This one needs a lot more wind beneath its wings.
OK, so I’m not one for flight sims much, I’ll say that upfront. But I’ve heard this Ace Combat series has a pretty good reputation, and it’s also pretty arcade-y, which I can appreciate. Just as I’m not a huge fan of racing games but love Mario Kart, I thought perhaps Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy could hit the spot.
Unfortunately, this 3DS installment departs quite a bit from its console big brothers, and not in a way that’s beneficial. There isn’t anything here that would draw even a flight sim fan away from the plethora of other great 3DS games that you could be spending your money on this holiday season.
Unlike the console games that have a decently fleshed-out plot, there’s barely any story to go around here—and what little there is seems so tacked-on and generic that it makes you wonder why they even bothered. There are no real-word locations, armies, or organizations in Legacy as there were in the past couple entires in the series. You’re simply a mercenary fighter pilot flying for a generic commanding officer in the “Alliance” which is combating “Rebels” on a nameless land mass. Who are any of these people and why should we care? Apparently, Project Aces had trouble answering that question too.
The graphics are, by and large, a mess. Despite being a proponent of the old-school mantra of “gameplay over graphics”, I still couldn’t entirely get over the visuals in this game. The planes that you fly look all right up close, but everything else might as well have been rendered on the old DS. It’s best not to fly too close to… well, anything, because all of the surface textures look like something my N64 shat out after it went binge drinking. The only positive is that the 3D is done nicely and adds a good sense of depth to your flight.
So what about that gameplay, then? Controls are tight and responsive, which is a definite must for a flight sim, but there’s just not that much to do with them. You can flip through targets to get a missile lock and fire off a payload, or get up close and personal with a machine gun.
If an enemy gets a missile lock on you, you have to lean in the direction the game tells you and hit Y to evade it, which does give a minor thrill. To get the drop on the tougher enemies, you need to fly around their personal airspace while a meter fills up in the corner of the screen, and then hit Y to execute a crazy mid-air flip and you can drop behind them to blow ‘em out of the sky.
It all works well enough, but the problem is that it just starts to get repetitive after a while. There isn’t really much variety in the missions; you may have to defend a friendly, eliminate key aircraft or structures, or clear the airspace, but it almost always just boils down to waiting for that meter to fill so you can fall in behind the target and blow it up, then rinse and repeat.
The best thing Assault Horizon Legacy has going for it is the upgrade system. Each time you clear a mission you earn new aircraft or parts that you can purchase with points; those points in turn come from performing well in the missions. Buying better parts can significantly improve your craft’s abilities and gives a solid sense of progression as you make your way through the game. You can also purchase mercenary wingmen to accompany you on missions, but I saved my points and ignored them after it seemed like they did absolutely nothing whenever I took them along.
There’s a challenge mode where you can replay completed story missions in addition to survival missions and extra missions. It adds a fair amount of replay value, but the repetition is prevalent here, too—none of it really deviates from what you do in the story mode. The lack of any kind of multiplayer is surprising for an arcade flight sim and hurts the game as well, providing nothing else for you to spend your time on after taking on the single-player offerings.
The most I can say about Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy is that it’s adequate at best. But at a time when the 3DS is finally getting all the killer software that it was missing for the first few months of its existence, adequate hardly cuts it.