Ace Combat is a franchise with a long and storied history, one filled with frenetic dogfights, fast-paced action, planning sequences, and of course – a deep and compelling story. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown seeks to capitalize on what came before in a full-court press to present the franchise to a wider, more mainstream audience.
Does it succeed in doing so? Read on to discover the answer to this titillating question.
The introductory cut-scene details a touching story between a young girl and her grandfather, a World War II veteran who had served in the air force. Easy on the eyes and well-scored, the short clip laid out a personal and impactful narrative which instantly drew me right in. Running parallel to the player’s own story, this lead-in was a masterful choice in storytelling by the developers.
Kicking off with a desperate sortie after your base is the subject of a surprise attack, Ace Combat 7 puts you in the ejector seat in short order, sending you off to tussle with some manned fighter jets – and some drones – in the very first mission.
An extremely impressive first hour gives way to a rich and varied play experience.
Graphics and Presentation
Extremely slick and beautiful, the graphical suite present in Ace Combat 7 is simply top notch. Textures are detailed and vivid, the skyline and the treeline presented with equal enthusiasm. Weather effects like clouds and ice are present, and add to the gameplay as well as to the sense of overall immersion. There’s no way to easily describe the feeling of blasting through cloud cover, tailing an enemy MIG, attempting to find them in the thick and soupy conditions. Your engines are starting to ice up, and you feel like you might crash into them at any moment. In a few words — it’s cool.
Very cool briefings are delivered in a high-contrast, neon style as both your forces and those of the opponent are illustrated in the war-room. A voice over details precisely the parameters of each mission, nullifying confusion, and the board can be examined in great detail for those who prefer to know precisely how dangerous each mission might be.
Missions can be replayed in perfect detail, from any angle, at any speed. This is perfect for players who light to screenshot their conquests, or simply study their style of flight to see how it might be improved.
Sound and Music
While a rousing martial score is an underpinning factor in what amounts to a glorious overall sound design, it is the chatter of your wingmen and the pounding of your cannon that really punctuates the entire experience.
The satisfying sound of a missile lock and the hot burn of your own armaments as they streak to the skyline to explode against an enemy fighter. The whine of jet engines as they compete for aerial supremacy – and the right angle to a clear shot. The wind blowing as it is sliced by razor-sharp wings, parting way for a killing machine.
If I wax poetic, it’s because the sound design is really that good – particularly for those of you with excellent audio setups. The back and forth between the various wingmen, complete with dynamic and deep personalities, is a hallmark of the series and has been since DOS-classic Wing Commander.
Gameplay and Control
Control is central to one’s enjoyment of any combat flight simulator, and Ace Combat has always done very well for itself in this regard. I’m pleased to report that Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown delivers in spades, going above and beyond to satisfy their core audience as well as newcomers to the series.
A deep customization tree is another central part of the fun – with players being able to buy new jets to fly, along with a cornucopia of complimentary weaponry – and is also integral to keeping up with increasingly more sophisticated enemies.
How do the fighters handle? Well, that entirely depends on which type of jet one chooses. Some of the “Attack” models are meant to focus on ground targets, and are a bit sturdier – but their bulk makes them less nimble. The stock F-16 Fighting Falcon is a capable craft, however, and should serve novice players and expert players quite well. Regardless of your choice of conveyance, controls are extremely responsive, with no lag or delay from input to execution.
Targets can be found on land, sea, and air – and will almost always pose a challenge on Normal, let alone Hard. Missile lock is a frequent threat for the player, and flares are in short supply. Fast and frantic gameplay will keep all but the most hardened franchise veterans on the edge of their seats in full-blown panic by the later levels. For those casual fighter pilots out there, Easy difficult provides a mild challenge while still allowing access to the intricate narrative and tight gameplay.
The multiplayer modes – Deathmatch and Battle Royale – are a great deal of fun, if basic. Fly against human opponents in a ferocious, instanced battle. Feel free to load up your jet with a tonne of purchased accessories, but be aware that it makes you a higher value target, as points are awarded based on the level of opponent taken out of the fight.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is perhaps the best entry in the long-running series, one that has so far spanned nearly 25 years at this point. From humble beginnings on the original Playstation to its current iteration on the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC – Ace Combat has become the gold standard when it comes to arcade combat flight simulators. Not only does it nail the necessary controls and high-octane combat demanded by genre aficionados, it also provides an enthralling, engaging story to compel the player forward – to play more.
Polished to a shine, with seamless story transitions and pulse-pounding pick up and play dogfighting, there is little doubt that Ace Combat 7 is attempting to endear itself to a whole new generation of fans, many of whom have likely not played a previous game in the series.
In this endeavor, it doubtlessly succeeds. This latest Ace Combat game is the best of the bunch, the product of two and a half decades of refinement as concerns an already excellent formula.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in February. This review is based on an Xbox One version provided by the publisher.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown
- Fast-paced action with no room for boredom.
- Deep customization of fighters and armaments.
- Well-written story and compelling characters, particularly wingmen.
- Very, very pretty and smooth frame-rate.
- Soundtrack is average, nothing particularly notable.
- Multi-player modes are basic.