Wow, long time no see, huh? It’s been a few months since I posted here. I guess that’s what happens when every day is spent writing at work! My enthusiasm to write once I get home is… Decreased, you could say. That doesn’t mean I haven’t played a bunch of games since!
Alright, that’s enough preamble. These are my thoughts on what works and doesn’t work in the latest entry of the long-running Ace Combat series, Ace Combat: Skies Unknown (2019).
Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (2019)
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Steam)
Developer: Project Aces
Played on PS4 Pro
Hours Played: 40+
Chances are likely that if you’re into flight combat games, you’ve heard the name Ace Combat. The games feature fast-paced aerial combat between fighter jets flying high in the sky, offering players a myriad of planes and weapons to unlock while delivering narrative through shiny cutscenes and in-game radio chatter. All of this remains true in Ace Combat 7, with a mostly satisfying loop that kept me playing more. A healthy variety of mission types make each flight feel different, despite each one’s general goal – shoot down aerial and ground forces while evading enemy missiles during the process.
But where this game shines is when objectives are transformed mid-mission. During the latter half of one mission, a fleet of friendly planes are descending on your position. As soon as these planes begin to line up their weapons onto your position, it’s discovered that they aren’t actually friendly units, but enemies who have fooled your team’s HUD to display them as being on your side. The game then tasks you with surviving the initial attack, unsure of who is friend or foe, until your team leader can formulate a plan to fight back. Ace Combat 7 plays around with ideas like this on a regular basis, and most of them work very well. There’s even a stealth mission that tasks you with avoiding searchlights – something I wasn’t expecting to see from this game. There’s a good level of variety.
Ace Combat 7 runs at a mostly consistent 60 frames-per-second, at least on PS4 Pro. There are some frame drops during hectic moments when surrounded by a dozen or so drones flying about, but the majority of performance is solid. It’s a joy to play, especially if you have experience in other flight-based games, but this one does a decent job of introducing rookies to the Ace Combat formula. Multiple control schemes give both newcomers and veteran players some flexibility in their preferred options. Unfortunately I can’t comment on the game’s handling of the optional T. Flight Hotas control stick, but playing with any modern gamepad should be just fine.
The only criticism I have toward the core gameplay itself is the game’s lack of explanation for how to pull off specific maneuvers. As someone new to the Ace Combat series, I didn’t know special mechanics such as the post-stall maneuver are possible, and had to seek out the information online. The limited options menu during flight gameplay is also strange, forcing players to quit back to the main menu if they wish to turn on or off specific settings like subtitles.
The game’s story has players control a rookie pilot, codenamed ‘Trigger’ as he battles his way to become an ace pilot across 20 missions. Some of the story’s emotional depth feels lost due to a silent protagonist, but in most cases, frequent radio chatter works around this. It’ll always feel weird when non-player characters continue to shit-talk the player to their face, offering zero options to oppose their claims.
Dialogue in this game is exceptionally hammy, with the completely serious delivery of unforgettable lines such as, “It’s time to send Stonehenge back to the Stone Age!” as well as, “Not even a cat has enough lives to follow through your orders.” These are just a glimpse at the incredible line reads present throughout the story’s duration.
If this sounds like a negative remark, rest assured, it most definitely isn’t. In a game like Ace Combat 7 where a majority of voice work is delivered through radio conversations, it’s especially important to have enthusiastic characters who make you want to listen to them speak – and in this fashion, Ace Combat 7 is truly successful. The entire game feels so earnest, so entirely sincere in its story and tone, that I’ve come to adore the weird dialogue.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for the game’s cutscenes that take place between each mission. I found a majority of them to be plodding, forgettable sequences that halted my excitement after finishing a mission dead in its tracks. A few of them are so slow that I felt my eyes glazing over in boredom.
I’m all for setting tone and delivering background information for the sake of narrative, but I felt myself growing increasingly uninterested by a bunch of the cutscenes that seem to drag on. To put this into perspective; I love Metal Gear, which has a bunch of story beats that could probably be cut from the games, but I find these extraneous details interesting enough to be worthy additions to the game’s universe, as nonsensical as the overarching plot may become (and is). I think Ace Combat 7 could have done well with some trimming around the edges of its cutscenes, but it isn’t slow enough to stop me from completing the game’s story twice. Thankfully, the cutscenes can be skipped, making it easy to spend hours going for the highest score.
By the time the credits of Ace Combat 7 rolled, I knew I’d be playing through it a second time. Not even the slow, monotonous cutscenes between each mission made me want to stop playing, thanks in large part to the extremely satisfying gameplay. My interest in the multiplayer portion of the game is minimal, but I did play one match (actually, more like one minute of a match, because I joined a match nearing its conclusion) and the performance was just fine.
It’s a shame that the pre-order bonus of including Ace Combat 5 isn’t offered to people who chose not to pre-order, because I’d love to see more from this series.
There’s only one thing I have to say regarding the soundtrack accompanying this game. It is incredible. Give it a listen.
If you enjoyed: previous Ace Combat games or Star Fox 64,
You may enjoy Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown.
Thank you for reading. I’ll try to post another review soon. Now that I’ve (finally) graduated from college, there’s more free time on my hands.