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Last year, I played H.A.W.X. for something like three hours. It was an experience that I have to struggle to remember, buried amongst the many superior experiences I had that year. I found myself impressed more by the graphics on the ground than the action in the air, which was far more uninteresting than I ever imagined flying a fighter jet could be. For me, it was the final straw. Air combat was over.

However, a trailer emerged just a few days ago that changed all that, rekindling the flame of excitement that I felt was lost forever. The short announcement trailer is full of visceral action, enormous explosions, and even helicopters! I want to play the game I saw in that trailer, and I want to play it now.

The question is, will I ever play that game, or will I just play the lifeless, tired game that the trailer is meant to conceal?

The reason for my skepticism is pretty simple: the long history of air combat sims, the Ace Combat games included, has seen little in the way of innovation. With each new entry, we were offered prettier airplane models and more impressive environments, but when it came to actually flying those planes through those environments, sources of excitement were hard to find. Hell, I found myself more engaged by Sky Odyssey, a game that was about nothing more than flying planes around. No guns, no explosions. Just a series of rewarding challenges that made you feel like a total ace pilot.

That’s the problem with the modern air combat game. In nearly every other genre, the people we control feel more like incredible badasses than those people from games that came years earlier. Bayonetta makes us feel more powerful and impressive than Devil May Cry. Our powers are more unstoppable in Bioshock than they were in Doom. But in air combat games, we feel as though we’re pulling off the same tricks that we always have. They just look prettier.

That factor of badassness just hasn’t evolved along with the air combat genre, and it’s that consideration that makes the Air Combat: Assault Horizon trailer so impressive. Nearly every moment of the action makes you think, “That pilot is such a badass!” And isn’t that what we want to feel in a game that’s all about tearing through the sky with the sum of a fighter jet’s arsenal at our fingertips?

However, there’s the distinct possibility that all the smoke and fire that we saw in the trailer is in fact just smoke and mirrors. We’ve been tricked by reveal trailers before to the point where we’re almost trained to mistrust the visceral action we see, especially if it comes from a genre that doesn’t have much in the way of recent achievements.

While I certainly have my hopes about the matter, I really don’t know what to think about Assault Horizon. I want to put my faith in the game. I really do. But when it comes down to a full game, I can’t help but expect more “fly aimlessly for a while then fire some missiles at some planes” action, and maybe a few more impressive-looking explosions than normal. And if that’s what we end up with, it will really be a shame.

Are you as mistrustful as I am, or do you have faith that we’re looking at a bright future of air combat?

  1. Yeah, outside of inclusion in other genres, flight combat gameplay doesn’t to seem to have much juice anymore. The only exception I can think of in recent memory is Snoopy Flying Ace, and that’s not even really the same as what you’re describing.

  2. avatar R.S. Hunter

    The only flight combat game I ever played was AeroFighters Assault on N64. It was pretty bad. I’d want to play Crimson Skies but I don’t own it.

    Your article brings up a lot of good points.

  3. avatar Sandy

    It could go either way, but some people really enjoy the air combat genre as it is. Ace Combat games may not be #1 bestsellers, but the franchise has been highly profitable in the past, and HAWX DID have a lot of innovations over the Ace Combat franchise (A-Off mode, ERS) that apparently made it sell well enough to deserve a sequel.

    It’s not that anything said here is -wrong-, per se, but I’d certainly have a little more optimism. If you don’t like air combat games, don’t play them, but don’t declare the genre dead when there are obviously people who do like them – if there weren’t, Assault Horizon and HAWX 2 wouldn’t be developed at all.

    R.S. Hunter: Aerofighters Assault is…well, pretty bad. If you want a more shining example, try Ace Combat Six for the 360, or Ace Combat Zero for the PS2.

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