As a child of the early 80s, one of my favorite movies growing up was Top Gun. Besides teaching me some of my first swear words, much to my mother's chagrin, it also instilled a love for fighter planes in me. While bad eye sight and growth spurts -- most modern planes are not designed to accommodate pilots comfortably above 6' -- put aside my childhood dreams of becoming a pilot, I love to play flight games. From more realistic ones like Jane's Combat Simulations to the more fanatical like Descent or X-Wing vs Tie-Fighter. When I first saw the trailers for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, I was intrigued to see the developers trying something new with the series. The game deserves some kudos, but like a magic trick, once the secret is revealed it's going to lose some of its allure.
This major design overhaul is the inclusion of Dogfight Mode and a more cinematic feel. As the developers put it, they wanted to get away from spamming missiles at little dots off in the distance. On the surface it can work really well the first time around. If you can angle yourself behind an enemy plane and engage Dogfight Mode, the camera pulls in close letting your foe's plane fill more of the screen. By engaging in DFM you'll automatically follow them to a degree, your missiles will have enhanced tracking and your guns will do more damage. There are some great ideas here, like using guns to stagger and slow the enemy plane, which allows you to more easily line up a missile lock, or being able to counter maneuver when the enemy is on your tail, instantly turning the tables. If you ever wanted to experience a Hollywood-style dogfight without needing to understand a Split-S maneuver, you might enjoy Assault Horizon.
There is an issue within Assault Horizon's more thrilling chase scenes though; they suspiciously always seem to end at just the right moment. What you'll discover is the game is actually cheating a bit in order to play out these scripted sequences. For instance, it might not matter how much weapon fire you land on the bomber because it is always going to crash at the last possible moment. Now there's nothing inherently wrong with scripted event; many games are built on them to varying degrees and the sequences themselves are actually pretty entertaining the first time around. A bit of magic lost when the curtain is pulled back.
When the game isn't wrestling you into these sequences, it plays pretty solidly. Just like previous titles, you have a number of options to tailor your controls to your particular playing style. Despite the "Original" scheme giving you full control of the plane's roll, I'd recommending sticking with the "Optimal" set-up for the time being unless you own a joystick. It can be hard to effectively chase and follow with the former in Dogfight Mode and much of the game is centered around this new feature. There is also a flight assistance option to help those who find themselves stalling or "landing" into the ground inverted at hi-speed a bit too often.