The Ace Combat series, which came along in 1995, offered something great. It made the control of super-technological fighters extremely amusing and accessible. If you have approached a flight simulator like Falcon 4 or a hybrid game like Jane's USAF, you have certainly had to deal with long learning phases and manuals that forced you to learn the devilries that allow a fighter-bomber to hit a bicycle-sized target from an altitude of 15,000 feet. For the air force nerds, this is very exciting. For everyone else, however, this is an insurmountable obstacle that requires too much dedication to be truly appreciated.
Ace Combat, on the other hand, is on the opposite end of the flight simulation spectrum: it's a game that can be learned in a matter of minutes, which instantly throws us into aerial dogfighting, providing you with an exaggerated amount of missiles and more targets than the ones you can find in a duck-shooting gallery. Ace Combat, in a word, is pure adrenaline.
The seventh main episode of the series brings it up to date on modern consoles such as Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and with the latter, it also comes in the territory of virtual reality. We must admit, however, that the series has not seen huge developments, even in this current-gen incarnation, and as soon as you put yourself in command of a fighter in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, you will immediately feel at ease.
We could say that Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a game that does not waste time. It takes only a few minutes from the beginning of the first mission until you are locking on an enemy aircraft, pronouncing the fateful "Fox Two" to signal the launch of a missile and, finally, watch the spectacular and smoky explosions. Just a few minutes, and here you are at the helm of a plane whose mission is to hit targets on the ground using guided bombs, and even in this you will only need a little intuition to become in a few minutes a real ace. Why wasting your time with a tutorial on evasive manoeuvres when you do not have to do anything but let yourself be overwhelmed by instinct and start tight turns that would make Tom Cruise faint because of the excessive G force? Ace Combat is all this: intuition, ease of use, lots of fun.
As usual, the game is made up of a long campaign (20 missions) that takes us into a fictitious war, which represents a summa of the greatest military conflicts of the twentieth century and, why not, of the post-9/11 wars. In the game, we play a pilot named Trigger, whose story quickly takes a very bad turn as our hero is forced to fly into potential suicide missions, and this is where the game becomes interesting. If Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown begins in a simple, almost trivial manner, the missions later become increasingly difficult and intricate.
The plot of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, narrated by various characters, is less obvious than we first thought. We are introduced to political intrigues that frame a continental scale war, all intermingled with cutscenes that detail the dystopian world very well. Of course, the narrative is a pretext to push us to shoot down huge amounts of enemy aircrafts and to make targets explode on the ground, and in general, we found it far too conventional. We are therefore very far from the curious plot of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon and much more in line with all the other games of the series an aspect that, probably, will appeal to old fans but that is not necessarily good for the series.
Regarding gameplay and game mechanics, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is an Ace Combat thoroughbred. You will almost not find anything different from what has made this franchise famous and entertaining, starting from the ease with which all types of aircraft are handled to the disarming simplicity of the enemy engagement system. It is sufficient to reach a certain distance from an enemy to see our HUD turning from green to red, encouraging us to pull the trigger. When, however, we enter the defensive phase, the game introduces an element never seen in the series: post-stall maneuvers. The limited flight models of the previous games, in fact, allowed the players to perform only limited actions during the stall. In Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, on the other hand, when our aircraft stalls it is possible to make loops to make the enemy overtake us, thus transforming us from prey to hunter. In Assault Horizon this aspect took place with very simple QTEs, while in Skies Unknown it's all about the pilot's ability.
We therefore partially understand the decision to make the game compatible with a Hotas joystick. Although this device is suitable for flight simulators and a bit surplus to requirements for an arcade title like Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, during stalls it can really make a difference, especially in multiplayer.
Speaking of multiplayer, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown offers different game modes, among which the Battle Royal mode stands out. No, for once it is not the umpteenth attempt to bring the mechanics of Fortnite or PUBG in another video game, Battle Royal is all vs all dogfighting in which the one who scores most wins and in which you have the opportunity to respawn after being shot down. Simply put it's a very traditional deathmatch mode. Unfortunately, Skies Unknown does not have a good matchmaking system, as it makes use of the old room-based system. It is a real pity that this series has not evolved in this respect because the multiplayer game works well enough.
Finally, we must report the presence of VR mode on PlayStation 4, that we will examine in depth with a dedicated article in a few days. In this single-player mode we can play pilot the plane with a greater degree of presence. The sense of immersion is really excellent, and it is a pity to see that the game includes just three, albeit spectacular, missions compatible with the PSVR, which are flanked by an airshow mode dedicated to air evolutions and a free flight mode.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a good entry the Ace Combat series. Its only fault lies in its low-risk approach. It seems that the developers wanted to create a game that could satisfy the palates of fans who have been playing at Ace Combat for a quarter of a century, without trying to appeal to new generations of players. It is, therefore, a fun game, but one that plays it a bit too safe for true greatness.
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