NanDEMOnai is a semi-regular attempt to profile demos for forthcoming games as unbiasedly as possible, based on their own merits and without any consideration of hype, publisher legacy, place within a franchise, or basis on any existing property. I'm just here to discuss how the demo feels, whether it makes the upcoming release stand out as interesting, and extrapolate how the full game may end up being. Basically, a preview with as little context as possible, like a blind date.
It's been a bit since I played any sort of flight sim; I dicked around for a bit in Ace Combat 6, but never to the point that it would likely take for me to actually be any good at it. Given that I landed the plane all of one time ever in Top Gun
for the NES, one could say they're not my forté. But that's not even supposed to enter into these articles, so let's continue.
Given the choice between two soccer games and Assault Horizon as my options for my next nDn, I decided to go with the latter, as NHL 12 had left a lingering "meh" taste in my mouth in regards to sports. The demo showcases two different vehicle types, with a flight in a jet fighter over Miami, and a helicopter mission over and around a city in what I'm assuming was the Middle East. To be honest, I was kind of nonplussed.
That's not to say I dislike much about the demo. Far from it, actually. For starters, the game is beautiful, with aircraft of all kinds and the landscapes below them rendered beautifully. The fighter controls are fairly easy to get the hang of, and there's a new (I think) Dogfight mode that's been added, where clicking your left and right bumpers simultaneously when in range of an enemy basically tethers you to them, automatically following them around for a more cinematic-feeling air battle rather than clumsy maneuvering with a relatively limited control pad scheme. This also ties into evasive maneuvers when you're locked on to by another enemy; a timing-based HUD element helps you find the perfect moment to enable a dogfight with someone tailing you, pulling you into a loop and putting you on their six.
Outside of these dogfights, the action feels a bit stodgier, falling back to typical spot your enemy on radar, lead the target with gunfire or get a missile lock, maybe use some special missiles to clear out several guys at once tactics that aren't particularly exciting. Towards the end of the mission, there's a brief quick-time button-press prompt, which does little more than switch your view to the start of a mission-ending sequence, which makes me wonder why the button press was included in the first place.
The helicopter section fares differently, but not necessarily better. Controls feel a bit weird at first, given the use of face buttons to ascend and descend rather than shoulders, but one go through the initial tutorial and they seem at least moderately intuitive. The key thing to remember is zooming in when using your main gun, as otherwise, you're not going to hit much of anything with it.
Helicopter piloting lends itself to your ability to fire while stationary, and to use buildings and other standing objects for cover, but more often than not, running/strafing and gunning is a better way to go, if you're not intent on a steady diet of RPG and SAM fire. One thing that threw me quite a bit, actually, was your chopper's ability to do a barrel roll to avoid incoming fire. Can helicopters actually barrel roll, nevermind from a stationary position? I could just be way behind on my knowledge of military aerospace technology, but that seems impractical, if not impossible. It's cool, don't get me wrong, but kind of shattered the otherwise realistic feel of an outing to take out "rebels" and cover ground units in an attempt to rescue a captured officer.
I will give the designers some credit here for making a more interesting mission for the helicopter section; while it still relies heavily on the "here are some doods, kill them doods so they don't kill your doods," formula as things progress, the doods in question are a bit more varied (individual infantry, gunners in trucks, a tank, and a couple of Hind helicopters show up, amongst other things), and there are some decisions to be made as to altitude, target prioritization, and what weaponry to use. I was particularly delighted by one point, where you have to stop a handful of enemy troops trying to abscond with your retrieval target by zooming in and precisely firing off a shot or two at each of them, as to not hit the guy you're trying to rescue.
While both mission types were fair enough, I'm kind of worried as to how responsive the game is going to be to other aircraft roles in the full version. While I try to avoid bringing outside information into these articles, I do recall checking out the confirmed Assault Horizon
aircraft list, and the presence of the A-10 Thunderbolt is chief amongst my concerns. A-10s aren't exactly suited to dogfighting, as per the fighter craft level, and are more built for ground assault and support, but lack the stationary flight option of helicopters, so they're kind of stuck between both worlds. If they're going to include more mission styles in the final game to suit different craft, then fine, but the demo seemed pretty clear-cut in its differences.
That, and to be honest, it's a bit dull. Story or no story, there's only so long a wave-of-doods pattern can remain interesting, and if it's already beginning to get boring in just a demo, imagine how much worse $60 worth of that sort of thing might end up. The post-demo splash screen promises several multiplayer modes, but none of those are in the demo itself, so there's no way to judge whether they'll make up for a potentially repetitive campaign.
I dunno. I'd say grab it if flying and shooting in a vaguely realistic fashion are your thing, or you've a hard-on for airborne military hardware, and see if you'd actually be willing to pay money for it yourself. Personally, I think I'd rather try to find a friend and bum it off them for a bit once the full version is released, if I bother with it at all.