Ace Combat: Assault Horizon - The Killzone of the skies?

Namco takes warfare to the clouds...

The new Ace Combat features a mechanic best described as 'the iron sight of flight-sims'.

Just like in an FPS, blasting chunks off your target looks ever so satisfying when the action's up close and personal - and that's far from the last morsel of influence Assault Horizon has taken from Killzone and co.

The latest instalment in the long-running and arguably genre-leading series comes as a direct response fan feedback - and as the game's Namco Bandai producer admits to CVG, ever-declining sales of 'traditional' sky shooters.

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Basically, Ace Combat needed a change to survive - and boy, has it got one. The old school mechanics and 360-degree control are still intact, but it's immediately obvious from the game's debut trailer (see above) that Horizon is a far more intense and spectacular looking game than anything we've witnessed from the series before.

Responding to fan criticism that the action was too far in the distance, Assault Horizon is an in-your-face explosion-fest, with visceral animation and enemies that spin, burst into flames and ricochet debris all over the camera.

Namco's calling this new approach 'Close Range Assault', and as we discover in our behind-closed-doors preview, its a justified moniker.

Basically, Horizon looks brilliant. Key to the 'CRA' gameplay is the new 'Assault Circle', which you can see in the gameplay clip above. Once you've successfully manoeuvred your Assault Circle so that your jetfighter opponent is inside it, the camera will zoom in and focus on your target - and if they manage to fly outside the radius, it's back to normal zoomed-out vision.

The destruction and debris effect on enemy planes looks really impressive, which is why Namco Bandai recommends us using our fighter's machine guns - a rather overlooked method of attack next to previous game's missiles.

But just because Assault Horizon's boosting the shooty bits doesn't mean Ace Combat stalwarts should expect any less depth. In fact, game director Kazutoki Kono tells us that the handling of craft in old instalments feels lacking in comparison to 2011's incarnation.

Namco promises a dynamic and deep storyline, plus the return of the last game's solid control mechanics. You even get to man a chopper gun.

There's also a new Counter Manoeuvre system to worry about, which when used during a "there's a bogey on my tail!" moment (by pressing on screen button commands at just the right time) will have you stylishly roll and flip behind your opponent to put them in your sights. Very Iceman.


From this first glance, then, Assault Horizon is looking promising, with a few much-needed twists and no reason (yet) to believe it's been dumbed down for the mainstream Call of Duty crowd.

It's not hard to see where Namco's own 'iron sight' is pointed: attracting the shooter crowd - whether casual Black Ops twiddler or hardcore Counter Strike gunman - to a unjustly forgotten powerhouse of a genre.