ACE COMBAT 7: SKIES UNKNOWN Final Review: A Triumphant Return To Form!

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There are very few franchises out there I care for as much Ace Combat. Having decided to join the Air Force after playing the amazing Ace Combat 5 the series has always held a special place in my heart. And, as I am sure you all know, when it comes to franchises you love a bad entry really lets you down and leaves you disappointed. For me the entries in the Ace Combat franchise since the release of Ace Combat 6 back in October 23, 2007 have been mostly let downs. There have been a few exceptions to this with the 3DS release of Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy and Some aspects of the now shutdown Ace Combat Infinity but, like most fans I was ready for a return to form for the series. And my fellow aces or long standing wishes have been granted! Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is exactly the Ace Combat game we have all been waiting 11 long years for!

Story

Set 9 years after the events of Ace Combat 5, the Osean Federation has built an huge space elevator to help bring economic stability back to the continent of Usea. An asteroid impact (The Ulysses 1994XF04 incident first mentioned in Ace Combat 4) and numerous conflicts (various Ace Combat games) have ravaged the continent over the years. Seeing the space elevator as a way for Osea to take charge of the Usean continent, the Kingdom of Erusea launches numerous surprise drone attacks all across the Usean and Osean continents to weaken Osean influence. Assuming the role of “Trigger” It is up to you to turn the tide of this war!

Gameplay

Flying in Ace Combat 7 feels absolutely perfect for an arcade flight-sim. Controls are very responsive whether using a controller or HOTAS so fans of either method should be pleased. Controls are once again broken into the elite and novice settings like past entries in the franchise. Elite controls are more simulation oriented with the player needing to be in charge of rolling and pitching to accomplish turns versus the push left to go left of the novice setting. Gone are the horrible DFM engagements from Ace Combat Assault Horizon. Instead, the flying is more in line with what players remember from Ace Combat 6 High-G turns included. High-G turns are once again based on risk/reward where they can help you maneuver behind a target but stay in it to long and you will stall. Due to the increase of drone enemies combat also gets interesting when it comes to utilizing your maneuvering especially in later missions. Flying can also be done in cockpit, HUD only and 3rd-person modes. When utilizing the novice controls in 3rd-person the camera gives off a more cinematic flair that is interesting to see but not a way I would personally ever play the game.

Combat once again involves lining up shots on targets and taking them out using a wide variety of weaponry including missiles, machine guns, bombs and lasers! Oh yes the lasers make me happy! Terrain and clouds also play a much bigger role in the combat this time around compared to every previous game. Clouds can help save you, or an enemy, from missile lock-ons. Clouds also impair visibility and radar. Staying in the clouds to long can also cause your plane to ice over resulting in reduced mobility or stalls.

Purchasing new planes and upgrades functions similarly to how Ace Combat Infinity used to work. An aircraft tech tree unlocks after the first mission and features several branches you can follow to unlock your preferred planes and upgrades. Unlike past entries, all unlocked planes and parts are permanently unlocked with no option to sell them to later fund a new purchase. Purchases also carry over between campaign playthroughs and free mission mode as well as multiplayer. I would recommend a quick playthrough of the campaign to help unlock some parts before tackling the online side of things.

Missions have been extremely fun and varied with an interesting storyline included to keep you engaged and wanting more! The early missions have also been massively fan servicey for fans of Ace Combat 5 with the inclusion of the Kestrel II, Sea Goblin, former President Harling and the callsign Mother Goose One. There is also a huge bombshell moment in mission 4 so be prepared! As you make it into later missions there are times when you don’t even know what side an npc on the battlefield fights for requiring you to keep them in view so your support plane can identify them as friend or foe. These missions were pretty intense as you were tasked with helping evacuate ground troops under fire from enemies but you had no idea which ones were on your side. Numerous missions also pay homage to previous Ace Combat games with canyon flights from Air Combat, and tunnel flights from Ace Combat 3 making another appearance here!

Multiplayer is divided into two gametypes, Team Deathmatch and Battle Royal (FFA Deathmatch) playing either mode unlocks a new multiplayer only section of the aircraft tree that is filled with parts to help you get the competitive edge. Games play out to a certain score (100,000 FFA/250,000 TDM) or time limit and the team/player with the highest score wins. To help keep games closer and more interesting when one team/player begins to pull ahead they become worth more points to shoot down. I love how people will begin flocking after the number one player in hopes to get a huge score boost. Might I add it is also really fun for me to dodge 4 people at once!

The last mode to touch on for Ace Combat 7 is of course the PSVR exclusive missions. Much like the arcade mode of Ace Combat 5, VR mode has players returning to the role of Mobius One the main protagonist of Ace Combat 4. VR mode consists of 3 missions and might just be the best use of the PSVR to date in terms of immersion. Seriously, VR is amazing for flight sims! You can easily track your targets with the slightest glance in the direction they are heading allowing you to line up shots far easier than in the traditional campaign. You can also see all the wonderfully modelled cockpit details up close and even see the flight stick and throttle move inside the plane according to your input! Despite the short length VR mode is definitely worth sinking tons of time into! Though be warned it will probably leave you feeling slightly nauseated the first few times you play.

Visuals

Ace Combat 7 is perhaps one of the most beautiful games I have ever experienced. With highly detailed models and environments I can’t help but look around in awe. Clouds and other atmospheric effects are also splendidly done and result in the proper sense of confusion when you get lost in them. But let’s talk about the lighting. Lighting is a huge upgrade over previous games, you can be under cloud cover and have the expected overcast look and you will begin flying through them and see the light that is being scattered only to emerge above into the glowing sun. The whole experience is something to behold! Unfortunately there is the case of occasionally muddy textures but for the most part all the artwork is on point.

Audio

Audio quality is once again top notch as well with beautiful detail. Engines, missiles, explosions, machine guns, debris and radio chatter all fill your ears with the clarity to distinguish each during gameplay. The soundtrack is also really well done but I must say it isn’t quite what I expect from an Ace Combat game at times. It doesn’t sound bad or out of place really it is just different then the rock or orchestrated scores of past entries.

What It Could Have Done Better

Target prioritization is still a huge point of grumble from me when it comes to Ace Combat 7. There are numerous instances where I will be doing a bombing run or changing my target during a dogfight to hit something I am more in line with just to have the target switch to something behind me…

Verdict

Ace Combat 7 is an absolute blast and joy to play! The story, missions, gameplay, multiplayer and VR have all been top notch! The game is also absolutely gorgeous to look at. For fans of the series this is a no brainer purchase that they will greatly enjoy! I also feel that series newcomers are treated to a good place to enter the franchise with numerous approach-ability options and key story details from past games being explained throughout. If you have ever been curious about jumping into the cockpit of an arcade flight-sim there is no better choice than Ace Combat 7!

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Review was based on playthroughs of both the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game. Xbox One version was provided courtesy of Bandai Namco.