If you want to add it to your classic flight sims collection, Steam has "Fleet Defender: The F-14 Tomcat Simulation" on sale for $1.74 until October 17th.
...buy Ace Combat: Assault Horizon for your PC. With the Steam Sale going on, I figured spending $8 on the game would make the play forgivable. I was wrong, and I wanted to report my findings to anyone who possibly might buy this at reduced price.
CA had a discussion on this game back when it came out, and I had spoken about how terrible I felt the demo was. The full game only served to reinforce these feelings. It is nothing short of awful.
It took me a moment to notice where I had seen the gameplay before: Tomcat Alley for the Sega CD. TA was like most "interactive movie" games, where you had a pre-rendered video sequence but with the ability to do things like shoot, dump chaff, etc, and if you didn't hit the right thing at the right time, you got killed; kind of like a slightly more free-form Dragon's Layer.
Although not as unforgiving, the elements are undeniably similar. The game is unwinnable without going into what Bandai-Namco has dubbed "dogfight mode" or "DFM" - a mode which initiates the "rail shooter" portion of the game. In essence, you fly around freely, waste your ordnance trying to hit enemies outside of DFM killing one or two, and then realize the only way to win, especially with boss-type aircraft/objects, is that you MUST use DFM to shoot them down. This includes, at one point, an ICBM. Because I shot it with AIM-54's at long range, which hit (I don't need to tell you what happens to a rocket when a massive explosion occurs right next to it), but because I wasn't in DFM, it didn't die. Going into DFM, the rocket maneuvers as if it were a fighter with a better than 70deg/sec turn rate - oh by the way the rails put you right into the flaming exhaust of the rocket. Anyone see the Proton-M accident recently? Rockets don't do well under 'g' - something else that goes without saying, but if you want to see for yourself, hit that up on YouTube. Only by flying in the searing, metal-melting heat of the rocket engine, firing AIM-9's and your gun can you shoot the thing down successfully. This makes sense on every level imaginable.
This is the standard for the majority of boss and "Target" aircraft; no DFM = no kill, with the exception that "Target" (but not "Boss") aircraft CAN be killed, just with a hell of a lot of effort and misses. There is a reason for this, of course. By going into DFM, you have the ability to gaze at all the amazing scenery the team rendered, because you don't actually have to control the aircraft at this point. Oh, MAN! Did you see that friggin' building explode!? Those effects are SOOOO AWESOME! Oh, wait, they aren't! We've seen them in every action game for more than the past 10 years! Let's go ahead and take interactivity OUT of a game, because that's what we want! We don't want to have the player to PLAY the game, we want them to watch the totally (not) AWESOME VISUALS! And oh man, when the planes blow up, it'll be just like KRRRRSSSSH!! LOOK at the thing falling apart! It's like the plane is alive and being all shredded up! All that black oil just like BLOOD! (Again, no). It's like a Michael Bay production without the so-bad-it's-good storyline.
Don't get me started on the yaw, pitch and acceleration rates used to initiate DFM, either (a dude can be well behind you, nose at angle off of near 90 degrees and in roughly one second ZOOP! He's on your tail - you can watch it on your radar, it's pretty impressive). This also means it doesn't matter what aircraft you're flying, save for its damage resiliancy. An A-10 can take a BEATING, but once you're in DFM, you're on the rails with extremely little influence (yes, you can lose DFM, or break free on your own, but it takes EFFORT) so you could be flying an F-14D, or a Su-37, F-22 or a MiG-21 and have effectively the same fight on your hands, regardless of the opponent. And yes, the enemy goes into DFM on you, too! A high-g spiral breaks out easy enough, or you can use a "Dogfight Maneuver!" to get on your opponent's tail (either a high yo-yo, Cobra, or apparently a pitch-pulse in some circumstances).
The controls for the PC are fine for aircraft with a stick and throttle, but damn, if you are flying the AH-64, you're pretty much screwed. You basically need a game pad - turning is controlled by the hat switch on the Saitek X52, alternatively the mouse, but the mouse is way too sluggish to effectively turn the bird in an acceptable span of time. The parts with the bombers and Blackhawks are tolerable with a mouse.
The game's story has been played out in Tom Clancy titles before (rebels manage to gain control of a certain percentage of Russia, acquiring a new weapon and it's up to YOU to stop them with the loyalist Russians and NATO - are you a bad enough dude to rescue Russia?), and it isn't terrible, but that is one of the few saving graces for this game. Graphics? Fine, but that's entry level stuff. When you have a production team as big as a Hollywood movie, you'd better get the visuals right! For that matter, I'd degrade the "Fine" to "Fair" since it is not much better, if at all, than AC6, in spite of being 4 years newer. Gameplay? Attrocious. Absolutley attrocious, and the main reason is the reliance on DFM to show the absolutely par or worse visuals that have no purpose in an air-combat game.
What is AC:AH, then? It's a movie. It is a rail shooter/movie which attempts to bring in new audiences through visuals and a storyline set in the real world instead of the former Ace Combat universe. You want more fun? Grab a friend and play Combat on Atari (this comparison may sound unfair to Combat - understand I love Combat, great game, really holds up 36 years later) or maybe play After Burner II on a Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. Better place to spend $8? Probably any single other entry available through Steam, hell, blow it on chocolate at your local BX/PX! Any of the former is preferable.
If you're considering buying this, you've been warned. If you disagree, hey, that's great, enjoy the game. But I for one can say this was actually $8 wasted. Please don't waste your $8.