For over twenty years, the Ace Combat series has been delivering all the thrills of a combat flight simulator without hundreds of controls.
Whilst more sophisticated PC combat simulators require hours of practice to get a handle on the complex aircraft controls, the Ace Combat games allow players to get right into the action without the hassle.
It is, of course, a compromise, one that favours fun and excitement over realism.
If you like lashings of overblown, weird Japanese-style storytelling with your aerial dog-fighting, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown will not disappoint. If you’d sooner have developers concentrate on realism rather than narrative, you are going to be disappointed.
As well as being an easy-to-play arcade experience, Ace Combat 7 continues the franchise’s tradition of coupling the mission-based aerial sorties with the sometimes convoluted story.
It’s the same breathy narrated tale of invasion and resistance, good vs. evil. The typically Japanese storytelling will not be for everyone, but you can skip it if it gets too much for you. Whilst my eyes had a tendency to glaze over during the lengthy cut-scenes, I did get a bit of the gist of what was going on.
The story is based around a conflict between two made-up countries, Erusea and Osea, on a continent that isn’t on Earth. This is a world with space elevators, gargantuan multi-propellered weapons platforms capable of launching hundreds of drones. At the same time, pilots in this fantasy world have access to contemporary fighter planes from the likes of Boeing, Sukhoi and MiG.
Ace Combat 7 sticks to the formula that has made the series so successful. The only differences are better graphics and smoother gameplay.
Whereas the PC version of the game has the best visuals, it’s PlayStation VR owners that get the full modern jet-fighter combat experience on the PlayStation 4.
PlayStation VR owners are in for an additional treat with the game featuring a good few hours of VR gaming.
Unfortunately, unlike the likes of Resident Evil 7, Skyrim and Borderlands, you can only play a few special missions in VR, but the experience is top notch.
The game will have you craning your neck to get a bead on the bogey on your tail. Flying becomes a lot more intuitive in VR as it separates your view from the controls, enabling pilots to look into their turn and better align the plane with the target that you are looking at.
Gamers that are still working on their VR legs may find being thrown around in a virtual jet-fighter a bit much on their stomach. If you are still trying to get to grips with VR sickness (as it does go away, or at least ease off as you get used to it), Ace Combat 7 will provide you with the perfect tool to acclimatise yourself to fast-paced VR (or get you barfing on the lounge carpet).
If you’ve played previous Ace Combat titles, you’ll be familiar with the game’s format. The game is mission-based, with a lengthy pre-rendered cut-scene telling the story loosely-based around the gameplay missions. There’s then a mission briefing, after which you can choose your aircraft and loadout.
The game features a range of unlockable aircraft that can be upgraded with modification and equipped with customised weapon configurations. New planes and modes are unlocked by purchasing them with money earnt in-game. Every decent combat fighter is represented in the game, including planes with specialist roles such as the A-10 Tankbuster.
The missions are varied and set across interesting and well-modelled terrain. Little details, like the turbulence, rain and even icing when breaching the clouds add to the fun of the game. The gameplay, compared to serious combat flight simulators is comparatively simplistic. Let’s be honest, now, if you are after a sophisticated flight simulator, you wouldn’t be choosing Ace Combat, anyway.
Instead of getting your head around hundreds of keyboard combinations playing the likes of DCS on PC, the point and fire gameplay puts fun rather than simulation first. With a button for next target, another for change weapon, then fire missile and machine gun Ace Combat 7 allows the player to get right into the thick of it without the need for dull tutorials (or a degree in aviation).
Dog-fighting is fun, but the lack of depth means that it’s not for everyone. Ace Combat 7 will make you feel like a fighter ace, even if the simplified controls mean you are not really earning it.
After each successful mission, you can try the scenario again or just enjoy the view in feel flight. The game also has a multiplayer mode, but I was unable to find a game to actually test it out.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a solid title. The story is slightly bonkers. The gameplay is enjoyable and the whole package nicely polished. PSVR owners really should be picking the game up for the superb VR experience. Everyone else should consider the game at least for its great pick-up-and-play aerial dog-fighting.