During my childhood, my brother showed me how to do tricks with a yoyo, the first one was ‘walk the dog’ and it looked simple enough. Toss it down, let it stay then pull it back up, and I miserably failed on my first ten attempts. It was then that he pointed out that I wasn’t really throwing the yoyo properly, that I have to properly learn and refine my basics before trying anything fancy, or it’ll always come out sloppy. I found this to be especially applicable in a lot of things, like writing, playing fighters, cooking, and apparently for this review, crafting games.
Ace Combat is a series nearly as old as the PlayStation 1, and my last experience with anything similar would be Deadly Skies 3 on the PS2. It would be over a console generation before I could have my hands on another Ace Combat title, but it didn’t look like they had ever stopped trying to refine the game. They have taken it to a point that I would personally say, nothing less than worthy. Let me show you what I have discovered with Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown on the PlayStation 4.
Production (4.2 / 5)
Seeing that the one thing you’ll be staring at most of the time is your plane, they have spared no effort in making every aircraft look great. Not only do they look accurate but the way they move and even use their weapons reflect their real world counterparts as well. Though mostly, this would only be seen as minor details if you’re not looking for it. Though what’s especially impressive is how the rest of the sky looks while playing. Air thickens around your wings as you make hard turns while at high speed, flying into clouds makes water collect and ice up on your display, the sun can be blinding if you have to fly toward it directly, and the screen shakes as strong wind blows against your plane. Enemy planes also explode in a satisfying manner if such that it really looks like how something in motion exploding would, with chunks flying off in several directions which feels particularly badass to fly right through. On the other hand the maps don’t look very detailed and I doubt there was much of a need to do that. Specially if doing that would have gotten in the way of how open Ace Combat 7 feels while keeping up a stellar performance with it’s fps.
The interface of this game sticks to very minimalist design. Basic color differences makes it easy to tell friends from foes and slight adjustments on targets tell you most of the relevant information. Personally I wouldn’t have minded a more animated or slightly flashier design, but it’s hard to complain when it does the job as it is quite well. One thing I would complain about would be the missile alert prompt. I heard it so often so much in the game that when it played on a video I suddenly felt an instinct to dodge while I was outside.
But aside from the missile alert, the audio experience is pretty great. The music plays a great role in getting you in the intended mood of the moment, from casual dog fights to desperate rushes to save your allies and the switch of music never feels jarring. It’s also really cool that each mission seems to have its own unique soundtrack, making each one feel really unique by one more dimension. I really would like a copy of this game’s OST once it’s out as I find it pretty impressive. Also, the english voices this time around wins me over, it fits the setting better and is more practical while playing the game, which I will explain later.
Mechanics (4.8 / 5)
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is the kind of game that will make you play as an ace fighter pilot. No, that’s not a misplaced introduction, that’s what most of the game has decidedly designed its mechanics around for every step of the way. From the point you are being briefed on the next mission to completing your last objective. So get ready to play the role because being a wild maverick with a high kill count isn’t the only thing you need to be to play this game well.
Briefings while it has a bit of flavor with the characters talking about, is hugely important to properly orienting you about what’s actually important in the coming mission. Sure, the radio comms can inform you of that while in the actual mission but you’ll want to bring the correct setup to make sure you can actually do your job. You don’t want to be the kind of guy that brings a knife to a gunfight, and not paying attention will quickly get you in that situation. There’s a huge chance that you’ll be playing most missions more than once, especially if you like getting a good rating for them, so being able to play as smart as possible is paramount. You’re also informed of possible threats and you get an idea of what kind of area you’ll be moving in, which is pretty important for knowing how to setup your plane.
The aircraft you gain access to primarily have 2 roles, a fighter, meant to take down other planes, and an assault type better suited for decimating targets below. You unlock newer and stronger planes and their extra weapons by paying for them through a development tree. They cost progressively more at each step, including the parts used to tune your craft so knowing which one to buy for the next mission is important. If you don’t, you’re likely to perform poorly for the next mission at best or, at worst, will be forced to farm earlier missions to gain enough in-game money to buy a more fitting setup. There’s also a limit of how much you can tune a plane, so moving onto more advanced models as you progress through the game is almost a necessity.
Finally, there’s the actual mission. Now before I go on, I’d first like to tell everyone that ‘Expert’ controls are definitely the way to go for playing Ace Combat. The alternative mode pretty much makes the game bland as it oversimplifies the flight itself. So remember, expert controls. Anyway, there’s generally two ways you can play: You either fight, or you can fight well. Knowing when and how to get into a good position to shoot missiles at your target, what kind of movement other limitations of your plane are important to knowing how to not waste your time. There’s also more than just one threat to deal with pretty much all the time so evaluating what’s more important is something you’ll have to constantly do. Do you think you can chase down a squad of bombers or do you have to take care of the escorts first? Can you finish them off before they attack your base? Do you have enough ammo to do all of that? These are typical questions you’ll be faced with for a good bulk of the game, and it tends to get more elaborate.
Sometimes you are forced to fly in circles because of the sheer number of enemies trying to shoot you down, it looks kinda boring but there’s actually a few solutions to it if you can figure it out. Unfortunately the game doesn’t really tell you much of that directly, it would have been great if it maybe have a tutorial mode for special maneuvers or at least an indicator that certain planes are capable of special movement. I would have also appreciated it if there was a way to test and master special weapons to fully understand how they work. Though you can easily do this with free missions, being able to study the aircraft and their weapons in a more controlled manner would have saved me some frustration when I was trying them for the first time.
After clearing a mission you are given a replay, as well as a review of your score for that run. You are given a rank with S as the highest rating. Mainly this is based on how long you took to finish the mission and how much destruction you wrought. It sounds simple enough until you realize how long it can take you to clear one. Most missions span between 15-20 minutes if you know what you’re doing, but if you haven’t quite figured it out it can take about an hour each. While yes, you can use checkpoints, they’re rarely actually useful, and they add on the time you’re taking to finish the stage. If you want to net a good rank or farm efficiently, you play by the rules or else.
Content (4.5 / 5)
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown comes at you at three difficulty settings: Easy, normal, and hard. Now if you’re not a seasoned player be merciful to yourself and play on normal, you can always challenge it later on hard when you’ve gotten a much better grasp of the game.
Featuring 29 aircraft you can play as with one pre-order DLC as a bonus, you’ve got variety if you want it. On the development tree there’s three main branches of tech to go through and one extra branch exclusively for PVP. You can unlock them all the same but some parts can only be used for either the campaign or PVP, so there’s already something there if you want to keep playing even after you’ve finished the campaign.
For the campaign it has a partly mediocre and at the same impressive. You get introduced and guided through the story with a melodramatic tone from every single character. Probably because this is one of the more fitting ways to tell a war story, but it’s taken much further than I’m willing to enjoy. It seems to carry a feel that the Metal Gear series has when narrating heavier story elements, but forgets to be self-aware of this non-stop melodrama. In a world where nobody seems to have a good sense of humor, it was getting pretty bored of the story halfway through.
But I’m willing to let that pass because the missions were all very, very replayable. Aside from the initial missions that more or less pass off as the tutorial, every mission has a unique element in it that kept the experience fresh throughout the campaign. Dodging radar detection while dealing with strong winds, searching for targets through a sandstorm, defending a base from multiple fronts, being unable to tell friend from foe, in a way, the game kept making gimmicks to add a new challenge for that mission. The great part is that the nuances feel believable in accordance with the story, and they all feel manageable if you pay it enough attention.
For those who are in-the-know, please raise your hand if you agree that mission 8 was the controller-tossing rage test.
Features (4.0 / 5)
Ace Combat 7 lets you view your records from the scores and times you managed your missions to your favorite planes. You’re also able to review cutscenes if there was ever a reason you wanted to see any of them again, which I would find strange because I wanted to skip them half the time.
There’s also a treat for those who have PSVR as it has three missions tailored for that kind of setup. Most VR gaming experiences are generally games on rails, so being able to play a VR game where you freely fly is a huge plus. While I don’t own one myself, I’m inclined to believe that this is probably the best VR experience on PlayStation 4 yet.
While you are not allowed to change difficulty settings during a campaign, you can always just take a free mission whether you want to try a different difficulty setting or you want to farm MRP, the in game currency.
Multiplayer options also allow you to farm MRP quite effectively .So far it’s possible to have an 8 player match online, what’s interesting is that matches can be set with a cost limit, which is determined by how advanced or how far-augmented your craft is. Meaning even less advanced planes don’t necessarily become useless especially in the PVP scene. I would have appreciated it if there was an co-op function for campaign, it would have been especially cool if some of the scenarios from the campaign can be translated into multiplayer. Like dealing with unique weather, having objectives to destroy, or even trying to rack up a kill count. It’s clear that they’ve managed to maintain good net code and stable enough servers to host proper multiplayer matches, but I honestly feel like they can go beyond team death matches and free-for-alls. There’s also a bit of an issue with how team matches tend to tilt in one direction very quickly after the first death.
This is the first time I’ve played a game of this genre since the PS2 era, while there is a factor of nostalgia, it’s hard to say how much better of a comeback Ace Combat can make. The refined sense of level design and the attention to detail of how well the controls will work, as well as how each plane would perform really speaks volumes of the developer’s knowledge and experience of developing Ace Combat games. From this point, they were able to strike a balance between making challenging scenarios that you feel like you can win. Ace Combat 7 has no reservations tossing you into the thick of things knowing that you’ll be able to keep up. By making sure that the basic elements of what flying should be like, you can focus on the game. By having briefings provide you with critical information that can help you on your mission, it becomes worthy of attention. By crafting missions as a layered set of problems, you are constantly engaged with solving them. While I have my issues with the multiplayer mode, all of the functional parts of the campaign serve their basic purposes well, and that makes me want to take it as far as I can.
If nothing else, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a worthy sequel to its predecessors. I recommend picking it up for those who like realistic military combat, or at least if you have a VR headset.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown soars to new heights scoring a 4.38 / 5.
Available on PS4, X1 and PC.
We would like to thank Bandai Namco Entertainment for the review copy!