Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a familiar, yet solid entry in the classic dog fighting franchise.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is the first mainline Ace Combat in a very long time. Despite the promise of an unknown sky, what it offers will be very familiar to long time veterans of the series.
Ace Combat 7 ditches the real world setting that they experimented with in Ace Combat: Infinity and heads back into the odd world of Strangereal. A world where a mechanic, some ex con’s, a space elevator and kingdoms all mix together to tell a completely bizarre but effective story.
You play as a rookie pilot named Trigger. As a member of the Osean Air Force Defense squadron, you find yourself at war with the Kingom of Erusea. At the center of the conflict is a space elevator and the promise of minerals it will bring the nation that controls it. After a tragic event gets you court-martialed, Trigger is thrown in jail with prisoners who are forced to fly broken planes to fool Eruseans into thinking the prison is an active military base.
If you read that and got a little confused don’t worry. The plot is one of the more strange and convoluted stories in a series with its fair share of them. Despite the confusion and wackiness the story works because it’s very well told and the game always takes its very silly story-line very seriously, which is to its benefit.
The mix of real planes, drones. and fantastical countries and high speed action set to the sounds of Keiki Kobayashi’s absolutely incredible score always keep the action moving forward. Whether its mundane tasks such as the briefing screen, to epic dog fights with dozens of fighters in a thunderstorm, the music is always excellent. The sheer variety and bombast was just as much a motivational factor to keep playing as the game play itself was.
As for that gameplay? It’s as good as it has always been. Just don’t play with the beginner controls because they are dreadful and will make later missions a chore to play through. On the expert controls you have an extreme level of precision and control. After a few crashes into the ground you’ll be performing G-drifts or stalling loops like a pro.
As a pilot you better get used to all the moves in your arsenal. Even on the standard difficulty some missions will really test your skill and patience, sometimes one more than the other.
Don’t be surprised when your first annihilation mission comes up and you’re forced to retry over and over again to find the “perfect” run to get through it. Missions average around 20 minutes in length and some don’t checkpoint at all. Some of these kinds of missions feel very arbitrary in there design.
Fifteen minutes to cause a certain amount of damage or else you fail, despite your squadron having an abundant of supplies and no enemy bearing down on you. The restrictions feel very dated in these missions and were the frustrating sore spot in an otherwise fun and exciting 20 mission campaign.
In regards to the gameplay, I was happy with how it played but also a bit disapointed. Ace Combat 7 is not a revolution in the series despite being gone for so many years. Instead it feels like more of the same, and feels like it’s playing it very safe in almost all aspects.
It’s not a complaint however, Ace Combat has tried to change the core game a handful of times to pretty meddling results. The tried and true approach Ace Combat 7 takes is feels like the right move for a franchise that fans have been waiting patiently for.
It’s also not a problem when the core gameplay of Ace Combat 7 is incredibly satisfying. Getting accustomed to all of the different planes and upgrade systems in the Aircraft tree is second nature and all of the planes handle very differently.
Despite the eight hour completion time for the campaign the real meat is in the replayability. Each of the 20 missions were unique and it wrapped up before it became repetitive.
Once you complete the game you’re free to tackle any of the missions in a multitude of ways. Free flight allows you take in the sights in peace or you can opt to replay missions on the harder settings. The sheer amount of planes, upgrades and missions will be plenty for fans of the series to dig into long after they finished the main story.
Ace Combat 7 also features a multiplayer mode. It plays well enough, and offers up an eight player free for all dog fighting mode or a four vs four team deathmatch. The multiplayer was perfectly functional, but I would have preferred a co-op mode to help break up the action. The multiplayer is also a great way to make a lot of money quickly to use on the aircraft tree but if you’re here for solo flight the multiplayer doesn’t intrude on the experience in any way.
Last but not least I’d be remiss not to bring up the games incredible visuals. I played on an Xbox X and the Unreal Engine 4 powered planes were always a marvel to see. Some planes I bought just to see how they looked and the explosions, weather effects and the large variety of environments were a sight to behold.
The game even spouts many small touches such as the chilling effect when flying over cold mountains, or the way water looks when you fly in the middle of a rainstorm. One of my favorite small details is the way the music drops out when you fly through a thick cloud only to return when you burst out of the fog at Mach speed.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown returns to the tried and true gameplay of it’s forefathers and delivers a familiar, but solid return for the classic franchise.