It’s been over a decade since Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation released and while Ace Combat: Joint Assault and Ace Combat: Assault Horizon brought some more plane flying and aerial combat action to the table, these games were set in the real world. This was a departure from the fictional world of “Strangereal” that fans of the Ace Combat franchise were accustomed to. As such, the excitement around Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown has been quite immense thanks to Bandai Namco listening to the fanbase and returning the series to its roots.
In Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, players will take on the role of Trigger, a member of Mage squadron. Players will get caught up in a brand new conflict that’s currently shaking the world and things escalate faster than you can say “Drone strikes”. Set after the events of Ace Combat 5: Squadron Leader and Ace Combat 6, chronologically Ace Combat 7 takes place before the events of Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere. Newcomers to the series will miss out on a lot of series references but these aren’t necessary to enjoy the game at all. Rather, it’s supplementary but for those of us that have been here since the start, it will certainly add to what the game’s story and in-game radio chatter has to offer.
The story of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown takes place after a series of calculated drone strikes by the Kingdom of Erusea. Targeting Osean military ports, Erusea’s drone strikes were quick and calculated. Much of the Osean navy was crippled by these strikes before a defence could be mounted. Erusea’s declaration of war effectively throws the world into disarray in the blink of an eye. Additionally, the Osean president, while visiting a key international monument, is reported missing. A certain story event takes place during an early mission and your character gets thrust into the deep end of all this after being accused of treason.
The story in Ace Combat 7 is where the game brings in some of the best looking cinematic cutscenes we’ve seen in recent times and the art direction is absolutely superb. Once again though as per Ace Combat franchise tradition, your character is a faceless mute and doesn’t have the ability to weigh in on in-game conversations. We were hoping that the basic “Yes” or “No” responses from Ace Combat 5: Squadron Leader would have made its way to this game in an expanded capacity but alas, this is not the case. You’re at the mercy of where the story takes you this time around but that’s not necessarily a bad thing given the action oriented nature of the game. The story thankfully is quite enjoyable and has some memorable moments that will engrave themselves into Ace Combat history much like its predecessors did.
Gameplay in Ace Combat 7 sees a return to the old fashioned method of aerial combat. Gone is the close quarters fighting seen in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon and perplexingly, so too are the squadron wing commands. The latter being removed is quite frankly severely disappointing but given how limited your allies in the previous games were at actually helping out, perhaps it’s for the best. Nevertheless it’s a feature that will be missed.
Controlling your aircraft is fairly straightforward and doesn’t take much to get the hang of. The more nuanced gameplay changes are introduced slowly to the player through the first set of missions. By around mission 7 though, you should be an expert at flying. Afterburning through clouds, hails of bullets and missiles alike will be second nature to you soon enough. Two control schemes are available with one allowing far more control over the pitch, roll and yaw of your plane. Firing missiles and special weapons is straightforward and locking onto enemies is an automatic process with the option to change targets always being available.[/caption]
Ace Combat 7’s weather dynamics means that players will experience turbulence and decreased capabilities when flying through clouds. The plane will also begin to ice up in dense clouds and lightning strikes add an additional element of surprise to the game. What this means is that Ace Combat 7’s skies are far more alive than ever before.
The single player campaign features 20 missions with varied environments across the world of Strangereal. Flying through the sky at various times of day makes for some impressive visual effects. The levels themselves are well designed too with familiar mission types making an appearance that fans of the series will enjoy. These being the occasional radar dodging mission or tunnel oriented mission for example. Nevertheless, gameplay is excellent and extremely enjoyable throughout with the minor gripe of the game being a bit too harsh with regards to mission checkpoints in some levels.
Ace Combat 7 is one of the best looking games of 2019. Powered by Unreal Engine 4, Bandai Namco Studios have clearly optimized and tweaked the graphics to deliver almost photorealistic skies and planes. Explosions have also been improved and deliver quite a visual feast. If you’re playing the game with the cockpit view enabled, the ice and water effects visible from flying through clouds adds an additional level of realism too. Quite frankly it’s downright gorgeous to see in action.
The introduction of an “Aircraft Tree” to the game sees a slight departure from the old method of unlocking planes in the main series games. Players will now be able to earn credits through missions and unlock planes through purchasing upgrades and other planes first. The upgrade slot mechanic is also new to the series with planes now having a set limit of spaces available for upgrades. These upgrades can be anything from improved engines to additional space for special weapons ammo to improved guns. This adds a layer of customization that wasn’t present before and makes flying a specific plane more personal.
The multiplayer modes on offers in Ace Combat 7 include Team Deathmatch and Battle Royal. Both modes involves 8 players battling it out for aerial supremacy with the difference being that Team Deathmatch includes allies. Battle Royal is essentially the old “Free for All” mode just renamed and it’s every man for themselves in this mode. Additionally, these modes can have modifiers attached to them that change the gameplay dynamic somewhat. Limiting costs or restricting special weapons introduces a gameplay change that can prevent people from using the best planes in the game and thankfully, this is quite welcome. Subtle options such as these enhance the multiplayer experience tremendously for newcomers and veterans alike. The time limit imposed on the online battles also means that each and every single online encounter is a fast paced frantic display of aerial acrobatics between real people. Human players can put up far more of a challenge than the AI can and the online mode will surely be quite a hit with players.
The PlayStation 4 version of the game also has separate single player PSVR mode along with exclusive missions. Alas, right now, they remain a PS4 exclusive but hopefully these missions will see the light of day on PC in the future. We never tested the PSVR modes unfortunately but reportedly, those sensitive to motion sickness may want to sit this mode out since it does cause some nausea. It’s also important to note that the main campaign is not PSVR compatible.
The soundtrack used in Ace Combat 7 is excellent. Given the series’ penchant for orchestral excellence, the music is top notch and so too are the sound effects. Hearing the roar of a jet engine as you take off or the sounds of your radar angrily beeping as a missile flies towards you, is not something you’ll forget easily.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is an outstanding game that sees the franchise returning to the roots that established its place in the hearts of many aerial combat and flight game fans. The story mode will keep you entertained throughout and the almost photorealistic graphics will enthrall you. It would be wise to prepare some extra hard drive space before playing the game because you’re definitely going to want to take a multitude of screenshots and videos throughout. The game is too gorgeous to pass up doing this and thankfully in classic Ace Combat franchise style, the game features a free flight mode as well as an end of mission replay. The free camera mode in the hangar also returns and this where you can snap away at your pristine planes to your heart’s content.
Overall, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a must buy title if you’re a fan of the series. Everyone from fans to newcomers alike will enjoy the game’s easy to grasp concepts and extremely enjoyable gameplay and story. It’s a return to form and one that will hopefully revitalize the franchise and take it to even further heights than ever before.