Like many men and women before me, I definitely have an appreciation for incredible manufacturing and craftsmanship. When you look at technological advances such as fighter jets, and the many weapons they carry to protect home and country, they are certainly deserving of appreciation. Whilst I’ve spent many hours in recent years building towards my own personal private pilots license, with a dream to be able to take to the skies, the true goal for any plane fan has to be that of screaming through the clouds in an F-14 Tomcat fighter jet.
Of course, that’s not likely to be something that is ever going to happen for the majority of people, but that doesn’t mean the guys over at Bandai Namco can’t at least try to bring us the ultimate depiction of what it really feels like to pilot some of the world’s finest fighter jets. For anyone who’s played the Ace Combat series, you’ll be well aware of the attempts this series has made to make that a reality.
With Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown upon us, it’s time to jump into the cockpit once more and soar through the clouds with the newest addition of this beloved series, but does it live up to those lofty expectations?
Like many titles in the series before it, Ace Combat 7 takes the action to the alternate universe of Strangereal. As far as the story goes, the game is set within 2019, with a conflict raging between the Osean Federation and the Kingdom of Erusea, with Strangereal’s Earth resulting in the breakout of the Second Usean Continental War.
Your role in this mighty war comes as a pilot known by the call sign Trigger, whose expertise in aerial combat is good enough to command a role in the Osean Air Defence Force’s Mage Squadron, fighting against swarms of the newest unmanned combat drones that have been released into the skies. After a dangerous accusation of unforgivable offence however, Trigger is quickly moved on to nothing more than the Spare Squadron Penal Unit for his atonement.
Now before we get into the gameplay side of things, I want to talk about something else first. It’s something that I’ve always adored with the Ace Combat titles and in Ace Combat 7 very little can be appreciated more than the absolutely stunning visuals. This latest entry has been crafted via the mighty Unreal Engine 4 and TrueSky technology; there’s certainly plenty to shout about.
Amazing visuals are obviously something you come to expect with the big releases, but it has to be said, of all the many titles available on Xbox One that allow players to take to flying a plane, there are none that come as close to capturing the visual likeness of aircraft like in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown.
I’m not just talking about the aircraft either, as whilst they are indeed spectacularly recreated to the finest details – both inside and out – the same level of detail has also been maintained within the scenery too. From the photorealistic skies and the clouds contained within them, to the rain that runs down the cockpit window, and even the land, sea and cityscapes that appear throughout each mission, there is nothing that has not been given the ultimate attention to detail.
Of course, you also have the explosions, and if like me you have that secret pyromaniac inside who just loves to watch explosions and witness the effects destruction within your games, then the near sci-fi level visuals on show in Ace Combat 7 will prove to be the premium spectacle.
However, even if you were to cast an eye away from the breathtaking visuals, and look towards the gameplay, there are still very few negatives that come to mind.
The game itself is a blast to play too. The controls can be as easy or as realistic as you like with both Arcade style manoeuvring or the full twist and pull controls available. A selection of camera angles allow players to jump to their preferred view quickly as well, ensuring both series veterans and newcomers alike shouldn’t find any difficulty settling in when it comes to accessibility.
Having accessible gameplay is important, but something that’s as equally high on the agenda is keeping things feeling fresh. Ace Combat 7 is found to be marking the 23rd Anniversary for the series, and so there needs to be something a bit more than simply flying and shooting to keep players engaged. Fortunately, this latest entry brings a host of new gameplay mechanics that should leave both aircraft enthusiasts and combat connoisseurs in awe.
The first of the new mechanics come from the clouds and as I mentioned earlier, clouds are already greatly improved with photorealistic visuals; they also feel as dense as you’d expect from cloud coverage. What’s more however is any plane caught flying inside the clouds will find stealth from opposing aircraft increased, whilst visibility of what’s around you, be it aircraft or terrain, is heavily decreased. Stay in cloud cover too long and you’ll even find yourself in trouble with a risk of crashing due to an iced-up plane causing an engine stall. There are even direct lightning strikes ready to mess with your plane controls and onboard systems.
Another big mechanic that plays an important role is the option to manually perform Post Stall manoeuvres – if timed right these can not only get you and your plane out of the way of any incoming enemy missiles or machine gun fire, but potentially turn the fight in your favour, placing you behind the chasing enemy plane. For anyone who remembers the Close-Range Assault Counter-Manoeuvres from Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, the Post Stall manoeuvres are what replaces that this time around, and as you’d expect, manually choosing when and how to do it is a big plus when it comes to having engaging dogfights.
Of course, before you get into the gameplay though, you’ll first need to decide which game mode you’ll be jumping into, and there are a couple to take into consideration – a full Story/Campaign mode that delivers a rather satisfying and believable adventure or a full multiplayer sortie with both Team Deathmatch and Battle Royale available.
As I said before, there is very little to complain about when it comes to Ace Combat 7, but that doesn’t mean it’s a completely perfect game and what is probably my only real gripe with the game comes from the incorrectly titled Battle Royale mode.
I’m sure, by now, every man and his dog are fully aware of just what a Battle Royale mode is, but it seems the guys over at Bandai Namco Studios didn’t quite get that memo. Now the mode itself isn’t exactly a bad addition – in fact, it’s quite enjoyable – but first and foremost it is not Battle Royale.
Here you won’t find 100 or even 50 players battling it out to be the last man standing in a shrinking play area – as fun as that may well have been. Instead what we actually have is very little more than a standard Deathmatch without teams. This so called Battle Royale sees up to 8 players take to the skies in a timed battle, with everyone fighting it out in a free-for-all fight to see who can earn the highest score by the end of the time limit. That’s it, and from my knowledge of playing games such as Ring of Elysium, PUBG and even Fortnite, there is certainly nothing on show here that matches the usual Battle Royale gameplay we’ve become accustomed to over the past few years.
Look past the immediate fact that Battle Royale is simply nothing more than your typical Deathmatch mode, and you’ll quickly start to see more positives flowing from Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown on Xbox One.
Ace Combat 7 on Xbox One is a game you can’t ignore. It has an enjoyable story, fascinating new gameplay mechanics, and some truly tense and engaging combat – not to mention some of the best visuals you’ll find in any plane-based title to date. But in and amongst that, there are also some rather fantastic customisation options available.
After completing the first mission of Skies Unknown, players will gain access to the Aircraft Tree, last seen in Ace Combat Infinity. Here they can spend any accrued Military Result Points (MRP) earned through participation in either the story/campaign mode or the multiplayer game options.
MRP are the most important currency within Ace Combat 7 and are used to purchase from a selection of Aircraft, Weapons and Tuning Parts that can be applied to your planes via the Hangar.
There are a wide range of Tuning Parts that can be applied to the planes, some which add cosmetic changes such as bringing new skins and emblems to your plane’s various body parts, and others which can bring performance improvements; increased stealth capabilities, anti-icing, etc. Should you find a specific set that fits well together, you can then save these for use in future missions.
All in all though and Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a fantastic addition to the series. It may not have had the biggest marketing push behind it, but if you have a desire to sit in the cockpit of some of the world’s most powerful and advanced fighter jets, before taking to the skies, then there is no better way than by doing so in Ace Combat 7 – besides climbing into the real thing, of course.
Sure, it may not appeal to everyone, but if you’re a plane enthusiast looking for a game to truly bring excitement to the skies, not only is this the game you’ve been waiting for, but it’s the game the series’ 20+ year history has been building towards, pulling no punches in bringing the ultimate experience.