Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review

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Starting the year on a high

Look. Like the Foofighters before me, I’ve got another confession to make. In the 20+ years of gaming, I’ve never played an Ace Combat game. That might not be the greatest admission to make at the beginning of a review of the 7th game in a series, especially one that has an incredibly passionate following. But, it’s true, and if Ace Combat 7 is anything to go by I’ve done myself a great disservice by not playing these games because it’s bloody great! It’s not without its flaws, but it’s a near-perfect example of a classic video game.

A lofty claim but one I stand by. Ace Combat 7 is a damn fun game. The campaign is a rich tapestry of cringe dialogue, somewhat weak storytelling (in places) and a plot that doesn’t particularly make much sense. These may not sound like great traits for a game but there’s something refreshing about it. It has a similar charm to Earth Defence Force, albeit not as crazy. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s all the better for it because that leaves you to enjoy the game and just have fun.

The core premise of the campaign is that the state of Erusea has broken a peace treaty by launching a coordinated drone attack on key Osean locations. You play as ‘Trigger’ an ace pilot in the Osea flight core but an altercation, of sorts, sees you cast into another flight team early on in the campaign. There’s also a secondary narrative that runs parallel to Triggers and it’s here where you’re treated to some genuinely great cutscenes. Sidenote: you’ll also meet the most ridiculously named character ever seen in a game but I’ll leave that as a surprise for you to discover yourselves. The campaign plays out over 20 missions and each has a varying set of objectives but more often than not you’ll be tasked with destroying stuff in the air or destroying stuff on the ground.

As with games focussed on aerial combat, the proof is in the flying and fortunately, all is above par. It’ll take a while to get used to controlling your aircraft but once you do you’ll be performing manoeuvres that would make even Maverick shoot his load. The game offers two control styles: Easy and Expert. The easy control style allows you to turn with the left stick whereas the expert style requires you to use the shoulder buttons to adjust the yaw with the left stick adjusting your pitch (up/down) and roll (left/right).

Combat controls are a mix of X, for your primary weapon, and Circle and Square for selecting and launching missiles or secondary weapons. Once you’ve mastered the art of combat you’ll seldom lose gratification for nailing that perfect missile strike. And the feeling of shredding through an enemy plane’s fuselage with your primary cannon is a kink I never knew I had.

When the game kicks it up to 11, as it often does, you will find yourself doing countless loop-the-loops to find your target and even with the three radar options on offer (world, far & near), it’s incredibly tricky to track them down. However, once you do have a target in sight, the game allows you to track them by pressing triangle. Doing so will plonk a giant green outlined pyramid in the middle of the screen which points in their direction and significantly increases your chances of catching the little buggers. And it’s not just visual aids that help you during dogfights.

The audio in the game is great. If there’s an incoming missile headed your way you’ll be notified by a warning alarm which gets quicker as the impending doom draws nearer. This allows you to act quickly by either deploying flares or pulling a last-second high-G turn to move from its path. The audio can also be praised from a musical front with the soundtrack shifting to a distressing hum-like undertone when something bad is approaching. This shift in audio adds an overwhelming sense of dread to an otherwise chipper game and it’s bloody great.

But all this fun is no good if you’ve not got a decent bird to take to the skies and thankfully your options are plentiful. There’s a hell of a lot of stuff to unlock in Ace Combat and it’s going to require multiple playthroughs to get it all. There are a large number of planes to unlock, most of which are based on real-life aircraft, alongside a bunch of upgrades which can be found in the game’s Aircraft Tree. The Aircraft Tree is an interlinked web of unlocks and you’ll need to make your way down a branch in order to unlock the item at the end. That means you can’t just save your credits and purchase the best Aircraft, instead you’ll need to work your way there. Each of the unlocks can be purchased using credits earned from completing missions. Do well in a mission, earn more credits.

Unlocks also appear in the multiplayer portion of the game including emblems, nicknames and plane skins. Multiplayer is spread across two games modes; Team Deathmatch and Battle Royal. Team Deathmatch pits two teams of 4 against one another and the team with the most points at the end of the match wins. Battle Royal (minus the e) isn’t Ace Combat jumping on the recent bandwagon, it’s instead, the same premise but flying solo. It’s more or less a fancy named Deathmatch. The multiplayer is pretty barebones but does nothing wrong. There are also a handful of multiplayer-only unlocks which should whet the appetites of completionists.

As I said before, Ace Combat 7 is a near-perfect classic video game. It’s got cheesy dialogue, an out-there story, masses of unlocks, boss battles (kind of) and a huge number of things to unlock. And best of all, it’s just fun. It does teeter into the shallow depths of tedium if you play for long periods or end up failing a mission multiple times but on the whole, it’s a solid experience. If you’ve yet to play an Ace Combat game I highly recommend picking this up and I’m sure even series veterans will have an awesome time with the game.

There is also a PSVR mode for PlayStation gamers but I’ve unfortunately not been able to check that out due to lack of owning the hardware. However, we should have some PSVR content on the site soon so keep your eyes opened for that.

8

Ace Combat 7 feels like a classic video game of yesteryear with a modern lick of paint and I'm all for that. It's cheesy, it's packed full of unlocks but most importantly it's a lot of fun.

Web developer by day, game developer by night. Mostly cranky. Mostly.

@KieranMcClung

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