Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a solid entry into the Ace Combat series. There are elements that have been added to the game that I enjoy, but there are also things about the story that have me asking many questions as well.
For those unfamiliar with the series, we’ll start off with the basics. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a flight simulator based around modern combat with some arcade elements thrown in. You will be dogfighting with the enemies in the game as you attempt to get into a position where you are able to launch a missile at them. While you do have the ability to use a cannon, your primary method of taking down enemies will likely be missiles. You will have a selection of modern military aircraft to choose from once you unlock them, but more on that later.
The game plays as expected with smooth controls that allow you to pick up and be able to quickly adapt to whatever the game throws at you. You also have two modes you can choose to fly in: normal and expert. The difference between the two is expert gives you the full range of control of your aircraft, pitch, roll, and yaw, while the other limits you but helps to make the game friendlier to newer players. You can change this at any time in the settings.
The biggest change since the last Ace Combat game, not counting the mobile version, is the removal of dog fight mode (DFM). This is a change that gives me mixed feelings. Overall, I believe it is a positive change, as it removes the problem of feeling like you are in an on-rails section of the game. Put short, you can shoot up the enemy’s plane until a wing falls off, but they will not go down until the game decides it is time. At the same time, it also removes that awesome visual of the enemy’s aircraft falling apart before you as you turn them into swiss cheese.
Next is the change in how you acquire new aircraft. Previously, you were given them as you progressed through the campaign. Now, you unlock them though credits you acquire from completing missions. You also have upgrades for your aircraft and its weapons that increase things from weapons power to aircraft maneuverability. This is a welcome change as you can choose what order you want to unlock your aircraft in. However, it does restrict you somewhat as you will not be able to unlock everything on a single completion of the campaign. If you manage to accomplish that, you are a much better pilot than I am.
The story itself isn’t very strong, but I can forgive that as it hasn’t been a focal point in other Ace Combat games either. It does serve to provide a simple framework for why you are fighting, which is all one can really expect from a game like this. However, there is one section of the game where the story and gameplay clashed so heavily that it took me out of the experience.
This part is going to contain minor spoilers for the game, so if you do not want that then skip past the next paragraph. In this Ace Combat, I ran into a problem with the story clashing with the way you select your aircraft, along with how it flies. The problem comes with the fact you are a prisoner, and you are supposedly flying airplanes that are jury-rigged together from aircraft that have been brought in from an airplane graveyard. The aircraft, however, have no issues pulling high-G turns and have no odd feeling to them. Granted, no one is flying the same type of aircraft so that does help things to feel less military. Another issue pops up when you look over your loadout: you have a full assortment of weapons to use. This is a section where I think there could have been great potential for story telling, along with some interesting game mechanics thrown in too. Instead you are just left with the same old options in front of you.
Another problem comes up when you must land on an aircraft carrier. If you’re not too familiar with naval and air force aviation, the short version is this: naval aircraft are purpose built to take off and land on aircraft carriers. In one section of the game you are to land on an aircraft carrier, and at the time I was in a YF-23. This aircraft is not meant to land on a carrier whatsoever. After I did that, I had to take off again, and I will give some credit as the game placed me at the aft of the carrier, but there was nothing to say how I pulled off this feat.
As much as the story of this game results in confusion, I still would recommend it. It is a solid addition to the Ace Combat series. It performs well where it needs to and the air to air combat is spot on. I would prefer if there was more of it in the campaign, but I have not touched the multiplayer for this review, which is obviously where the bulk of the action happens.