Tuesday, December 27, 2011

See Your Death

I don't know what it is that makes gamers so whiny. Probably the prime example recently was the ridiculous backlash against Diablo 3. Also Fallout 3, a game I consider one of the greatest ever produced, has been proclaimed to be an atrocity against sensibility for having the audacity to be more than mod of Fallout 2. And you will find dozens of write-ups about how Front Mission Evolved is an awful game because it's an American produced action game rather than a Japanese tactical RPG. Yet in all those write-ups there isn't a single complaint about the terrible story, awful acting, and annoyingly dull gameplay.

By that same token, many Ace Combat fans are decrying Assault Horizon as the worst thing to happen to the franchise since the American localization of Ace Combat 3. But these people are mostly being whiny jerks.

It's not that people aren't making valid observations about Assault Horizons (well, some of their observations are invalid), but they seem to be coming to the wrong conclusion. They complain that Assault Horizon doesn't feel or play like an Ace Combat game. They are correct on this. They say that this makes Assault Horizon a terrible game. They are very, very wrong on this.

The first change players will notice is that the game doesn't take place in Strangereal. I thought this was a mistake, since Strangereal allowed the writers to use fictitious countries with fictitious histories. You can tell any kind of story you want and simply invent a geopolitical situation out of whole cloth to justify it. By setting Assault Horizon in the real world, we got stuck with the same, tired Russian civil war story. When future historians look back on games as a reflection of our culture, their going to think the Russian Federation was about as stable as Rhodesia.

Another big change up is the combat, surprisingly. Besides the startling assortment of non-airplane vehicles you get, the actual combat has been radically altered with Dog Fighting Mode. Dog Fighting Mode focuses you on a single enemy and almost turns the game into an on-rails shooter. It's a neat little gimmick, especially since your computer controlled plane does some pretty crazy shit. I'm pretty sure a lot of enemy flight paths in Dog Fighting Mode are scripted for cinematic effect.

Unfortunately, a lot of complaints that are leveled against this game are just pure bullshit. For example, the most glaring complaint you'll see is that the controls are dumbed down. First of all, that control scheme was available in every Ace Combat game since the PS1 days. Secondly, the more 'conventional' control scheme is still available. It's right there in the options menu. It's just that the 'novice' controls are set by default. So really the controls are only an issue if your THE TYPE OF FUCKING IDIOT WHO DOESN'T CHECK THE GAME SETTINGS.

The most bullshit complaint of all, though, is that the game isn't realistic enough. I'll never understand why people seem to think the Ace Combat games are supposed to be ultra-realistic flight sims. Your missiles only lock on if the target is less than 800 feet away. Your plane can carry over 200 missiles AND a particle beam cannon. And you fought the Stonehenge anti-asteroid cannon on the continent of Usea. If any of these players join the Air Force they are going to be sorely disappointed. They complain that Assault Horizon is too arcade-like and unrealistic when every single game in the franchise is arcade-like and unrealistic. I thought that was the point. I thought that's what made it fun.

So let's all step back from the (apparently) horrifying revelation that this isn't Ace Combat 7 and judge the game on its own merits. It's a faced past flight shooter that actually gave me the shakes whenever I finished a session. I'll admit I miss the 'Operations' mechanic from Ace Combat 6, but Assault Horizon doesn't really leave you time to think. You'll be running on instinct and tweaked nerves. This is somewhat exacerbated by the lack of mission briefings. Instead, you just have to deduce your mission objectives based on cutscenes and radio chatter. No, this isn't hard to do. If the radio lets you know that a base is under attack, and a whole slew of targets show up around the base in question, you should probably go blow those guys up. I want to know how much of a 'spergy retard you must be to face that situation and start screaming "What are my mission objectives?! There was no briefing!"

The story for this game (one of the two things done by a westerner) is decently played out. It's not as good as Ace Combat 5, but it isn't sleep inducing like Ace Combat 6. The characters are a bit shallow, the aforementioned Russian civil war is becoming cliche, and Makarov... wait, I mean Markov gets his character development too late in the game for my tastes. But the twist was handled well enough, nobody in the military rambles on and on about pacifism (why would pacifists join the military?) and despite the cliches the Liberation of Moscow was very satisfying.

And just one closing note of praise. There are great soundtracks that stand alone as songs and music, and there are great soundtracks that can't stand alone but wonderfully compliment what is happening on-screen. Assault Horizon's music is arguably not the former, but as the latter this is probably Keiki Kobayashi's greatest work to date.

Assault Horizon doesn't feel like Ace Combat. Then again, Guilty Gear doesn't feel like Street Fighter. I think this is what most of the complaints stem from. If you noticed, I haven't even referred to the game by it's full title; Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. If H.A.W.X. was Ubisoft trying to copy Ace Combat and everything goes horribly wrong, Assault Horizon is Namco trying to copy H.A.W.X. and everything going horribly right. This isn't really an Ace Combat game, but that doesn't make it bad. Far from it, this is one of my favorite games to date. So as a game unto itself it's absolutely fantastic. As an Ace Combat game it seems like the red-headed stepchild of the franchise. Albeit a red-headed stepchild that went to MIT and put a man on Mars. Frankly, I think this game should have been marketed as "Assault Horizon (from the makers of Ace Combat)". That would have been a more honest title, and there would have been less bitching an moaning. So to all the haters out there, no this isn't an Ace Combat game. It's amazing and fun and wonderful, but it doesn't feel like previous games in the franchise. So I guess everything this game got right doesn't really matter. Fanboys are assholes.