Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown – Review

Ace Combat 7

Humans can run, jump, swim, but flight is something that humans had to invent. Flying changed everything. The way our world works was fundamentally changed by explorers and scientists finding a way to fly. It also changed how humans fight their wars.

Airpower has fundamentally changed the paths of war, from The Battle of Midway to Operation Babylon. The heroic stories of these pilots and their close calls with danger became as engaging as the stories told in myths and legends. Our fascination with flight has lead to charged and enthusiastic films, such as Top Gun and Iron Eagle.

It is a combination of real-life conflict and fictional imagination that lead to Bandai Namco creating the Ace Combat series. Ace Combat first debuted in 1995 on the original PlayStation and has several major installments over the span of 20 years. This includes installments on the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Gameboy Advance, iPhone, the Xbox 360, Nintendo 3DS, and PlayStation 3.

Its last official installment was Ace Combat Assault Horizon in 2011, a game that separated itself its established legacy in an attempt to appeal to gamers plugged into the “Call of Duty” setting of modern combat in video games. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon received a mixed reception and was the last main installment of Ace Combat until now.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown returns to the classic arcade flying action, with dozens of real-life aircraft to choose from, across a lengthy campaign. Stack Up Dot Org had the opportunity to play Ace Combat 7 at PAX WEST in September of 2018, thanks to the generosity of Bandai Namco games. The Air Assault participants, along with myself, absolutely enjoyed the demo. With the final game now available, I can say that Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown will certainly go down as one of the best games of 2019.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown takes place on Earth in a universe known as “The Strangereal.” The Strangereal is meant to create a world that mirrors ours, but with its own countries, peoples, and lore. For example, in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, the country of Osea is a mirror of the United States and The Nation of Yuktobania is a mirror to Russia. it’s a realistic world, with slight futuristic and anime influences. In this world, the Earth suffered an asteroid impact that devasted the continent of Erusea, changing nations, and economies.

This led to the construction of a powerful planetary defense weapon, known as Stonehenge. Unfortunately, malevolent government forces seized control of most of the continent, including Stonehenge. Throughout the years, as documented in the Ace Combat trilogy on PlayStation 2, Osea and the Nato-like organization, ISAF, fought back, dismantling the tyrannical government and their weapons programs. Peace was restored to the continent until now. A new government, a monarchy, has established The Kingdom of Erusea and is determined to rightfully usurp the control of the continent for itself. What follows is a tale of intrigue, conspiracy, bravery, and redemption along the fields of battle at 30,000 feet.

Ace Combat 7 is an arcade action game. The only realistic portions of the game will be the breathtaking visuals and the effects that atmospheric conditions have on your aircraft. Each plane varies differently in its performance, maneuverability, and strengths. Players will carry an absurd amount of munitions. In other words, each plane will have anywhere between forty to 90 missiles, along with a number of special weapons, which include a variety that ranges from JDAM’s to laser cannons.

Players will be able to fly real-world aircraft from the F4 Phantom II to the F/A 18 Super Hornet to cutting edge aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The fighter selection also includes aircraft from outside the United States such as the European EF-2000 Typhoon and the Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum. Knowing these aircraft is important as each fighter has specific strengths and weakness pertaining to combat.

A plane can be easily identified as one of three classes: Fighter, Attacker, and Multirole. A fighter is proficient in air-to-air sorties while an Attacker is best for ground combat. A multirole can successfully fulfill both needs but it is not extraordinarily strong in both. Players will acquire these via an Aircraft tree. Players will play through the lengthy campaign, and multiplayer, attain points for acquiring fighter planes. They may also acquire aircraft parts for their planes and special weapons for each aircraft.

In combat, players can switch between a 1st person view, a cockpit view, and a third-person view. Players can choose either casual or expert control schemes. Casual removes the ability to roll and is best for newcomers, but experienced players will want to play on the expert difficulty to have true control over their aircraft. For those lucky enough, they may use the special flight stick configuration being sold with special editions of Ace Combat 7. After getting comfortable with the controls and the nature of the game, players are off to a flight experience unlock any other.

Ace Combat 7 is euphoric, truly bringing you to the sensation of feeling like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Combat is instantly satisfying and breathtaking. Players will be flying past the sound barrier, strafing bombers, and rival fighters. On harder difficulties, the enemies won’t let up and will do everything they can to eliminate you.

The experience is challenging, especially as the game no incorporates weather and atmospheric conditions that can impact your aircraft. Flying through a cloud can ice up your plane, temporarily reducing mobility for a few brief moments. Some missions take place during thunderstorms, creating moments of turbulence that can greatly affect your planes agility and altitude.

In one instance of play, I was struck by lightning, rendering my targeting systems inoperable for several moments.  Compounded by a sensational musical score, players will feel the euphoric rush of being an ace fighter pilot, fighting in a terrible war, setting what is right. It’s an incredible feeling that will give players chills and excitement in a very unique way. For longtime fans of the franchise, this is a tremendous return to form.

Ace Combat 7 also contains multiplayer and an exclusive VR mode for PSVR owners. The multiplayer has shared progression with the campaign, meaning that credits you earn in the multiplayer will add to the credits you earn in single player. The multiplayer currently has a deathmatch and team deathmatch mode, pitting you with the finest fighters int he world.

The multiplayer feels competent enough, though it’s a matter of skill and a degree of luck to be able to splash a bandit. The more players play, the more they will become acclimated. Disappointingly, those are the only modes available but based upon the season pass, it is believed that more modes, which will hopefully include online co-op, will be added.

The PSVR mode contains several missions in a small campaign, similar to the miniature Ace Combat 4 campaign in Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War. The PSVR missions are the closest the players will get to the real thing. The HUD is tuned to the fighter that you fly. The radar and gun sights are tailored to the cockpit. When fighters fly past you, you need to move your head to locate your enemy bandit and line up a shot. The familiar arcade mechanics are still present, but the immersion is absolutely incredible. I truly hope they add more missions.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is one of the best games of the year and my contender on the very best of 2019. Its aerial arcade action is immense and the presentation is absolutely stunning. There is plenty to do for each player, whether they want to casually enjoy the campaign or aggressively go through the entire game to be the very best. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is an absolutely tremendous experience that will lift your spirits in being the hero. Saddle up, pilot. You’ve got a war to win in the skies!