Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PC) Review

By Chris Leebody 31.01.2019

Review for Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown on PC

Stretching across 17 games and a litany of platforms, Ace Combat is truly one of gaming's most recognisable franchises. Surprisingly, it has been over 10 years now since the last mainline entry in the series, with 2007's Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation. In between, various detours and spinoffs kept things ticking over. What has stayed consistent however is a commitment by Bandai Namco to try and deliver the most action-packed combat flight series, a genre that very rarely gets much love these days. Continuing an epic story in the setting of Strangereal, the conflict at hand is between the Osean Federation and Erusea, with the protagonist being Trigger, an ace pilot of Osea. Boasting photorealistic graphics and epic dogfights, it is fair to say that the series is one that has been waiting to truly utilise the power of modern systems. The PC version is out on Steam today.

Striking a balance between hardcore flight combat, as opposed to action packed engagements, is notoriously difficult to achieve. The previous entry in the series, Ace Combat Assault Horizon, was considered too cinematic by some, at the expense of the complexity and slower paced action that long-time fans had been accustomed to. On the other hand, there is a raft of dedicated simulation style flight titles that litter the PC market, not all of which, unfortunately, are very approachable to less experienced pilots.

Where Ace Combat 7 succeeds, is in successfully navigating this balance. The initial feeling upon taking up the stick for the first mission in the campaign is one of speed and mobility mixed with the intensity of the dogfighting. This is only increased as the campaign goes on, as objectives get more varied and enemies more numerous and coordinated.

Plane movement is both realistic and fun for the novice. There are standard controls for movement, as well as a more advanced and nuanced pitch control scheme that experienced veterans or stick users will likely find beneficial. With that said, the actual act of dogfighting is engaging and approachable, with some specific 'skill moves' like performing a quick turn, executed by a simple button combo.

The campaign on offer is not expansive in terms of length. However, there is an incentive at least to play through missions multiple times, which is to accrue higher scores, used to purchase more planes and additional weaponry and upgrades.

Screenshot for Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown on PC

This isn't just cosmetic stuff either, with a tangible difference in terms of plane stats and viability within the mission objectives. For example, taking the wrong kind of plane into a mission, that requires destruction of ground targets, is liable to end up in failure.

In some ways, this is a catch 22. Whilst adding tactical considerations, it comes at the the expense of making missions frustrating, if the wrong equipment is selected. In addition to the missions, there is of course a free flight mode, which is certainly nice for getting a handle on specific plane flight styles or for just mindlessly flying around the environment for fun.

On the subject of enemy planes, this is surely where a lot of longtime fans will be most pleased. The enemy AI is largely excellent during combat. Their movements and adjustments are comparable to playing against human players. It makes some of the missions manic and exciting.

However, it may be slightly let down by the fact that many of those AI enemies across the approximately 10-hour campaign tend to be limited to unmanned drones. This makes the actual enemy plane variety a little disappointing and feels slightly cheap and predictable in terms of the story relying on them.

Screenshot for Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown on PC

The story narrative is decent, if not a tad forgettable and confusing, centering on the capture of the 'International Space Elevator,' by the Kingdom of Erusea. New fans of the series may be well served in reading some of the previous lore, if they are interested in that kind of thing. Without doing so, many of the historical events from the preceding titles that give context, tend get lost.

Whilst obviously trying to progress the characters in a similar way to that seen in something like Top Gun, the issue is that battles are usually too chaotic to ever be able to latch on to any meaningful character interaction or development. With rapidly changing mission objectives and radio chatter flying around non-stop, the plot is certainly exciting, if not a little incoherent.

One of the features within Ace Combat 7 is the use of cloud as a tactical device. For example, flying through the clouds will disrupt radar systems along with missile tracking. It equally has the effect of forming ice crystals on the cockpit cover that disrupts vision. Both the player and the antagonists use this whilst fighting, which gives an additional tactical edge to combat and tests the nerve of any pilot.

It is a sight to see when planes are zooming in and out of cloud. This leads on to another of Ace Combat 7's strengths, namely the gorgeous landscape formed in the Unreal Engine 4. The clouds have a diversity of thickness and colour that lends them an incredibly realistic look.

Screenshot for Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown on PC

For a title that is entirely based in the air, this is of course incredibly important when it comes to immersion. Largely just as impressive though are the detailed environments on the ground, popping to life with settlements, mountains, forests and many other topographical touches. Despite how beautiful everything looks, on the PC performance and optimisation is exemplary, with no notable issues of pop-in or frame drops, even when the action gets chaotic.

From a sound design perspective, Ace Combat 7 couldn't be more fulfilled. Plane engines have a hugely satisfying roar at the top speeds, which combined with the rumble using a controller, lends the feeling of flying a fast-powered fighter jet. Combining this with the thud of cannon fire and the alarms of the missiles, all the while orders are being issued, makes the package is perfect.

It's deeply disappointing that the VR component of the game is strictly exclusive to the PS4, and that the game does not take advantage of the superior VR headsets available on PC. This feels like an underhand move and certainly does not encourage more people to take up interest in the exciting VR space. The potential of this kind of genre fits perfectly within the medium. The mode is rumoured to be available at some time in 2020 on PC.

Finally, Ace Combat 7 does feature competitive PVP multiplayer. There honestly isn't a whole lot of variety here, in terms of modes available. The standard free for all and team modes are the only available ones to play. The maximum plane count is eight, which is reasonable enough, but disappointingly, there are not more large-scale cooperative scenarios.

Screenshot for Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown on PC

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Ultimately, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a valued successor in the series and brings the franchise right back to its roots. Graphically, the game is stunning. It pops with glistening detail and lighting, and lots of delicate touches, such as the raindrops on the windows. This is matched by the bombastic sound quality which delivers pounding thrust and thundering cannons through the clouds. Whilst the campaign could be a touch longer, and it is regrettable that the VR mode is not yet present in the PC version, overall the package on offer here is well worth it for any flight combat fans.

Developer

Bandai Namco

Publisher

Bandai Namco

Genre

Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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