Bandai Namco Ent has been responsible for the Ace Combat franchise since Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War released on the PlayStation 2 way back in 2006. Other titles in the series include Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception (PlayStation Portable), Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (Xbox 360), Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360), Ace Combat: Infinity (PlayStation 3), and Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy Plus (Nintendo 3DS).
But even way before that, the franchise had already had deep roots on Sony’s game consoles. Starting in 1995, we saw the release of Air Combat, Ace Combat 2, and Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere, on the original PlayStation console, followed by Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies, and Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War on the PlayStation 2. And of course Ace Combat Advance for the Game Boy Advance. Add in a few mobile phone entries as well, and you’re looking at a franchise that spans across 17 titles, over multiple platforms.
With Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, you can expect all the fast-paced action and drama that has become a staple of the series. Taking place in a fictional real world environment, with fictional countries, conflicts, politics and what not, you will pilot a range of aircrafts that are parallel to what you see used by world military today. Set in 2019 during a war between the countries of Osean and Erusea, the player flies as a pilot in Osean’s Mage Squadron and goes by the name “Trigger”. What follows is a tense story that almost rivals the greatest in the series to date. I’m not going to spoil any plot points, so I’ll leave it at that.
Now let’s get to what you really want to hear. “Is it any good?” You ask. Ooooooh yes! It’s good. Almost everything you would expect in a flight combat game makes an appearance. Obviously you have explosions and roaring jet engines, and radar locked missiles and machine guns that can tear through your hull like paper. It’s truly diverse. It’s really difficult to put into words just how good Ace Combat 7 both looks, and sounds. I’ve never seen a more realistic sky, short of looking out the window of the United Airlines flight that took my family to Disney World.
Speaking of Disney, I’d have to say this game is almost tailor made to be played on a screen like the Soarin’ attraction at Epcot. Look it up on YouTube if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Back on topic though. Ace Combat 7 offers both a solo story campaign and online multiplayer. Typically, a lot of developers tend to favor one over the other. But that isn’t the case here. I feel that both modes are equally fantastic, and equally thrilling. In the single player campaign, you go through the basic tutorial mission at the start, as standard, giving you a firm understanding of what lies ahead.
You have the mission briefing before each mission begins, where you learn what your upcoming objectives are. The game does well at making you feel like part of the story through various plot points and cinematics occurring between missions. Just before you jump into the cockpit, you get to choose your plane and weaponry loadout. You must choose your special weapons wisely as you won’t be able to change once the mission begins. You can also apply performance enhancing equipment to your plane as well. The aircraft tree is where you go to spend points on unlocking all the various planes and upgrades.
There’s quite a lot here, so simply collecting all the unlockables should keep you busy for a lengthy while. The voice acting in the single player campaign may be my only real gripe with the experience. It’s not bad, really. The actors do a descent job. I just feel that perhaps the director could have been able to pull more from the actors’ performances however. It seems as if the director settled for ‘good enough’ rather than really trying to make it great. The story itself is told through cinematics, with narration and in-game events bonding it together.
Multiplayer is every bit as exciting as the story mode, and perhaps then some. Again, you have the aircraft tree for unlockables and a few moments between sorties to choose your loadout. You can save up to fifteen presets to choose from. This enables you to set up your plane for a specific role or job, including the addition of adding your paint and any emblems you have unlocked. You can even add a nickname to your plane. If you don’t have a mic for multiplayer, you can still communicate with your teammates and opponents using the game’s built-in messaging system. As of this writing, the lobbies were a little empty, but, I fully expect them to be full upon the game’s release.
Now for the record, I’m terrible at multiplayer. But I have to say that diving through some of the canyons, pulling High G turns while trying to evade an enemy in close quarters, is every bit as intense as it seemed when Will Smith was doing it in Independence Day. There isn’t much in terms of match-types in multiplayer. Battle Royale and Team Death Match are all that’s on the menu for the moment. But that’s really all you should need in an aerial combat game. I wish that it wasn’t capped at eight players. Sixteen players would have been epic. I played the game using the standard controller, as well as the Xbox Elite controller, and the Thrustmaster T Flight Hotas One flight stick.
All three performed extremely well with default settings. Elite users will do well with the ability to map inputs to the rear paddles. Though, whichever control input you lean on, the game remains tight, open, and robust. I thought it odd that when I was using the Hotas in the tutorial mission, the game still used the standard controller labels. I was able to figure most of it out through trial and error, but I would have thought that a game like this would have the sense to know if the player is using a flight stick, and use appropriate labels in the tutorial mission. Overall though, despite the slight flaws, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is impressively beautiful and an absolute blast to play.
The developers got a lot of things right with Ace Combat 7. Yes, there are a few things that I feel are missing, but if Bandai give the game the kind of support that it deserves, then I foresee a lot of late nights tugging on my joy-stick. Especially if they can add a few more match-types to the multiplayer. I’d really love to see an Assault and Defend scenario, where teams take turns attacking their opponent’s base over a set number of rounds, with scores that are tallied to decide a winner, and where the assaulting squadron has to take out specific ground installations like in the solo campaign. I’m very hopefully for its future.
That said, and as it stands, the game is a gem. Most of its components fit together remarkably well. The game’s gorgeous lighting, its spectacular cloud cover, and its incredible weather effects, collectively complement its wonderful music and its fantastic audio design. I particularly enjoyed that you have to occasionally fight against strong winds and bad weather. Accessibility is found through its smooth and fluid control scheme, opening the door to newcomers, but giving veterans the tools to truly take their game to the next level.
Further to that, those of you that pre-ordered can enjoy a free digital copy of Ace Combat 6. What’s not to love? The bottom line in all of this is that Ace Combat 7 has been worth the wait. Everything from the game’s empowering campaign, to its sheer graphical power, together with its intense multiplayer and its deep ability to customize, all goes hand in glove to produce one of the best aerial combat games in recent memory. Make no doubt about it, if you’ve been on the fence, I can assure you, this is well worth your investment.
Skies Unknown, quite simply put, is aerial combat at its absolute finest. The jaw-dropping graphical power that supports the experience is second to none, consistently upholding the game’s tight and responsive action-packed gameplay. Whether you’re here for its explosive campaign or its deep and intense multiplayer, Ace Combat 7 will not disappoint. It doesn’t get any better than this for flight game enthusiasts.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.