Combat is the next title to go down this route, borrowing similar aspects both stylistically and thematically but in the process Event Horizon has become arguably the best entry in the long running franchise.
Unlike previous titles, Namco have decided to base their next story-driven opus in the real world, marrying this to the already near nerd like affection afforded to the real world planes and aerial craft seen previously. Whilst recent titles have tried to become more realistic and complicated, Event Horizon is in comparison a simplified experience with the sole intention to deliver as much in-your-face carnage and excitement as possible.
The biggest way in which this is accomplished is in DFM, or Dog Fight Mode. Get close enough to your target and a quick button press will initiate DFM. What this essentially does is puts you on autopilot, chasing the plane in front, trying to target them with your cannon and missiles, whilst they try to wrangle out of your grip and get away. It’s fast and frantic and it looks great. Letting you see all the detail as glass, metal and blood-like oil strip off the opposing plane and all over your screen. It’s in this mode that scripted events occur, whether to drive the story forward or just for plain eye candy. From time to time you’ll be lead into tight spots such as weaving in between skyscrapers and other buildings, the bogey in front frantically trying to escape.
Only certain planes will activate such sequences; they are impossible to kill using conventional methods, meaning DFM must be used on them. Whilst they are pounded by missile after missile, shrapnel flying off and fires raging all over their wings, it becomes abundantly clear that they simply will not be destroyed until the intended event has occurred. Contrived and sneaky it may be, but it doesn’t happen that often and so when it does occur the brief bending of the rules is worth it. Furthermore, enemy craft can also engage DFM on you, but luckily a counter manoeuvre is available which sees your plane air brake to a near stop, allowing the plane targeting you to fly past you, thus becoming your prey. It’s completely over the top, but it is such a neat looking move that you just go with it.
Whilst the fighter jet air superiority battles are the bread and butter of the experience, there is actually a fair bit of variation in the story to keep the experience as fresh as possible. Though the first mission consists of the aforementioned air combat, before long you’ll taking charge of an Apache Longbow attack helicopter. Essentially it’s Desert Strike for the new age, which is fine by me. As you might expect, the gameplay is drastically different but remains just as fun and visceral, but your mileage may vary. The helicopter missions do seem to be overly long, but as there are only two of them, and the fact that they are spread far apart, means that they felt like they took place at the right time. In addition, expect to carry out bombing missions, stealth missions, short but surprisingly fun turret sequences and even the by-now compulsory AC130 mission.
One of the bullet points noted on the back of the box is that the story is written by New York Times best selling military author Jim Defelice, yet despite this the story is shallow and predictable. Make no mistake though, this is all it needs to be. The entire game feels like a Michael Bay summer blockbuster, and so the story is merely there to justify the next crazy gameplay sequence served up to you. I’ll save the details for you to enjoy, but suffice to say it involves conspiracies, plot twists and a bucket load of glorious, glorious cheese. You’ve got the brave leading man, the wisecracking best friend, the sexy female pilot and other clichéd characters popping up in cut scenes, some of which are interactive.
I also have to mention how amazingly cheesy the closing cut scene is, frankly if you ever wanted a Top Gun 2, this is it. The majority of the voice work is pretty bad, but is certainly acceptable, given the tonal nature of the source material.
In addition to the single player campaign, a reasonably deep multiplayer component is also present. Again using the Modern Warfare template, kills and assists equal points and these points can be spent to unlock perks. These vary from increased ammo, more powerful weapons, better or faster target locks and more. You can also have several sets of perks, so you can tailor certain sets for particular types of craft. Game types range from standard deathmatch to team games such as a territories mode.
The straight up deathmatch, with its DFM enabled gameplay is a lot of fun, and it is not uncommon to see folks countering each other until a third party comes along and takes them out with their four-missile special weapon. At least that was what I did. The real fun however lies in the attack and defend game types. In order to win there are bases which need to be bombed, so a multi-role or pure bomber is required. These are slower than the pure fighter planes however, so co-ordinated team work is the order of the day, with the bombers flying low to take out their target, whilst being protected by their Raptors and MIGs. Throw helicopters into the mix and all in all multiplayer adds a lot of value to the overall package. Customisation options are provided, allowing the planes to be coloured however you wish, and even additional effects such as different coloured smoke trails for missiles. I did find it rather fun blasting down other humans in my bright red and black Hornet, including red smoking missiles. Additionally, story missions can be replayed in a free play mode allowing the use of the multiplayer perks, with the story also be playable in co-op as well.
All this would be a waste if the visuals and audio let it down, but thankfully they don’t. The game is gorgeous, with lots of nice little details such as the glass reflection of the cockpit, the wind passing by, and the glow of the afterburners with accompanying heat haze. The music is a combination of typical Japanese gaming rock and summer blockbuster film and every level has its own theme.
It all fits together to create an experience that is different to the other games coming out this holiday season. I would recommend it to both long time fans of the series and newcomers alike because as it turns out, air combat really is ace.