Reviewer’s note: This was reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Experience might differ on other platforms.
Ace Combat is back and is flying into the latest generation with Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. It’s been almost a decade since the last proper installment (not counting the F2P Ace Combat Infinity). However, unlike the last installment, this time we’re flying over the skies of Strangereal which is yet again embroiled into another war. Hotly anticipated by fans, will this installment soar into the skies, or come crashing? Here’s our full review of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown.
The story takes place in the fictional world of Strangereal, an earth-like world where countries are basically at war every so often. Following the events of the Continental War of Ace Combat 4 and Ace Combat 5, a peace treaty between the country of Erusea and the rest of the Usean continent was broken when Erusea launches a surprise attack via drones against military targets in Osea. This act of war leads to the capture of the International Space Elevator, and former president of Osea Vincent Harling. You play the role of a pilot known with the callsign Trigger, tasked by International United Nations Peacekeeping Force to repel the Erusean invasion. However, things go awry for Trigger as he was accused of killing Harling, and sent to a penal unit. It is up to you to prove your worth, reclaim the skies and save the world of Strangereal once again.
Story-wise, this is your typical Ace Combat fanfare. The world of Strangereal has always been embroiled in conflict and Ace Combat 7 is no different. It’s storytelling can be confusing at first as the cutscenes tell a different story than what you are experiencing. The story told in the cutscenes and in your playthrough will converge, diverge, and converge again at certain points as the cutscenes share the perspective of another character Avril Mead.
But Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown has a great story to tell that takes off from its predecessors Ace Combat 4 and 5. Ace Combat 7 shows the cruel harshness of war, from a unique perspective – from the skies above.
Ace Combat 7 is the classic combat flight simulator you’ve loved since the PS1 era, but thanks to current generation’s technical capabilities, we’re seeing and experiencing so much more now. However, it’s not a full on sim, and retains its arcade-y feel to keep it fun and engaging. It still features the slick expert flight controls, which IMO should be the standard of any flight combat game now. The High-G turn makes a comeback, but now players can choose how to do it, whether you press both accelerate and brake, or just the brakes.
But more than the tight controls, Ace Combat 7 now features fully simulated volumetric clouds. You can now go through clouds for cover and even lose missile lock. And just like in real life, you’ll feel the turbulence as you pierce through the cloud, while water condenses on your cockpit window. Be careful however – take too long in the clouds and you’ll risk freezing your plane and cause you to stall your plane. This is all too well implemented in the campaign, where you are taken through missions which require you to make good use of cloud cover, else you’ll be shot down by missiles. Weather effects like lightning are fantastic, not only visually, but gameplay wise, as it disrupts your electronics if you’re hit by one.
Speaking of campaign and mission design, Ace Combat 7 features a solid lineup of missions, each with their own unique mission designs. One mission will take you flying undetected through enemy airspace, with only a few radar gaps to go through while battling against strong winds. Then another which takes you under cloud cover while taking out radar towers. Then there’s the classic trench run, where you’ll have to navigate through a long valley while avoiding search lights. And new to series, and also to me a defining moment of how the game got its title, is dealing with unknown enemies – where you’ll have to get in close to identify and confirm enemy targets, or else risk friendly fire casualties. The list goes on, and they are all pretty varied, and equally challenging.
The mission briefing that has been a staple to the series is also present, and this requires your careful attention, otherwise you’ll struggle through your missions. Pay attention to what kind of enemies you’ll face, and board the necessary plane and equip the right arsenal, especially in annihilation missions which require you to earn a target number of points within the time limit. Also pay attention to the radio chatter otherwise you might miss important details.
To help you through these missions is a wide variety of planes in your arsenal, from fighters, to multi-roles, to bombers, they are all at your disposal. With each carrying their own selection of special weapons that befit their roles. You can also equip parts to your plane to help boost its performance, whether it is to strengthen your missile power, or increase its speed, and parts that help you avoid freezing, the choice is yours. You just need to watch how many slots they take up and equip the appropriate parts depending on the mission objective.
There’s also multiplayer modes for you to test out your piloting skills with. There’s a battle royal mode, which is actually just a free-for-all mode of 8 players, and Team Deathmatch where you and your team of fight against another team of 4 players. My online playthrough was decent, there were no rubber banding whatsoever and the fights and the flight is smooth.
Ace Combat 7 really shines as a flight combat sim, but where it stands out is its VR mode. Though the VR mode is a separate campaign entirely with just 3 missions, it is a promising direction to take for the series. They’ve seamlessly implemented the traditional HUD elements into the cockpit itself, making it feel like an actual flight simulator. Imagine strapping on your PSVR headset and fighting dogfights from the view of the cockpit – it’s really awesome, and it’s hands down one of the best PSVR experiences out there right now. Sadly, you can’t play VR missions for the main campaign, and that would have been really awesome, and I would have played through it through VR entirely.
As a flight sim, you will certainly expect a level of detail, and Ace Combat 7 delivers. The game delivers a smooth 60 fps on the PS4 Pro, with very realistic looking planes, gorgeous lighting and the sky is just wonderfully designed. However, don’t expect everything to look super detailed, the ground texture and ground enemies and targets look somehow lower in quality up close,, but of course, you’re spending most of your time up in the sky anyway.
Ace Combat 7 is certainly a beautiful game visually, and performs really well on modern platforms.
Another area where Ace Combat 7 excels is its sound design. May it be the soundtrack, or actual sound effects in the game, Ace Combat 7’s sound design is top notch. The game’s soundtrack is pretty memorable, and creates a sense of awe whenever you take to the skies and carry your missions.
Meanwhile its sound effects do a great job of simulating the feeling of flight. Sound is muffled when you cut through clouds, and the sound of mid air explosions, bullets hitting planes, and missiles and planes cutting through the sound barrier are great touches to an already awesome game.
All in all, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a great game, and actually delivers on being a fun combat flight sim. It can be confusing story-wise, but the experience of flying through the air at supersonic speeds, while battling other pilots is just the most fun I’ve had that no other flight combat sim can give. The VR mode is a fantastic bonus, and is one of the best VR experiences on the platform to date and certainly something we can expect in future iterations. Mission design is both varied and challenging, but not too difficult to keep it engaging and memorable.
Ace Combat 7 certainly takes an early win for 2019 as one of the best games to release this early into the year, and earns our 100% satisfying seal of approval to boot!