by Thomas Mikkelsen
reviewed on PC
Sometimes, you just want to fly and blow stuff up!
I’ve been in love with the Ace Combat series ever since I shot down my first bogey using the pre-analogue PS1 controller back in 1995. I sometimes go back to 97’s Ace Combat 2 using an emulator, just to get that special feeling again. In fact, Ace Combat, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Jane’s F-15, and F-22 Lightning 3 were partially responsible for me going for my pilot’s license in my early adulthood. I could have saved a lot of money had someone told me how boring flying in real life is.
The Ace Combat series are not simulation games by any stretch of the imagination. They are Arcade Air Combat games and, as such, they are easily accessible, action-packed and fun to play. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good flight simulator – but sometimes it’s nice not to have to spend 15 minutes flying toward your objective after taking off with not a friend or foe in sight. Ace Combat 7 puts you right into the action, and you’ll be happy for it.
They just won’t let you forget...
Despite the game’s rather over-the-top dramatic narrative, it pays to have some motivation for the aerial carnage you’re about to embark on... other than the promise of nice fireworks, that is. This comes in the form of the game’s story. Two fictional countries on a fictional continent are at war. Apparently, following a previous war, one poor nation was awarded a construction project of a giant space elevator, which enriched that country but not the other. The latter country got super jealous and launched a sneak drone attack on the rich guys (us).
During one of the earliest missions, you accidentally do something bad. Something very bad. For this, you are sent to a penal colony where the army has set up a fake air base to draw enemy fire away from real targets. You pilot one of the diversionary planes sent up for the sole purpose of getting shot at and make the enemy think this is an active airfield. You soon prove that you are more than just decoy, however. You are pretty good at shooting the enemy down – even when their firepower and maneuverability far exceeds yours.
It is during this part of the game that the writing becomes a bit annoying. Before, the banter on the radio had been fine. My allies would congratulate me on a good kill, the brass would have a serious tone during the briefings, and the debrief as well would sound plausible. After you get sent to the penal colony, everything becomes about the penal colony. Every chance they get to mention your crime on the air, your commanding officers and wingmen will do so. Every briefing and debrief is steeped in “you don’t matter, you’re a criminal” and “you need to repay your debt to society.” It gets to the point where you wonder whether the developers were so afraid people would walk away from the game, they felt the need to remind them at every turn that this is where we are in the story. It really does get to be too much and thereby pulls you out of the story.
Thrilling and full of variety
But back to the gameplay itself. Ace Combat 7 offers a wide variety of unlockable airplanes, including my favorites the A-10 Warthog and the JAS 39 Gripen. The last, most expensive, and most powerful aircraft you can unlock is the F-35, and if this was a real simulator, it’d only take off about half the time and spontaneously combust the other half. The upgrades menu also offers a wide variety of airplane components and weapon upgrades that’ll dramatically change your effectiveness and survivability during missions, and allow you to customize your plane to each mission. This can get a bit overwhelming later on when you’ve unlocked dozens of upgrades, but I never found the “correct combination of upgrades” to make or break a mission.
Combat is hectic, it’s fast-paced, it’s thrilling and it looks really good. Sometimes you’ll be dogfighting a MiG, other times you’ll be strafing an oil refinery, and even other times you’ll be taking out bridges and SAM sites. Sometimes you’ll be flying in clear blue skies, sometimes you’ll be flying in icy clouds and sometimes you’ll be hit by a sand storm. The game offers just enough variety to keep you playing to see what happens next, but at the same time it throws new enemies and environmental challenges at you every now and then to shake things up. As an action-packed dogfighting experience, Ace Combat 7 is fantastic. As a story, it’s no Milton, but neither does it have to be.
If you’re looking for to scratch that dogfighting itch in a beautiful looking game featuring a sci-fi setting that’ll throw unknown challenges in your path, look no further than Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. If, however, you’re looking for realistic combat simulation and a down-to-earth relatable story, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
Fantastic action-packed dogfighting. Gameplay variety.