Plus: Beautiful Visuals, Engaging Story and HOTAS Controversy…
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown’s player-friendly approach allows players of all tiers and levels to enjoy a combat flight simulator that we can all appreciate.
Unless you are a die-hard fan and a flight simulator enthusiast, aerial combat games don’t appear very much for you. At least not one that is easy to pick up and play, this side of actually knowing how to fly. Well, as of the Ace Combat 7 release date last week, you can fear not, as Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is an excellent, player-friendly, combat flight simulator.
Developed and published by massive Japanese game company Bandai Namco, AC7: Skies Unknown is actually the 17th title in the Ace Combat series. A series that has, to date, sold over 14 million copies of various titles throughout its lifespan.
Although the game has released to mostly positive reviews, the PC version of the game has divided some fans because of its lack of support for throttle sticks; a must-have for serious flight simulator enthusiasts, while at the same time being praised for the simplicity of it’s flight controls when using gamepads on PC or console versions.
Some are also reporting an extremely frustrating issue concerning checkpoints, something which I feel shouldn’t even be a part of modern AAA games, however, the system is a staple of Japanese game design.
Superficial technicalities, aside I am struck by the stunning visuals, excellent dogfighting and surprisingly good story. Gamespot’s Edmond Tran states that the game has a “beautiful photorealistic world, entertaining mission variety, and a reason to get excited about clouds”.
Popular online gaming sites are giving Ace Combat 7 mostly positive reviews, with Gamespot and IGN scoring the game 8 and 7 respectively; not too bad a score from two of the more engaging and in-depth review sites on the web.
- Read Gamespot review here: Gamespot Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review
- Read IGN review here: IGN Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is available on the following systems:
- Windows PC
- Xbox One
- PlayStation 4
Here is my impression of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown based upon my expectations from the game, my experiences and my honest and unbiased opinion. Please note that this is not a review. Read on and enjoy the article. Played on PlayStation 4.
A Return to Strangereal
Although this is the 17th title in the series, the story takes place immediately after Ace Combat 5, at some point in 2004.
The game presents itself with a typically Japanese style and narrative; deadly serious and cool at the same time, reminiscent (and worthy) of a Hideo Kojima title.
This introductory narrative highlights the recent abandoning of conventional military aircraft in favor of unmanned aerial vehicles, and a prediction of their dominance of the skies to come – especially by the United States in designated war zones. All of this is told with a somewhat apprehensive tone. A forewarning if you will, of bad things to come.
However, the adventurous tone is set immediately following the ascent of the game’s main protagonist Avril Mead, as she takes off in a self-repaired aircraft, from a self-made runway, in the middle of a scorching desert.
The original score by series veteran Keiki Kobayashi kicks in as we get to see the plane traverse the condensed earth in a dolly cam shot almost identical to the legendary archive footage of the land-speed record-breaking victory of the first supersonic car, the Thrust SSC.
Avril is subsequently shot down, however, since she is flying an unlicensed aircraft over restricted airspace. Following this encounter, we are then placed straight into the game.
Into a briefing to be exact, where it all kicks off and we have to run our first sortie in a legendary United States Airforce F-16 Falcon. One of the first combat aircraft to appear in a video game and a veteran of Ace Combat games.
Engaging Visual Innovation
This is where we get our first viewing of the in-game graphics and an initial impression of the quality of aircraft models. It’s safe to say you won’t be disappointed.
The F-16 model is accurately detailed, with good texturing (although it could be better) but great lighting and post FX represented on the model. I particularly liked the hangar setting and the stats overlay, which has been designed to imitate a modern combat fighter HUD is a nice touch.
Upon selecting the F-16 (the only option at this point) and a 4-AAM loadout, again, the only option, we are ready to fly.
Following a brief, mission-detailed loading screen, we get a brief and quite cinematic animation of the fighter jet being taxied onto the runway, with other aircraft and story sensitive elements being played out.
This is just my opinion, but upon aircraft and load-out selection, I would have liked to see a brief animation where we see the aircraft leaving the hangar and going straight into the mission cinematic and then transitioning into gameplay. This would have added a nice touch to the visuals and I feel that a great opportunity to put a “Wow! grin” on the player’s face has been missed here.
That being said, the transition from cinematic to gameplay we do get looks great and is pretty seamless. We go straight into 3rd person view. Again, another transition blunder, as the cinematic was in 1st person. This, for me at least, broke the exciting illusion of piloting one of the greatest machines ever built by human hands.
In 1st person view, however, we get a good look at the detailed aircraft interior, which is filled with radar systems, communication systems and the iconic Heads Up Display. Something which the artists have done extremely well. All aircraft in the game have had their interior faithfully recreated in their own, original iconic styles for you to enjoy.
The game world is highly detailed as well. The visuals, including lighting, texturing and model density are all up to expectations, being truly current generation standard.
But it is when we begin to fly we notice just how well implemented the game’s graphics engine is. Complete with very far draw distances, volumetric clouds and highly detailed water and landmasses, the sense of flying over the real-world does not disappoint.
Other visuals are well implemented too. Switching from 1st person to 3rd person, all of the information required from the HUD remains in the same places, however, this lessens the overall experience and impact of the sense of speed and flight when in 1st person view.
Style Over Substance?
The game doesn’t immediately throw you into improbable scenarios straight away. There is a delicate and well-handled learning curve as you get used to combat in the game. Following HUD prompts and squadron instructions, carrying out mission objectives couldn’t be easier as we are instructed to take down multiple targets over a relatively small area, using air to air missiles.
Making good use of arcade-style play in an aircraft simulator, the game feels very fluid and easy to play. There aren’t any convoluted startup sequences usually required for intense and realistic flight simulators; which will be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on which side of the fence you sit. I know some people just won’t like the simplicity of the implemented system.
The controls have been defined in such a way as to cater for complete novices who may prefer a more arcade feel, but come with an Expert setting which may make more experienced enthusiasts feel more at home.
Both systems utilize the same mapping for operational inputs such as changing and firing weapons, but it is with flight navigation that the two control schemes differ.
Standard Control System
Using standard controls, the left thumbstick basically controls both pitch and yaw in the same movements. A little clumsy, and, I feel, completely unnecessary.
Expert Control System
Expert control allows you to control pitch and roll while using L1 and R1 for yaw. This has the effect of giving you a lot more maneuverability in the aircraft, the next best thing being a dedicated flight stick. Players of GTA Online aircraft would feel right at home here.
Fight or Flight? Literally, Do Both!
Either way, the well-implemented controls all come down to giving you a satisfying flight experience none the less. Using whatever works for you will still contribute to that great feeling of chasing an enemy aircraft, lining up your lock, and driving the hammer home while you’re cruising at Mach 2!
And the same goes for defensive flight. Aerial combat isn’t just about getting the shot on an enemy, you also need to know how to survive up there. Utilizing your wingmen via simple commands will save your lifetime and time again. While low flight, pulling tight G’s and cloud banking will cause enemies to lose missile locks.
A Multitude of Aircraft and Loadouts
Ace Combat 7’s story campaign is spread out across 20 missions made up of smaller battles, and while most of these are very well done and extremely enjoyable, there are the odd few that will have you throwing your controller; thanks not least to the game’s awful checkpoint system.
As you progress your career, some of the missions will have you carrying out long objectives, only to throw very tough enemies at you towards the end of the battle or mission. This is to be expected, however, the fact that the game reloads from the aforementioned checkpoints, sometimes right back at the beginning of the mission, is infuriating.
There are some perks to progression though because as you get to fly bigger and better missions, you also get bigger and better new toys to play with.
Progression in Skies Unknown works in a very similar way to Ace Combat Infinity, utilizing a “tech tree” structure with 4 story mode branches plus another for multiplayer.
- United States
Some of these branches can be intertwined and feature special aircraft. Some are unlocked via research and casual progression while others require special objectives to be carried out while in missions.
A full guide can be found here at Gaming Bolt. Warning: contains spoilers…
Better weapons and aircraft customization can also be unlocked. View the video below for more details.
In addition, PlayStation 4 users can take to the skies in an exclusive, ultra-realistic VR mode.
This mode includes 3 missions separate from the main story, however, as of yet, VR cannot be utilized in the main campaign.
Soar Like an Eagle
It’s so refreshing to finally get a combat flight simulator worth buying.
Right from the off, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown does an excellent job of luring you into its well-presented campaign with its cinematic story, stunning visuals and engaging peripheral characters.
The game is so well polished and presented that, if you are a flight simulator enthusiast, you can forgive its immediate shortcomings such as no HOTAS support, dumbed-down control system and lack of realistic aviation mechanics. Because, when all said and done, Ace Combat has never really been a flight simulator, and it has never pretended to be.
The whole point of the series is to get across the adrenaline-fueled experience of flying fast while being trying to shoot something out of the sky, all the while trying not to be blown up yourself.
The visuals in this game are enough to give any current-generation game a run for its money and the soundtrack intense and stylish to boot, adopting typically Japanese mannerisms.
The mission and storyline are well structured while providing a great balance in the learning curve, even though the checkpoint system does let the game down somewhat.
Once the story is complete, however, re-playability becomes a big factor as you strive to unlock those elusive aircraft by completing specific objectives in-game or you can challenge yourself and others in the game’s expansive online multiplayer system.
Ace Combat 7 is a great game in and of itself, regardless of any comparison to other flight or combat simulations, and a title that I cannot recommend enough. So, take to the skies and show the world your passion for aerial dominance.
This is just my opinion but I would love to hear what you guys think down below in the comments section as I’m sure this will be a controversial game.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is available now for Windows PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game.
Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
See more at Namco Bandai’s official Ace Combat 7 Website: https://www.bandainamcoent.com/games/ace-combat-7
Michael Gore – Editor/Owner, ChartX Games.
PC System Requirements
- Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
- OS: Windows 7 / 8 / 8.1 / 10 (64-bit OS required)
- Processor: Intel Core i3-7100
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750Ti(2GB)
- DirectX: Version 11
- Network: Broadband Internet connection
- Storage: 50 GB available space
- Sound Card: DirectX 11 sound card
- “Ace Combat“. Wikipedia. Retrieved 04/02/2019.
- “Ace Combat 7 Gets Review-Bombed Due To Lack Of HOTAS Support, But There’s A Workaround“. PC Invasion. Retrieved 04/02/2019.
- “Critics of Ace Combat 7’s PC Port are Missing the Point“. Polygon. Retrieved 04/02/2019.
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Michael is the sole writer and owner at chartxgames.com.
Many thought that his youth (and adulthood) playing video games was a waste of time but here he is writing about them for a living.
Michael has a background in IT and enjoys (apart from video games) building and repairing PC’s, digital artwork (Photoshop, 3DS Max) and has interests in too many subjects to mention.