Title: ACE COMBAT 7 SKIES UNKNOWN
Genre: Flight shooting
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release date: 17 Jan 2019 (JP, PS4/XB1), 18 Jan 2019 (WW PS4/XB1), 1 Feb 2019 (PC)
This review was written based on the Japanese PS4 release of the game, and may not reflect changes made to versions released in other regions or on other consoles.
As the first numbered title in the Ace Combat series to be released in 12 years, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown had a lot to live up to, and it managed to do so magnificently.
Ace Combat is a series of flight shooting games- With somewhat-realistic controls and physics to be more realistic than straight-up video games, but still too unrealistic and “video game”-ish to be real flight simulators- That takes place in a fictional world filled with supertechnology and conspiracies, ensuring that each game set in it is filled with extraordinary setpieces and dramatic twists, and 7 does not deviate from this baseline, delivering a story filled with surprises, and sending the player to interesting locales. The game also continues the series tradition of giving lavish, almost fetishistic treatment to the airplanes, with graphic fidelity far greater than even that of Ace Combat 6 on the Xbox 360.
The base gameplay of Ace Combat 7 remains largely the same as in previous instalments. High-G turns from 6 return, giving the player greater control over their airplane, as do checkpoints, which help to reduce the frustration which came from having to start long missions over from scratch upon failure which was omnipresent in older games. The Aircraft Tree from the ill-fated Infinity, along with airplane customisation also returns, making it possible to make changes to plane stats and weapons.
7 also puts a great amount of effort into implementing environmental effects: Clouds not only reduce vision but also shield planes from radar and missiles, icing affects vision and reduces mobility, getting struck by lightning will cause a plane to dive and also mess with its electronics, and wind currents will affect movement, sometimes making it hard to fly straight which can be a problem when navigating tricky terrain.
The core gameplay of Ace Combat 7 is best described as “refined”: Fans of the series will immediately find it familiar, but honed even further, close to the point of perfection.
7 also manages to deliver on a variety of interesting missions: Standard bread-and-butter anti-air and anti-surface missions are in fact in the minority, with the majority of missions having unique gimmicks and twists, such as having to avoid radar, having to hunt trucks in the midst of a sand storm, or having to fly under a certain altitude through a deep canyon. There are also multiple memorable boss battles, both against large superweapons and small numbers of ace pilots. As a result, though the game has a smaller amount of missions than some older games, it does not at all feel like it is lacking in volume.
The game also includes an online multiplayer mode which works precisely as one might expect it to, and in the Playstation 4 version, a VR mode with its own unique missions that may be one of the greatest uses of the PSVR yet.
The game is of course not without its flaws: Allied pilots seem to do no work at all this time, and the option for the player to give orders to their wingmen has been removed entirely. The story is also- Though this is rather typical of the Ace Combat series- Somewhat lacking in detail in many areas, with many cases where what might seem like plot threads are left dangling. Some of the missions might also be frustrating for less adept players, even on easier difficulty levels, and the checkpoints implemented in the game may feel inadequate at times. The aircraft tree and the amount of points distributed to the player from the campaign mode can also feel limiting, since it pretty much ensures that the player has to plan their path through the tree and stick to it throughout the campaign if they are not going to delve into multiplayer.
None of Ace Combat 7’s flaws however come any close to outweighing its overwhelming strengths. Though its somewhat niche genre might cause many to shy from trying it out, and its difficulty may further cause new players to shun it to some degree, the experience it offers is something truly special and unique, and anyone with even the least amount of interest in the game should most definitely give it a chance.
The Good: Ace Combat’s core gameplay refined close to perfection, accompanied by interesting setpieces and missions.
The Bad: The story, though dramatic, can feel unfulfilling due to what may be perceived as dangling plot threads. The difficulty level might also be daunting to new players.
Conclusion: Ace Combat 7 lives up to the legacy of the series’ name, and offers a truly special and unique experience unlike no other in this generation.