Ace Combat is a franchise I hold dear to my heart. Having played the previous installments, with probably Ace Combat 4 (or 5) being my personal favorites, I was bummed out over the fact that it took such a LONG time for another game to come out after 6. No I’d rather not count “Infinity” because of reasons I’m sure fans of the series will agree to. After a little over a decade, imagine the grin on my face as Ace Combat 7 finally takes flight and I couldn’t be happier, especially since this latest entry to the series is touted to be as good as advertised. So, is it? Let me help you decide on whether to pick up this game or not in our review of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown!
There’s definitely no lack of “flight” games out there but there are very few that come close to the thrill and experience that Ace Combat can provide. With the shift to Unreal Engine 4, AC7 is a triumphant return to glory both in form and function alike. As soon as you pop in the game, you’re greeted with cinematics that look stunningly real as you dive back into the fictional world of Strangereal where the conflict between the Osean Federation and the Kingdom of Erusia has just blown its top. To tell you the truth, as much as I had wanted to internalize the plot of the game, things got too complicated too fast for my own good. Much of my time was spent figuring out who or what I was fighting for and it didn’t help that each mission had tons of chatter between squadmates that just made me do a tableflip in trying to understand the story. I would personally advise taking things slow because the lore in Ace Combat games is generally good, albeit a bit cheesy and occasionally strange, but it’ll only do you good as it really gives you that connection with the character and your squad.
Don’t take it the wrong way, maybe it was just me and it’s highly possible that some of you may come to grips with understanding what the narrative is all about but one thing that I can tell you is that even without understanding majority of the plot, it did not affect my enjoyment of the game one bit. Gameplay is buttery smooth especially when you’re playing on the “Pro” versions of the consoles. It may sound weird to say that the graphics look amazing since you’ll mostly be seeing a blanket of blue and white for majority of the game but during those times when you can actually take time to notice your surroundings, you’ll appreciate the attention to detail. I loved the replay sequences right after you finish a mission as you’ll be able to see your mastery, or lack thereof, over the enemy ships. It’s a great way to see things from a different angle and it really enhances the full flight experience that the game masterfully provides. Adding to the overall experience is the “technology” behind the plane, as you’ll be able to fully see (or hear) everything through the cockpit console and alerts. Whether it’s a blip to alert you of an incoming missile or chatter among your team, little details like these really gives you a feel of how it is to fly your own aircraft.
A word of warning, this game is highly skill based and will require you to actually put your gray matter to the test – figuring a good angle of approach so your missiles lock on and connect, learning when to speed up or actually stall your plane, etc. The list goes on and on but don’t let that intimidate you because there is a semblance of a tutorial sequence during the first few missions of the game which handily teaches you the basics but leaves you hanging in the air for the more advanced techniques. This may turn off some players but I love the thrill of figuring things out so this was perfect for me. Combat is very nuanced and there are a lot of small things you can learn in the game that will feel very satisfying since you’ll actually see results as you shoot things down with greater efficiency than your last outing. You’ll more than likely crash and burn a lot in the first few hours of your playthrough but don’t let that discourage you as the feeling of finally getting things going your way is next to none.
Missions are surprisingly fun and you’ll quickly notice that there are a lot of different objectives to experience, be it boss fights or bombing targets or stealth runs, there’s a wide range of missions to burn through which then leads us to the Aircraft Tree. As you accomplish missions, you’ll earn credits based on your performance and you can use these to purchase upgrades to your current aircraft or even a whole new one for that matter. You’ll want to diversify your planes as some will perform better than others in certain situations so choose your loadout wisely before heading into a mission. Anticipating heavy air to air engagements? You’d do well to equip yourself with an agile craft as opposed to a sturdier loadout for bombing runs. Each upgrade you purchase is something that immediately impacts your performance so you’ll want to plan it all out before spending your hard earned credits.
Just Cause 4 recently highlighted this mechanic but in Ace Combat 7, the environment plays a much bigger role in the game aside from just looking pretty. Clouds and rain don’t only look good but directly affect gameplay – spending too much time in the clouds will freeze your aircraft causing you to stall, your tracking and lock-on mechanisms will fail, rain will block your view, winds will give you a nudge and throw you off course – it’s a fantastic system and it really just adds another level of immersion to the already great feel of an Ace Combat game.
If you’re a fan of multiplayer modes then Ace Combat also has that for you. I’ll give you notice and say that the core of the game really is the single player campaign but the multiplayer modes are a very welcome addition to an already solid package. Not surprising, there’s a battle royale mode as well, which is technically just a free for all mode when you think about it, but it’s a unique experience when think about it in an Ace Combat context. If anything, one problem I can see here is that I don’t see multiplayer flourishing after a few months, with the single player campaign being as robust as it is. Let’s face it, the game isn’t as “big” as other triple A titles out there and with a release date that’s eerily close to Resident Evil 2 and Kingdom Hearts 3, it’s sad to think about but it is what it is. I’ll expect a dedicated audience to keep the game afloat but it breaks my heart to think that may be a short lived affair.
One surprising feature that is exclusive to the PS4 is that of the VR mode that is included in the game. While it is disappointing to note that it supports only 3 missions, I’d have to say that the experience is absolutely thrilling. From take off to the dogfights, it’s just such an immersive experience to be sitting there and looking around experiencing things in a different way. The sense of speed is well translated but as with most VR experiences, you’ll either take time too adjust or you probably can’t play it for too long as you may not be able to stomach it. I felt that this mode was more of a test run to see the reception by the fans but with such a well executed effort, you can expect a much more robust experience, maybe even a standalone game, in the future. It’s not the feature that will definitively cause you to purchase a PSVR but it provides a fantastic experience that you won’t get anywhere else.
- Aerial dogfights feel familiar yet satisfying
- Graphics are amazing, even during the in-between cinematics
- Aircraft Tree offers great choice and replayability
- VR campaign is great
- Plot can get a bit convoluted very early on, leaving you in the dark as to what the hell is really going on
- Only 3 VR missions
- Multiplayer is hit or miss and greatly depends on how many people actually play
Final Verdict: 8/10
I’ve waited such a long time for the next numbered Ace Combat game after the 6th and Skies Unknown was such a sight for sore eyes. Ace Combat 7 is a fantastic game and does justice to the franchise as a whole. The feel of the aerial dance is accurately depicted and nothing is more satisfying than outmaneuvering a bogey and seeing him burst into flames after a drawn out battle. While the game is not something that anyone can just pick up and play, it still feels accessible enough to non-fans and fans alike while pointing the series in the right direction for future titles, especially for a full VR title!
*Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown was reviewed using a PS4 Pro using a review code supplied by the publisher.