Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review
Project Aces and BANDAI Namco hope to soar to new limits with the release of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, the high-octane aerial dog fighting and bombing franchise that has spanned nearly 25 years. Promising better visuals, fluid gameplay, multiplayer support, and VR action built in, does Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown do enough to reinvigorate a stagnating genre? Read our review and find out!
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown follows the story of Trigger, a member of the highly skilled Mage Squadron and the games faceless and silent protagonist. The Osean, Usean and Erusean forces are fighting for control of the Sky Lift, a monumental construction that once stood as a sign of peace between the three fictional nations. A surprise attack by the Erusean Forces, utilizing cutting-edge drone technology has thrown peace agreements into turmoil, resulting in an all-out counter offensive from Erusean’s enemies.
Beginning as a pilot in a hot shot unit, Ace Combat 7’s hero soon finds himself in hot water following a catastrophic friendly fire incident involving a critical VIP. Demoted to a penal unit of ex-cons and failed pilots, the story follows Trigger’s redemption, while offering additional insight into the war through the telling of story from multiple perspectives. The story is unlikely to win any awards, as it is predictable and lacking in creativity, but the focus on current technological advancements and morality helps the story remain interesting and relevant throughout.
Between the cutscenes and dialogue-heavy briefings, Ace Combat’s trump card has always been its ability to deliver in the skies. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is very much more of the same. The flying is responsive and fast, the HUD delivers all the vital information at all the right times, and the combat is challenging and rewarding. Almost all of the missions mix up targets between air, ground, and sea, creating for interesting approaches to unique combat situations that reward the ability to adapt on the fly.
Adding further depth to the combat is a plain, but rewarding, progression system that works in both the single player Campaign and the multiplayer component of the game. Completing missions, fighting against other players and finishing matches all earns you MP, which can be spent to purchase new aircraft, new weapons, and new upgrades. Purchasing a new plane is much more than a simple change of model; each new aircraft I unlocked felt more powerful and more versatile than the last, and they all looked badass.
Each plane comes equipped with three different weapons: machine guns, rockets, and a special weapon. The rockets are versatile, can lock-on and can hit any air, ground, or sea targets, whereas the special is more specialized. Depending on your mission briefing, you can choose to bring cluster missiles that can wipe out eight ground units at a time, or can use bombs for structures. There’s a lot of choice that rewards strategic thinking and planning. Further customization of ships is available through the buying of equipment. It’s all very straightforward and simple, but it works and adds a nice element to the game.
One of the biggest issues facing Ace Combat titles, and generally all games in the genre, is the repetition of its gameplay. As the entirety of the appeal is centered around piloting a plane, developers can’t utilize environmental differences and objective variations as much as other genres. However, Ace Combat does more than enough to keep missions fresh and engaging.
There is, of course, the traditional approach of just blowing everything up until your mission is complete – but there’s variations thrown into the mix. Various weather conditions, from high winds and lightning storms, to sandstorms and ice clouds, provide a fresh challenge and each must be dealt with in a different way. As much as each condition may hinder your ability to complete your mission, they can just as easily aid with your objective as you duck into sandstorms to avoid fire or lead enemy planes into the path of a bolt of lightning.
Accompanying the various weather hazards are challenging mission objectives that vary as you progress. During one mission, you’ll be assaulting ground forces in large, open plains as they advance on a vital piece of allied weaponry, and the next you’re forced to remain under radar and navigate dangerously tricky canyons to reach your objective. While the fundamentals still remain the same: you’re here to blow everything up. Nevertheless, the slight variations provide a fresh challenge and a more meaningful experience as you continue to progress.
Technically, the game performed well throughout the campaign. I never experienced any performance issues; there were no crashes and no obvious drops in framerate. The view distance is a little disappointing and the vast majority of terrain details load as you fly, which is very underwhelming considering the power of modern day consoles. Another area that suffers due to lack of technical development is the environment. While the open fields, mountainous regions, and canyon areas all look and function well, there’s little to no life in any of these areas outside of targets.
When landing at a friendly outpost, or attacking an enemy stronghold, there’s no rush of infantry on the ground. No pilots prepping to take off, it’s just you, the sky, and your targets. The sky is your playground, but outside of that, Ace Combat 7’s environment and terrain feels lifeless and lacking in detail.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a solid experience for fighter plane enthusiasts, but it plays things too safe. Sticking to a tried-and-tested formula that has ensured the series’ success and continuation for nearly 25 years is a sound strategy, but it lacks in innovation and any new exciting creative direction.