Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review: War involves more than just weapons and politics. Ace Combat is a series that showed us exactly that, which got underway in the early ’00s with an enchanting mix of jet fights and human melodrama. But in the past decade, submissions have had less interest in the signature stories. It dropped four games of fictional lore in favor of real-world locations, traded pathos for machismo, and attempted to add cinematic blockbuster bombast to the clinical nature of flying jets, all at the cost of losing its identity.
Thankfully, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is putting the series back on track, and it’s a significant return to what it was in its prime: an exciting interpretation of modern air combat that also tells a war story with heart, conscience, and personal interests.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Developer: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, Project Aces, BANDAI NAMCO Studios
- Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, Namco Bandai Games America Inc.
- Genres: Combat flight simulation game, Action game
- Release Date: January 18, 2019
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review: Official Trailer Video
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review: Gameplay
The story of Skies Unknown delves into the fictional series universe that was last seen in 2007 and dealt with a conflict between the known powers of the Osean Federation and the Kingdom of Erusea. You play a silent, faceless Osean pilot who goes through some varying loyalties. Still, half of the plot takes place in cinematics that runs parallel to and separates from your actual missions, coming from the perspective of seemingly small players around the periphery.
To be clear, there aren’t many nuanced discussions between the cast’s outspoken personalities; this is primarily a drama. Radio chatter is filled with bold ideological statements, and sometimes it feels like there is naivety in writing for very different, somewhat youthful reasons. It is regularly hammy and melodramatic, but the whole endeavor is so wide open and severe, so endearingly sincere and ultimately optimistic that it is easy to get carried away and move through it.
More than life-sized voices amplify you over the radio when you fly into a flight, adding an infectious passion to business. They remind you what you are fighting for and sometimes make you feel bad and question your actions. The overlapping conversation can be a bit distracting when trying to dodge a missile. Still, it’s that essential human element that keeps you invested in this aircraft shooting down the game.
But that’s not to say that aerial combat in Ace Combat 7 is anything but fantastic. The necessary actions to chase enemies at high speeds, maneuver them to set a clear shot or bank hard to avoid an incoming missile while your dashboard beeps and flashes wildly at you is enough to get you on keep the tip of your seat constant. Skies Unknown removes recent mechanical additions to the series that seemingly serve a return to simplicity – gone are Ace Combat 6: Fires Of Liberation’s wingman commands and, thankfully, the in-your-face, on-rails close combat mechanics of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon.
Your focus is exclusively on your plane and your environment. There are several known factors to consider when flying – various air and ground threats, terrain topography in low-altitude combat – but an important new element is clouds and the substantial risks and opportunities they invite. Yokes in a cloud bank can break rocket locks and give you a surprise element, but this comes at the cost of reduced visibility. The ability to freeze your plane and hinder maneuverability and even things like strong wind currents and lightning strikes mess with your ability to keep your jet under control.
There is also an impressive variety of different scenarios in the game’s 20 campaign missions. In general, the scope of most battles is quite wide, and you need to divide your attention between different types of conflicts across the map with a broader purpose in mind. But many missions also bring unique challenges that make for some memorable moments – dog fights in a thunderstorm at night, stealth canyon runs, and avoiding massive explosions in the middle of a busy battle are some fun highlights.
The few boss-style encounters are also a highlight, as you take on impossibly good bait hunters and the game’s superweapon, which itself fills the map with a terrifying amount of enemy drones. However, there are a few scenarios that aren’t as exciting: Searching for trucks in a sand storm and chasing ICBMs got tiring pretty quickly. The game’s final challenge was a tricky airplane maneuvering exercise that feels like multiple new attempts are needed, which puts a damper on an otherwise grand final.
Ace Combat 7 features a simple, peer-to-peer online multiplayer component with Battle Royal 8-player deathmatch and team deathmatch modes. Dog fights with other people are certainly a lot more challenging and hectic, and because matches last only five minutes, they continuously feel fast and full of excitement. The planes and equipment you unlock as part of the campaign are transferred to multiplayer and vice versa, but everything has an assigned value, and you can play matches that have a limit on how much you can bring, which helps keep a draw keep field.
Online sorties also have a weighted scoring system where leading players are marked and have a higher score for their destruction. In my experience, it’s an idea that works well in practice, so you don’t become a target if you do it poorly and keep you on your toes when it goes well. It also makes for excellent game dynamics – there were plenty of times when I fell behind in the score, decided to zero the lead player, and made a spectacular comeback to take the lead in the last few seconds.
The PlayStation 4 version of Skies Unknown also features an exclusive VR mode consisting of an Ace Combat 4 inspired mini-campaign. There are only three missions, and their objectives are less complicated than those of the primary campaign, yet the experience of flying from an airplane cockpit is captivating. It’s a shame there’s no option to play the primary campaign in VR – just tracking the head and freelook would be incredibly useful – but the mode is a great addition nonetheless.
Good air combat is essential for a jet fighter game, but it is a certain quality for Ace Combat. Skies Unknown has a beautiful photo-realistic world, fun variety in missions, and a reason to get excited about clouds. Most importantly, it entails renewed dedication to the history and stories of its fictional universe, bringing back the human, emotional center that makes it remarkable. Ace Combat 7 is a fantastic return for a series that is at its best when its heart is on its wings. That’s it for our Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is putting the series back on track, and it’s a significant return to what it was in its prime: an exciting interpretation of modern air combat that also tells a war story with heart, conscience, and personal interests.