ACE COMBAT™ 7: SKIES UNKNOWN
Gameplay 7
Graphics 8
Sound 9

Ace Combat 7 offers a superb selection of aircraft and a campaign spanning twenty missions to use them in. The controls feel great, and there are enough settings to ensure that even total newcomers can have fun. However, the game can sometimes get frustrating, and the lack of support from the rest of your squad is a bit annoying. In addition, the multiplayer component of the game feels a bit lacking. Despite these issues, the game is very solid and offers an action-packed experience that is hard to beat.

Gameplay: A little frustrating at times, but overall the experience is action-packed and a lot of fun.

Graphics: All of the planes in this game look great, and the amount of detail is also impressive.

Sound: Decent voice acting and a superb soundtrack complement the action nicely

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ACE COMBAT™ 7: SKIES UNKNOWN

Developer: BANDAI NAMCO Studios | Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment | Release Date: 2019 | Genre: Action / Simulation | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

Ace Combat 7 opens from the point of view of a scrapper named Avril, who wants nothing more than to fix up an old airplane and taking to the skies. She eventually manages this feat after many years of hard work, only to find herself caught up in the middle of an unexpected war. Conflict seems to have broken out between the Ocean Federation and the Kingdom of Erusa, which has suddenly made the skies very unfriendly. However, instead of being the game’s protagonist, as we expected, Avril is promptly shipped off to a penal colony to atone for her sins. When we eventually strap into the seat of a high-tech fighter plane, it was as a silent protagonist who goes only by the call-sign “Trigger.” Initially, he appears destined to rise through the ranks, but one suspicious mishap later and Trigger joins Avril at the penal colony. Unfortunately, past glories mean nothing to the people in charge of the penal colony. Instead, the only times they allow you anywhere near an airplane is to serve as bait or distraction to deflect attention away from the actual pilots. But, of course, with a name like Trigger, your character is still destined for greatness and isn’t going to let the fact that he is treated like a worthless criminal get in the way of that.

If this story sounds somewhat convoluted for a game featuring airplanes, then you hang on to your helmet because there is a lot more. Everything from a princess to a mad scientist and even drones based on the data of an elite pilot is also thrown into the mix. Since we have never played an Ace Combat title before, it was a little overwhelming, to say the least, but eventually, we got used to all the melodrama and wacky plot twists. Of course, it was still very irksome to be treated like a criminal half the time, but it’s all part of the story.

Skies Unknown isn’t just about long-winded cut-scenes, though, as you eventually get to take to the skies and blow things up. Anyone daunted by the prospect of having to tame thousands of pounds of expensive electronics and explosives need not worry, as Ace Combat 7 definitely emphasizes action over realism. There are four difficulty levels to choose from, and you can also pick whether you want to opt for normal or “expert” controls. The latter gives you more control over your plane, making it feel less like flying on rails like normal controls, but the game is still very much an arcade shooter. The campaign mode consists of twenty missions, which doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but there is still plenty to keep you busy. The fact that most of the missions are on strict timers or rely on you protecting crucial assets to avoid failure also means that you’ll probably have to attempt them more than once. In addition, if you fail an objective or get shot down, it’s back to the last checkpoint, which usually means losing at least ten minutes of progress.

Although most of your time in Ace Combat 7 will be spent blowing things up, the game at least tries to inject some variety with its missions. Typically, you will be squaring off against enemy drones or planes, but sometimes you are also required to take down ground targets, such as A.A. guns or S.A.M.s. There are even missions where you have to “sneak” through a canyon in the dark while avoiding searchlights and one where you must protect a car trying to make its way through a city where skirmishes have erupted. When playing on higher difficulty settings, which gives your plane less resistance to damage and adds enemy aces to your list of woes, we often felt like we were perpetually one mistake away from failure. Checkpoints tend to be sparse, and you really need to pay attention to your surroundings as often specific targets have a higher priority than others if you want to succeed. While it can be frustrating at times, the chaotic nature of the game and the fact that the odds never seem to be in your favor is also what keeps things thrilling. You’ll also have to make good use of the three levels of magnification that your map provides, as you will often be required to quickly get to where you are needed next in order to avoid failure. Along with the combat missions, the game features sections for taking off, mid-air refueling, and landing, but oddly enough, these are entirely optional and can be skipped if you wish.

Ace Combat 7 is Unreal Engine 4 powered, and it is honestly a good-looking game. Even when cranking up the detail, the game remained smooth, and everything looked really impressive, especially from a distance. Although the illusion of photo-realism is obviously shattered the closer you get to the ground, the visuals look great overall. The game offers three views; inside the cockpit, full-screen, and a chase view. The cockpit looks impressive with all the buttons and dials but provides the least helpful view of your surroundings. Full-screen removes the instruments so you can fly around in first-person view, but the chase view felt the most natural to us. It also gives you a nice view of your airplane, which is great considering how long it takes to earn enough credits to unlock some of them from the “Aircraft Tree.” It’s not just the planes that look great, but the explosions and weather effects as well—seeing a particularly tricky foe go down in a column of smoke and fire before exploding is immensely satisfying. The game even allows you to hold the fire button when shooting missiles to get a first-person view of your projectiles slamming into their target. Flying in stormy weather and watching as your plane gets hit by lightning, which briefly causes equipment failure, is also quite impressive. Then there are the beautiful clouds that can be found on most missions, and they not only look great but also offer a good way to evade enemy missiles that have a lock on you. Just don’t dally in them for too long, or your plane might begin to ice up from the cold. In addition, you can admire your handiwork from multiple camera angles after completing a mission, thanks to the replay feature.

We were quite glad to hear that the developers didn’t just lavish all their attention on the visuals but also made sure that the audio was up to scratch. Having never set foot in any of the aircraft featured in the game, we can’t comment on the authenticity of the audio, but the airplanes certainly sound as menacing as we expect them to be. Also, although Trigger is the strong, silent type, the rest of his squad has no problem chattering at every opportunity. This definitely adds to the immersion and allows you to learn more about the personalities of your team. Still, we also missed a lot of plot information because we were more focused on evading missiles.
Along with the great sound effects, Ace Combat 7 also features a stellar soundtrack, and most of the tunes enhance the action movie feel of the game. Unfortunately, we could not test the game with our HOTAS as it only supports a grand total of four flight sticks. This is somewhat disappointing, but seeing as the game is not a simulator but an arcade shooter, we found our good old Xbox 360 gamepad to work perfectly. The keyboard and mouse are also supported, but while they can get the job done, it never feels as natural as a gamepad.

In addition to the campaign and free flight modes, the game also features an online multiplayer component. The so-called “Battle Royale” mode is basically just an 8-player free for all, while Team Deathmatch splits everyone up into two teams of four for some dogfighting. Overall, multiplayer is a pleasant diversion, but it is not something that held our attention for very long. On the other hand, the campaign mode is definitely the game’s primary focus and had us hooked to the end, if only to see how the whole soap opera story will end.

There is no doubt that Ace Combat 7 is an action-packed and entertaining arcade shooter, but it is not without its faults. The sparse checkpoints can lead to some frustrating repetition, especially during missions where it is not always clear why you just failed. Some of the enemies and bosses you face later in the game also seem to defy the laws of physics when it comes to evading your missiles. Then there are the prices of some of the planes in the aircraft tree, which require players to either grind missions or spend more time in the multiplayer mode to earn enough to unlock them. Just make very sure about your purchase before committing, as there is no going back once you have spent your hard-earned credits. Finally, many players will probably enjoy being the hot shot star of the show, but to us, it mostly felt like we were left doing all the dirty work while the rest of the squadron just circled around lazily. If you don’t pay attention to your squad, it certainly sounds like they are pulling their weight in combat, but if you spend time observing them, it is clear that they are slacking off.

Despite some minor grievances, we had a lot of fun with Ace Combat 7, and there was rarely a dull moment during the missions. Streaking through the skies in an F-15C Eagle, F-16C Fighting Falcon, F-22A Raptor, MiG-29A Fulcrum, or the myriad other planes on offer is an exhilarating experience. Picking the right plane and correct load-out before each mission made a big difference, so we often found ourselves going back and trying a different tactic after a mission failure. Having never played any previous Ace Combat games, the story was a bit far-fetched and over the top, but everything was done so enthusiastically that it’s hard not to get swept up in it all. If you are looking for a flight simulator with a million buttons and extreme realism, Ace Combat 7 will be disappointing. However, if you want to hunt the skies in a collection of awesome planes without having to worry about your wings falling off or your guns jamming, then sign up right away.

System Requirements

  • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
  • OS: Windows 7 / 8 / 8.1 / 10 (64-bit OS required)
  • Processor: Intel Core i3-7100
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750Ti(2GB)
  • DirectX: Version 11
  • Network: Broadband Internet connection
  • Storage: 50 GB available space
  • Sound Card: DirectX 11 sound card
  • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
  • OS: Windows 7 / 8 / 8.1 / 10 (64-bit OS required)
  • Processor: Intel Core i5-7500
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 (3GB)
  • DirectX: Version 11
  • Network: Broadband Internet connection
  • Storage: 50 GB available space
  • Sound Card: DirectX 11 sound card

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