Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review – Take Flight

    Title: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown
    Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
    Release Date: January 18, 2019
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
    Genre: Combat Flight Simulator

One dream of mine, and I’m sure it was a dream for many, was to be a pilot — more specifically, a fighter aircraft pilot. Soaring around the big blue sky above us, doing barrel rolls, getting into intense dogfights, finding random balloons that kids let go of, and making a smooth landing onto a runway would just be a wild thrill. I bet that flying a fighter aircraft, or even just a commercial airplane, is a rewarding and magnificent ride — however, I can imagine it’d be a terrifying one as anything can happen in the skies.

In 2001, playing Namco’s (before Namco joined forces with Bandai) Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies gave me an idea of what it’d be like to be an ace pilot. For that game, I spent hours and hours just doing missions over and over again because I loved how the game perfectly captured what I imagined flying a fighter aircraft would be like. Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation, however, was a completely different change of pace that left me feeling disappointed after just a couple of hours.  Since then, I’ve felt the urge to step back into an Ace Combat cockpit once more and was hoping the series would go back to its roots. After a long wait, Bandai Namco’s Ace Combat 7: Unknown Skies has arrived, and it’s everything I ever wanted in a new Ace Combat game.

Much like Ace Combat 4, Ace Combat 7 takes place in the fictional, alternative universe Strangereal — set in the same Usean continent in Ace Combat 4 — where war is being waged between two great nations: the Osean Federation and the Kingdom of Erusea. This war is referred to as the Second Usean Continental War and is set in the year 2019 (yes, this year!). In a nutshell, the war all got started because the Osean Federation constructed the International Space Elevator (also called Lighthouse) in the Usean continent to help with reconstruction efforts, however, tensions rose between Osea and the Kingdom of Erusea because Erusea believed that Osea aimed to control the entire Usean continent through the space elevator. Erusea forces decided to swoop into Osea, drop a UAV attack, and shortly after, Erusea officially declared war on Osea in hopes to put a stop to Osea’s efforts.

Players take control of a pilot, with the callsign “Trigger”, who fights for the Osean Air Defense Force. His relationship with fellow pilots, along with the struggles within the war he is in, progressively unfolds during the course of the story as it unravels during missions and in beautifully produced cinematic cutscenes throughout the game. The story can be a little difficult to follow, at times, since the cutscenes predominately focus on other characters in the war, so there are a number of character narratives to keep track of. However, there’s never a dull moment in Ace Combat 7’s story as it effectively tells a multiple-perspective tale that really does capture the struggles of war from both sides. Because of this, all missions you take on have a significant sense of purpose and drama, and you’ll want to complete them all to see how the story plays out.

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Ace Combat 7‘s wide array of missions do have the standard “eliminate this” and “protect this” missions we all have gone through before, but, these missions, along with some of the more unique missions, are a blast to go through as they’re full of intense and well-paced moments. Before each mission, you get a mission briefing that shares an overview of the current situation and your objective. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, battles in war never go as one expects and the same rings true with missions in Ace Combat 7.

For instance, you’ll go into a mission with the objective to take down just one group of enemy aircrafts, but then all of a sudden, a massive swarm of enemy fighter aircrafts arrives, with one of them being a heavy-duty, beast of an aircraft that has one heck of an ace pilot, and to boot, there are ground units on land who are causing trouble too that need to be taken care of ASAP. You never quite know what you’ll encounter in each mission, which makes them exciting and fun rather than boring and repetitive — resulting in missions that are compelling enough to keep you playing for hours. Speaking of time, time is of the essence in every mission, especially since after each mission, you’re ranked on how quickly you finish a mission while also being ranked in other categories as well, so being as swift and agile as possible is vital to success. Just like I did with Ace Combat 4, I found myself replaying missions over and over in Ace Combat 7 because I enjoyed them so much. Aside from singleplayer, players also have the option to enter dogfight with friends or other pilots online in the 4 vs. 4 Team Deathmatch mode or enter the Battle Royal mode, a deathmatch mode that supports 8-player matches.

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One standout addition to Ace Combat 7, though, is how it includes PSVR missions. They’re not connected to the main storyline, but they still absolutely deserve a playthrough since they’re fantastic standalone missions that further immerse you into the game’s world. The missions pretty much made my fighter aircraft pilot dream come true as I was in a fighter aircraft cockpit in VR, saw all the buttons and switches around, fired missiles and watched them take down enemies, and looked around at the beautiful scenery in awe. Depending on the severity of the mission, the whole experience can be overwhelming and chaotic which makes for so many moments that are a wild adrenaline rush. Even though these moments were like a whirlwind, I never got motion sickness during my time with Ace Combat 7’s VR missions. The only downside with the VR missions is that there aren’t enough to play. There is a VR mode called “Airshow” that gives you 360-degree experience where you can watch an airshow with various aircraft, but it’s more of a “one-and-done” experience.

Similar to the game’s missions, though, Ace Combat 7’s gameplay is spot-on. At first, battles are more on the slow side, but this is predominately due to only having the option to control one beginner aircraft with no customizable parts and weapons. However, after you start completing missions, you’ll be unlocking and building up an arsenal of ultra-modern, realistic aircraft, special weaponry, and parts — letting you soar into fast and fierce battles in no time. Bandai Namco has achieved a good balance with making air combat feel arcade-like but somewhat real enough so all types of players can enjoy Ace Combat 7’s riveting and fluid gameplay. With weather effects like ice, thunder, and more thrown into the mix, they affect the way players will need to play. For example, taking cover in the clouds makes it difficult for missiles to track you. Overall, flying and engaging in combat is a delight.

Similarly, the number of customization options are very impressive, to put it lightly — so for players that want to make a few stylish aircrafts, they’re going to feel like a kid with an endless supply of aircraft model kits to mix and match. There’s nothing quite like making a fierce aircraft and having it rush and blast through enemies in a blink of an eye in Ace Combat 7.

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To make Ace Combat 7  feel even more epic, the game’s graphics truly brings everything together. There are beautifully rendered cloud-filled skies and photorealistic cityscapes that are breathtaking to look at, weather effects that are hard to ignore, and intricately detailed aircraft and ground-based objects. None of the game’s various environments you fly through look alike, and the same goes for every single aircraft. Every element in Ace Combat 7 has a clean and distinct look to it that greatly support the beautiful look and feel of the game.

Ace Combat 7‘s music and sound design are also important to make note of. Its rousing soundtrack heightens and matches the suspense, tension, and calmness of what’s going on during missions and story sequences. The sound design serves to further capture the feeling of being in a cockpit, as you’ll hear the roars and gusts around you, and cockpit radio chatter with mission status updates, shouts of encouragement and warnings, and jokes from fellow air squad members. Though some bits of the voice-over work falls a bit flat, it’s well-done and effective for the most part. There is the option to change the voice-over language if you’d like, but I was fine with the English voice-over dialogue.

Whether you’re an Ace Combat veteran or a series newcomer, you won’t be disappointed with flying through Ace Combat 7. Ace Combat 7 is a breathtaking, robust, and thrilling joyride. With its compelling story of war, masterfully-crafted gameplay, and lively sound design, it’s an Ace Combat game that faithfully goes back to its roots. Ace Combat 7 goes above and beyond in so many ways, and with it, you can live out your dream of being a pilot.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Brad Crespo

Editor-in-Chief - On a quest to play as many new games as possible while trying to finish an endless backlog.