February 15, 2019

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown - Review

Ever since seeing Top Gun way back in 1986 as a young teenager, I have always been fascinated with fighter jets and aviation in general, in fact, at one stage I wanted to even be a fighter pilot until I found out the amount of work involved, it would cut into gaming time to much, I would much rather play flight sims instead.

Ace Combat is a series I have followed on and off since its first appearance on the PlayStation way back in 1995, its blend of exciting arcade-like action, stunning visuals and orchestral music and oddball storytelling had me hooked since its very first instalment. The series took a stumble last gen with the release of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon which while being a fun game overall, in my opinion, it lacked the shine of most of the other offerings in the series. Namco Bandai are hoping to redeem themselves with the latest instalment in the series with the release of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, its been a long 8 years but I can honestly say it has been worth the wait.

The new game is set in the same fictional universe of Strangereal as the previous games in the series and the story centres around a space elevator (seriously, this could only happen in an Ace Combat story) that was ordered to be constructed by former President Harling in an attempt to boost the economy of the Usean continent, however tower created resentment amongst the people due to being seen as a waste of money and an unnecessary expense. As in most Ace Combat games, the story evolves through cutscenes and radio chatter heard from fellow pilots and commanders during missions, this is an effective way of pushing the story forward but to me the narrative has never been a big part of this series of games, especially since I have found that it can become unnecessarily convoluted in a majority of cases.

As fans of the series will know Ace Combat plays more like an arcade game than a flight simulator, a fighter jet carrying 99 missiles? No problem just strap them on, she will fly fine!! So if you are looking at this game expecting realism or a cohesive story then this game probably isn't for you, but honestly, the wacky narrative and arcade-like flight physics are a massive part of this game and the entire series charm. Throughout the main campaign and it's 20+ missions you will undertake a diverse array of missions some of them as simple as straight up dogfighting and destroying the hordes of enemy fighters thrown at you others as complex as having to fly through clouds to avoid being detected by enemy radar and then swooping down and bombing enemy AA guns and installations, there is a lot of variation here and you will never be bored with the mission types on offer, missions can also be replayed after completing them in order to gain higher scores and more cash to purchase more aircraft and upgrades to your existing fleet.
The game offers 2 control systems to choose from one for beginners which is straight up arcade and the other which leans more towards a more realistic experience, even if you are a beginner I would recommend the expert controls as they just feel more fluid and it is best to get familiar with these controls to give yourself a better chance at the multi-player portion of the game once you decide to embark on that journey. Graphically the game is absolutely amazing, everything from the actual aircraft through to the clouds and explosion will have your jaw dropping as you zip around the skies. As you progress through the game you will earn currency called MRP (Military Result Points) to purchase other aircraft and modifications for them such as better handling characteristics and weapons, you can also earn aircraft skins by accomplishing certain ratings in missions and also by shooting down enemy ace fighter pilots that appear in missions, the currency you earn as well as the aircraft you unlock is universal between both the single player and multiplayer components of the game, which I think is a nice touch.

The multiplayer component of the game while lacking in modes is fantastic, especially when you only have a limited amount of gaming times on your hands as it is simple to just jump right in and start playing. It is disappointing that there are only two modes available, Battle Royal (which is basically deathmatch) and team deathmatch which sees two teams of four pilots fighting against each other, hopefully, some more modes will be thrown into the game in future patches. Despite only having two game modes available the multiplayer component of the game is my favourite part, each match is roughly 5 minutes in length and is full of frantic, missile dodging action, the quick duration of matches and the amount of frantic action from start to finish definitely add to the "just one more go" factor of this mode. Progressing through multiplayer will earn you MRP currency to unlock new aircraft and upgrade weapons and also earn you new titles and paint schemes to apply to your flying death machines. You have limited space on each aircraft to assign upgrades and new parts and experimenting with these to find the best loadout to suit your playstyle adds a lot of depth to this mode.

AC7 also features a VR mode, unfortunately the whole game cannot be played in VR and there are only a few exclusive missions that can be played in this mode. The VR mode is utterly fantastic, I was losing interest in my VR headset and it had spent the last few months sitting on my shelf gathering dust, not any more! From the moment you start the first VR mission sitting in the pilot seat of your F18 and launch yourself off the aircraft carrier straight up into the sky you realise this is what you actually shelled out the bucks for a VR headset for in the first place, it is utterly engrossing stuff. The graphics quality in VR mode is of course lowered from the main game modes due to technical restrictions but this is one of the most graphically outstanding VR games I have played, you can actually even see the sunlight shine through thin scratches in the cockpit glass. Make sure you are sitting securely on a chair before attempting this mode as flying around at supersonic speeds and looking around can be quite disorientating until you get used to it. The only nitpick I have with this mode is several instances where the VR headset display went black and displayed the text "outside of mission area" and then quickly went back to the action, needless to say this is quite immersion breaking and hopefully can be addressed in a future patch.

Overall there is a lot on offer here especially if you own a VR headset, even if you don't the single player and multiplayer components of the game should keep you playing for a long time especially if you want to unlock everything that is on offer. Graphically and sonically the game is outstanding and the only thing I can really fault about it is that the narrative can be confusing to follow, but if you are an Ace Combat fan like myself then you are used to the quirky stories in this franchise. Aspiring fighter pilot or not, rush out and buy this and give it a try, you won't be disappointed!

Review copy provided by Bandai Namco Australia

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