E3 2011: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon hands on – it’s not aiming at specks anymore

We always thought missiles were the easy way out in most air combat games. Simply snag missile lock, fire and forget. It was always a bit anticlimactic and automatic, if you ask us. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon changes that with a new feature called “Dogfight Mode.” The results are unexpectedly intense.

We were flying over Miami Beach when tangos appeared on the horizon. In order to enter Dogfight Mode you first need to get close enough to your target, which is a feat in and of itself. Your targets want to stay alive as much as you do, so don’t be surprised if it takes a bit of chasing before you hit L2 and R2 on PS3 (LB and RB on 360) simultaneously to lock in on your target. What follows next is nothing short of an adrenaline-filled high-speed chase, rife with rockets and machinegun rounds.

Once dogfighting, all you need to worry about is aiming your crosshairs as control of your jet goes to auto-pilot. This may sound cheap, but trust us when we say adding one extra thing to do while you’re concentrating on turning your enemy’s jet to Swiss cheese would be overwhelming. Missile lock isn’t a given here, either. You need to hold your crosshairs over your opponent again for several seconds before pulling the trigger and (hopefully) ramming a few rockets up their afterburner.

Just because you had missile-lock doesn’t mean it’ll strike, either. The A.I. can and will drop chaff to distract your rockets. You even have a limited amount of cluster missiles at your disposal. What do those do? Well, they target up to four targets at a time. Yup, they’re awesome.

When you finally blow a bogey to shreds, it’s impressive. The camera slows down to show your enemy’s jet exploding and the pilot catching fire as you zoom past, on your way to the next unfortunate adversary.

We were afraid this would grow old and the cool factor would fade, but even after finishing off the next two waves of enemies and the boss for the mission – essentially a smarter, harder to kill jet – we were still in love. But, we may have been a tad out of breath.

Jun 17, 2011

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