"Jet fighting" hasn't been this choreographed since West Side Story.
I'm going to throw this out up front: if you're a fan of the Ace Combat series, this game doesn't really belong in the same category. Sure, Ace Combat as a series is very arcade-focused, but this game takes that arcade focus to the extreme. Fans of the series looking for a fix will probably be very, very disappointed with this game.
If the first two paragraphs haven't already hammered this point home, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is the "Michael Bay explosion-fueled popcorn flick" of flight simulators. This game is so heavily choreographed you'll wonder if they're going to break out into a operatic dance-off halfway through the mission.
That said, sometimes that's exactly what I want to play. Just some stupid, fun, explosion fueled romp where I can live out a power fantasy and fly some cool military jets. On this front, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon delivers in spades.
The jet combat is simple but entertaining. Most flight simulators map the three principal axes onto three different analog controls. Moving one stick left to right causes the plane to roll. Moving that same stick up and down causes the plane to pitch. An axis of another stick (or descrete buttons) controls the rudder and causes the plane to yaw.
AC:AH jet combat simplifies this significantly. When using a controller, you just push the stick left to go left - the plane will roll to its side and then pitch to head in that direction. The left and right bumpers just increase the rate at which you turn. The plane will automatically level itself out if you stop moving the stick. Additionally, under certain circumstances you can enter a "dogfight mode" where the jet will stay roughly behind an enemy, and you just have to aim weapons and fire when ready.
Dogfight mode is all but essential in most levels, as there are many enemies that can only be killed if taken down in this fashion. They evade missiles and will shrug off machine gun fire until you've started chasing them up-close-and-personal. This is done so that you can get some cool "setpiece" on-rails sections, like flying close to the ground through canyons, or narrowly evading collapsing bridges and buildings.
I've played a lot of flight simulator games, and these controls are probably among the simplest of any flight sim I've ever played. Although these simplifications would make it seem like the combat is trivial, it's really not. AC:AH has streamlined the standard flight sim controls to make the game feel like a flight sim, but play more like a rail shooter. It's way closer to Star Fox or the NES Top Gun game than IL-2: Sturmovik.
Breaking up the jet combat missions are several missions with different objectives and different air vehicles to pilot. There are sections where you pilot bombers and target ground units, levels where you play an Apache pilot and patrol cities at low altitude, and other levels where you man a door gun that are completely on rails.
The music is very hard-rock "rah rah get the bad guys!" and matches the tone of the game perfectly. The voice acting is very well done as well.
The plot is another mish-mash of Call of Duty tropes. We've got the ethnically diverse cast of good guys, the one girl soldier who gets hit on but she's "tough," the obligatory Russian bad guys, the revenge plot, weapons of mass destruction, etc.
The bottom line is that if you come into AC:AH expecting an Ace Combat game, or if you're looking for anything approaching realism in your flight sims, you're going to walk away disappointed. If you just want to shoot missiles, blow stuff up and chant "USA! USA!" - Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is worth your $5.
(Cult of the Fiver is my monthly series on great games that can be had for cheap. Want to stay on top of all our recommendations? We have a Steam Curation Page! In Pre-Cult articles, I collect my thoughts about a game I plan to feature in this month's entry.)