Take to the skies once again in Ace Combat 7 and partake in some of the best looking dogfights I’ve seen in a game yet. Sure, the story isn’t great, but once you are in the cockpit and flying that doesn’t really matter. After flying around in one of the 29 aircraft available, you easily forget that the story could use some work and are simply flying around, blowing up targets, and looking cool while doing it.
As you’ve no doubt picked up on, the story that takes place during Ace Combat 7 isn’t the best. Not to say that it is terrible, only that the cut scenes tend to drag on as they explain the war, and how the country you fight for is using criminals to supplement its own Air Force. My only real complaint with the story, aside from feeling like it takes too long between missions, is that it sets you up as if you are going to be the girl in the opening cinematic, but it turns out you are a different pilot. By no means does this ruin the game. The character in the cut scene acts as more of a narrator to explain what is going on outside of the air.
Where the game really shines, however, is the flying. Once you are in the air and find yourself taking down targets the story fades into the background. The chatter between pilots is always there reminding you of the ongoing war, but it never takes away from the experience of flying the jet of your choice. Flying feels smooth and the planes react as expected (I should mention that I have only played the game using a Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS 4 flight stick).
While flying feels great, the game does remind you that you aren’t playing a hardcore flight sim, but an arcade flight sim. Think more Need for Speed, and less Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo. It is in subtly ways, like being able to “bounce” off the terrain or having a timer for the missions, even when there are no time sensitive things happening. While you can turn on or off an option that adjust how forgiving the game is when you graze the ground, there is no way around the mission time.
As for the timer, I think a more interesting mechanic would have been to have limited fuel instead of a timer. It would achieve the same purpose of given you a set time to finish a mission, but it wouldn’t feel so arbitrary. It doesn’t take away from the game, but a fuel limit would have made it feel necessary.
Visually, Namco Bandi and Project Aces made great use of Unreal Engine 4. While it did contribute to the game being delayed, due to having to rebuild every model, it is worth it as you fly through a cloud and the cockpit ices over and then turns to water droplets as you return to clear skies. The Airplane models all look beautiful as they soar past you; not to mention as you blow them out of the sky.
One of the biggest selling points for me was the VR mode and while it ended up not being a full VR game, the VR mode did not disappoint. The feeling of sitting in the cockpit is replicated pretty well, or at least as it seems to be for someone who has never flown a jet before. As soon as I was off the ground and had some altitude I immediately threw the plane into a barrel roll, and while it did initially make me feel light-headed after the mission got underway and I was chasing down enemy airplanes, the feeling went away and I was able to focus on flying.
After playing most of the campaign, switching to the VR mode really made tracking a lot easier being able to turn my head to keep enemy aircraft in my line of sight. I’m not sure why the decision was made to not make the whole campaign available in VR, but it would have been a nice option to have.
I will say, while I was able to play two missions without feeling nauseous, I don’t think this will be the case for everyone. I do feel like a third flight would have flown me right in to the danger zone. Either way, I was surprised I was able to get through two missions, as I fully expected the first loop or barrel roll to mess me up right away.
Ace Combat 7 delivers what matters most: a solid flying experience. It is easy to jump right in and feel like you can take on the skies. It provides a beautifully rendered game world. And it provides an assortment of airplanes, special weapons, and parts to unlock. Not to mention the online battle royal (read: free-for-all) and team death match modes, Ace Combat 7 offers plenty to do for anyone looking to jump in the [virtual] cockpit.