I just love how the Ace Combat franchise went back to its known and original formula. Others might have loved Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation and others haven’t; with this new entry, hardcore fans will definitely like Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. I have to be honest here, I’ve never been a die-hard fan of flight simulations, even the entire Ace Combat franchise, however, my first-ever flight in the skies on Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, matched with its striking and emotional musical score (and song, ‘The Journey Home’) and interesting characters, I immediately fell in love. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown sets another impressive run that almost gave me the same feeling with The Unsung War but not enough to overtake its outstanding predecessor.
Set in the Strangereal world in the Ace Combat universe and 9 years after the war between Yuktobania and Osea (in The Unsung War), with the Aces of Razgriz reigning the skies, the country of Osea finds itself to be at war with Erusea this time again. Pretty much the same as the other Ace Combat games, you are the ever-silent rookie pilot, named “Trigger”, who made its way from being a convict to the top as a leader of a squadron after a few missions.
How the narrative is written is something that veteran players are already familiar with – the political struggles, certain groups that want to stir up a conflict between two nations, and the bond of your squad members in the skies. Even if this type of plot direction works perfectly well in an arcadey-title like Ace Combat; if you’re a person who starts off with Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, multiple references from the previous installments can be confusing at times – so if you have your good old PS2 then it’s time to hunt for Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies, The Unsung War, and Belkan War.
Even with a decent storyline that Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown has, it’s disappointing to say that the characters you fight alongside with aren’t as gripping as those characters in The Unsung War. There aren’t enough scenes where the game showcases important characters for you to even care aside from country leaders and the narrator. You don’t even get a chance to develop that connection with your other squad members in the game; character development is certainly absent. In this case, you’re put in 3 different squads and with the time constraint by only having 20 missions all throughout the main story mode; these characters are treated with no importance – expendable – except for only one character.
Ace Combat is all about dogfighting, blowing up enemy planes, and tailing enemies until full missile lock-on. It is super fun and the balance between realism and arcade-like mechanics make Ace Combat’s formula incomparable to other flight combat simulation games out there. The combat takes you at the edge of your seat just like flying a real fighter jet, especially combined with PlayStation VR and the exclusively manufactured Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas joystick for Ace Combat 7 give the players a realistic experience.
When we talk about PlayStation VR, you won’t be impressed with the lackluster content they made for virtual reality. You’re only given 3 playable missions in VR mode and after that, you don’t have anything else to do but hop in the jet and go on [free-play mode] – where you get to fly around the map without enemies and just look at amazing scenes. You won’t be able to play the whole campaign in the VR mode, unlike Capcom’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. The studio that worked on RE7 managed to integrate the story mode with VR, it makes me question the studio behind Ace Combat at Bandai Namco for the lack of effort since a game like this is perfect for the device, instead they only added VR for the sake of just having VR.
Aside from the added PlayStation VR mode, there’s one feature Project Aces added that affects your gameplay – clouds. Yes, this time, clouds and storms significantly change the tone and how your fighter jet performs. Sounds get muffled, engines get iced that could potentially stall your plane, and the missile targeting system slowly locks on to enemy fighters. When you get hit by lightning, your plane-HUD gets distorted and unstable for a couple of seconds.
Upgrading and buying your new fighter jets are easy but it is part of the Aircraft Tree. I never really liked the idea of combining both upgrades and new plane in just one tree, it takes you more time to unlock the planes you want and upgrades you need. The game forces you to undergo through the story missions all over again or play more multiplayer matches to gain MRP – its in-game currency. While it’s given that the missions are undoubtedly engaging and fun, I find this approach lacking in terms of innovation, but I do like how it’s easy to earn MRPs as the game is kind enough to give you high amounts of MRP every after missions and matches.
Multiplayer is another thing you might enjoy. While it’s frustrating at first since the enemy players are insanely good, you will eventually figure how to defeat them. It takes a lot of patience, accuracy, skill, and determination in multiplayer. Preparing for the match is essential in winning an entire round as you need to have the right build, parts, and plane for each mode – Battle Royale (up to 8 players) and Team Deathmatch – and game rules.
There is no matchmaking or dedicated servers, the players will have to create the lobby and set some ground rules to their liking. One good example a player can set the cost limit at 2000 or below that or even higher than 2000. As a player who wants to join this session, you need to have a plane ready that only cost 2000, and that 2000 is not limited to the plane alone, that includes upgrade parts too. It’s taxing in a way where you have to mix the right plane build; but this is where managing your hangar becomes the real challenge in multiplayer which makes it gratifying when you place 1st after the entire match.
When we talk about Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown’s overall game performance on the PS4 Pro, it’s exemplary. You never get any frame-drops (not in my whole playthrough) throughout the entire campaign and during online matches. The game even looks astonishing. You can see realistic clouds as you fly over or through them; even explosions and sound effects are that stunning.
Even with the absence of character development and upsetting VR mode, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a great entry to show that even old formulas work with some slight twists to it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a review code provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment. Read our review policy to know how we go with our game reviews.
Tested: PS4 Pro / PSVR