Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows (Reviewed)
Release Date: 31 January 2019 (PC), 18 January 2019 (Consoles)
Price: $59.99 USD – Available Here / $79.95 (PC), $99.95 AUD (Consoles) – Available Here
Ace Combat fans rejoice. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is reaching a bunch of firsts for the franchise. It is the first to be developed from the ground up for the latest generation of consoles, the first to launch on PC, and the first to offer support for VR devices, albeit as a timed exclusive for PlayStation VR.
Ace combat 7: Skies Unknown’s story is a mess. It feels like two completely different writers were used. While the world feels relevant to today’s political and technological environment, there are a few gaping plot holes and chunks of unexplained story that come of out nowhere. The cutscene content feels disjointed from what the player is experiencing, serving as world building than actual context for the player’s actions. The writing in the cutscenes are generally very good, especially compared to the rest of the game. The writing for the missions is bad. The chatter between pilots is absolutely grating. Instead of getting a lovable band of rogues, the prisoners and their captors are one-dimensional stereotypes with the depth of a puddle. Things improve a bit in the second half of the game when players work with more professional pilots. The briefings and debriefings in the second half of the game are generally decent, but the early debriefings are a mess, often feeling like an incoherent set of lines tossed into a cup, shaken thoroughly, and emptied in a word processor. The resulting trainwreck makes me suspect the whole prisoner plotline was tacked in last minute.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to test the multiplayer or VR aspects of the game as it was not available on PC during our review period. We did, however, have plenty of time to dig into the singleplayer portions of the game.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown continues to offer an excellent arcade flight sim experience. The controls feel extremely tight. Newbies to the franchise can use the simplified controls to ease their way into the game, then switch to the traditional expert level controls. While playing the game with mouse and keyboard is possible, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is way more enjoyable with a controller or a full flight stick set up.
The controls give players lots of options for dog fights, including the newly introduced post-stall maneuvers. I only wish the game offered a better tutorial that introduces new players to the more advanced maneuvers and tactics. Many of these are hinted to in the tooltips during load screens, but new players will have to take to the internet to learn on their own as the in-game tutorial is limited to the extremely basic this is how you fly and this is how you shoot type instructions.
The Aircraft Tree offers new aircraft and upgrades for use in both campaign and multiplayer modes. Each aircraft can hold up to eight upgrade parts. Parts can upgrade either body, armaments, or miscellaneous equipment. Each upgrade part is worth a certain number of points, and each plane has a cap for each of the three types of upgrades. Each aircraft has three special weapons to choose from based on the plane’s role. There is a good mix of European, Russian, and American crafts from the back half of the Cold War, with a few older planes tossed in for good measure.
Players will use the MRP currency to unlock planes and parts in the tree. MRP is earned from playing campaign mission or multiplayer matches. There is no way to unlock the entire Aircraft Tree from one run of the campaign, so players will have to either repeat singleplayer missions or play online matches to grind out MRP.
The mission design is generally very good with a few frustrating missions thrown in. The levels are an excellent mix of open skies and tight areas that require players to practically maneuver around in a phone booth. There’s also a good balance between dog fighting missions and bombing runs that will give plenty of opportunity for players to use more specialized aircraft. There are some frustrating missions that will make players want to yank out their hair at times. These missions require players to attack ground-based targets in a certain order to successfully complete the mission within the time limit. I found those missions to be really frustrating until I could figure out the right strategy to tackle the mission. The dog fighting missions is where Ace Combat 7 is at its best though. The action is intense, especially against rival aces where it feels like any error could be deadly.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a gorgeous game. The cutscenes have a unique art style that mixes traditional CGI with some visual elements taken from photographs and videos. The in-game art style shoots for a realistic look that serves the game well. The skies look excellent. The weather effects are fantastic. The icing effect that occurs when players spend too much time in the clouds is really well done. The ground looks good, though the natural elements look a bit better than the human-made ones.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown’s audio is very good. The sound effects are excellent, creating an immersive experience. The music is a wonderfully eclectic mix of rock, jazz, electronic music, and traditional orchestral video game scores. The soundtrack is modern and hits the right emotional notes at the right time. It’s a shame the soundtrack has yet to be released on its own, because it’s set a high bar for the rest of 2019. The voice acting is the weakest part of Ace Combat 7’s audio experience. The cutscenes offer the best voice acting in the game. The in-game, briefing, and debriefing voice acting falls flat in comparison. There are a few weak voice actors, but there are also some decent ones who are simply hamstrung by a terrible script. Some of the lines are just so bad that I don’t think it’s humanly possible to make it sound natural.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown delivers an excellent arcade fighter experience. The controls are solid, and the action is intense. The audio/visual presentation is very good. However, the game has its warts. There are a few missions that are incredibly frustrating. The story is a disjointed mess, and some of the lines are so bad I don’t think any actor could make them sound good. Even with its flaws, it’s still worth it to experience Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown.
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