One of my cringiest 8-bit Nintendo memories was trying to land the jet in Top Gun. Somehow I’d always come up short and collide with the carrier or I’d overshoot it and fall into the water. Since then, there was never a moment I was anxious about diving into another G-force break neck dogfight in modern gaming systems, until I came across Ace Combat 7 from Bandai Namco and its VR mode timed exclusive to PlayStation VR.
ACE COMBAT 7: Skies Unknown
Developer: Project Aces, Bandai Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Available for: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
The aim of storytelling in Ace Combat 7 is admirable. Fictitious countries of Erusea and Osea engage in modern global warfare over a space elevator. It takes itself a bit too seriously in trying to make real world statements and is ultimately hindered by cutscenes that run a bit too long. In fact, you don’t actually get into gameplay until mission 2. By the time it happens, you’re sort of already disenchanted. The game would have been better served by dropping you right in the action and letting this story unfold rather than bog you down with exposition. Remember the best war stories are often told from one point of view, a human element. AC7 puts you in the helmet of a nameless pilot while showing its human drama through the parallel cutscenes of static supporting characters. I do appreciate the series returning to fictitious setting roots, something it hasn’t done since 2007, yet it feels as though whomever wrote this script wasn’t quite working alongside development. The entire thing comes off feeling a bit dislocated between combat and storytelling.
Now let’s talk about Ace Combat 7’s saving graces. The level of depth and challenge here is jaw-dropping. When you do actually engage in combat, players are put into the cockpit of various fighter jets as you’ll need to assault enemy bases and artillery with your own limited assortment of weaponry. Picking and choosing when to use lock-on missiles is a big key to your survival and it can feel as though that’s all your trying to do sometimes. There’s a panic that comes over the view from your cockpit. I’ve never been in a fighter jet but if it’s anything like what I saw through the lens of this game, then it’s tension-inducing claustrophobic, to say the least.
The room for error is thin as even just one shot from an enemy can blast you out of the sky. While there is a steep learning curve with hardly any tutorial to speak of the controls are made simple enough to be mastered with practice. The adaptability of the controls sets Ace Combat apart from a general cold Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Definitely, the reason for admission is the PSVR exclusive mode. Virtual reality in Ace Combat 7 is at its simplest a new level of immersion. Landscapes stretch out for miles around you and, although they’re obviously a little blurry up close, they’re surprisingly convincing when zooming past them at break-neck speeds. The level of detail in VR is also double or nothing. Fly into clouds and the weather will start to beat down on your windshield. In one dramatic opening, an airfield becomes a battle zone and debris is rained down upon you with alarming force. Then there’s sitting in the cockpit where every switch has a level of authenticity I’ve never experience in other full VR games. The only setback of these VR specific missions is they’re short on content. There are only three missions which will take expert players about 15 minutes each to complete. It’s a short but memorable blockbuster experience.
Overall, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown simply focused on the wrong thing. A misfiring story can be compensated by other fun features but Project Ace chose art over fun. While it is technical wizardry, it best feature is limited to PlayStation VR owners.
ACE COMBAT 7: Skies Unknown will satisfy your need for speed and intense air battles but its story never gives itself a chance to grab players.