If there’s one genre of game that is woefully underrepresented, it’s aerial combat. The feeling of flying through the air, taking out foes while barely dodging their attacks, is a feeling that far too few gamers have had the chance to experience. Though this might just change in 2019. One of the biggest flight series has finally returned with the release of Ace Combat 7. With the last entry being released in 2014 on the PS3, does this game have enough quality in its gameplay to drag players back into the skies?
Let’s discuss the setting. The story of Ace Combat 7 is surprisingly compelling. The story is told through multiple viewpoints with a few storylines going on at the same time. Seeing these storylines and characters interact is interesting and you really get to understand the characters and their motivations. Ace Combat 7 takes place as the Kingdom of Erusia launches unmanned drones at the Osean Federation, breaking a peace treaty that has been standing for ten years. You play as a pilot codenamed “Trigger” and fly on the side of Osea, taking out drones and learning the ropes. Early on in the campaign, you’re accused of a heinous crime and sent to Osea’s Spare Squadron, a military unit comprised entirely of convicts and criminals.
"The story of Ace Combat 7 is surprisingly compelling."
Although the story starts out a little slow in the beginning, with a lot of military jargon and dry dialogue over mission briefings, it picks up dramatically once you’re sent off to the Spare Squadron. Interesting characters are introduced and more personal drama is present in this arc of the game. The series is known for their engaging storylines but it is still pretty impressive that a title about flying planes for the military is accessible to even those players who don’t know the difference between a B-52 and a C-18.
Graphics are decisively good-looking. Planes all have care put into their details and all of them have their own animations for actions like turning or breaking. Environments are a little less detailed with a bit of pop-in at times. However, this isn’t too much of an issue since you’ll be flying by so fast. Weather is rendered pretty well and you’ll even collect droplets of rain or condensation from time to time. Sound design is also on point, with the contained roar of the engine humming away in the background as you launch missile after missile at your target until that satisfying explosion.
Soaring into the deep blue sky feels great. The controls are accessible to any level of player and using weapons and switching targets is seamless. There are two control schemes for players to enjoy, with the easier option streamlining manoeuvrability into a more arcade-like experience. For players who want more of a challenge, there’s also the advanced option that gives you far more control over your craft’s manoeuvring but requires knowledge of your plane’s yaw, pitch, and roll. Ultimately, there’s options for anyone to enjoy this game. And if you’re familiar with the series, you’ll feel right at home in this iteration.
"Graphics are decisively good-looking. Planes all have care put into their details and all of them have their own animations for actions like turning or breaking. "
You have a wide selection of aircraft at your disposal in Ace Combat 7. Through a tree unlock system, you’ll gather planes, new weaponry, and upgraded parts for your machines. You can assign your planes a number of special weapons along with your missiles, ranging from machine guns to multi-target missiles. You also use the upgraded parts to increase the power of your weapons, make your plane more durable, or even more interesting things like preventing icing over.
Speaking of icing over, one new addition to Ace Combat 7 includes the introduction of clouds into gameplay. These clouds can help you hide from enemies and throw off guided missiles, but if you spend too long in them, you’re liable to ice over, losing control of your craft. This presents an interesting risk-vs-reward mechanic during intense gameplay. It’s a welcome inclusion and adds another layer of depth to combat beyond simply barreling out of the way of missiles.
The environments of Ace Combat 7 actually tie into the gameplay pretty well. How you will be fighting will depend entirely on what the landscape looks like. Soaring over clear skies lets you tear into enemies with a machine gun. But twisting through giant columns of cliff is going to make you wait patiently for the perfect opportunity to let loose with a guided missile. There are also environmental concerns as well like lightning storms that threaten to lock your controls up and disrupt your HUD.
"You have a wide selection of aircraft at your disposal in Ace Combat 7. Through a tree unlock system, you’ll gather planes, new weaponry, and upgraded parts for your machines."
The missions in Ace Combat 7 are pretty standard fare. There are missions where you must hunt down specific targets, provide cover for friendly fliers, or simply blow up as much stuff as you can within a time limit. That’s not to say that these missions aren’t fun, but they do devolve into familiar territory a little too often. However, the game will usually throw in some twist during the mission to spice up gameplay. Having your bog-standard escort mission interrupted by an ace pilot who you then have to have an intense dogfight with is incredible. So even though Ace Combat 7 doesn’t always push the envelope when it comes to mission structure, the game still makes it exciting and enjoyable.
There’s also a pretty enjoyable multiplayer component. There’s deathmatch and team deathmatch modes. As you can see, this isn’t a huge amount of modes and they both are centered solely around dogfighting. This is a bit of a shame since there could have been more modes that incorporate the base destruction aspect of the single player, with players trying to blow up more targets on the ground than anyone else. You join a lobby, set up your plane loadout, then get to flying. But just because multiplayer is all about dogfighting doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. Just as in any multiplayer game, your results will vary. Sometimes you’ll end up paired with folks who know the movement system inside and out and who will send missiles your way one after another while dancing all around you. But sometimes, you’ll get into a more balanced match and the give-and-take of a dogfight with another player is exhilarating.
There’s also a VR mode that comes exclusively to the PS4. This mode includes a handful of missions that will have you sitting right in the cockpit while you perform all your aerial manoeuvres and dogfighting. I unfortunately wasn’t able to try this mode out, but the concept sounds like a fun diversion. And unfortunately, a diversion is all this mode really warrants since none of the regular single-player missions are playable in VR. This is a bit of a let-down since the concept of sitting in the cockpit during flight sounds so cool. Hopefully, they patch in more functionality or missions. Otherwise, this may just be testing the water for the next entry in the series.
"Ace Combat 7 is a fantastic return for a series that has been gone for too long."
Ace Combat 7 is a fantastic return for a series that has been gone for too long. If you’re in the market for a compelling aerial combat title, this is sure to be just what you were looking for. Satisfying controls and combat matched with an engaging storyline make for an enjoyable ride for everyone, fans and newcomers alike.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Tight, punchy gameplay; Entertaining storyline; Lots of customization available for multiple playstyles.
Lacking mission variety; Limited multiplayer modes.