Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown review for PS4, Xbox One, PC

Platform: PS4
Also On: Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Medium: Blu-ray
Players: 1-8
Online: Yes

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown marks the first modern generation entry in the long-running flight combat game from Bandai Namco. It?s also a bit of a return to form for the series, going back to the ?Strangereal? universe found in earlier titles like Ace Combat 4 and 5. It?s also a pretty solid flight combat game in general, capturing the arcade like look and feel of the series wrapped around a host of customization options, unlockables, and fun multiplayer too. It even has a VR mode attached that?s well worth checking out.

The main campaign of Ace Combat 7 is stretched out across 20 missions, with varying objectives that can often change on the fly. You?ll have a number of jet fighters to unlock as you progress through the game, earning in-game currency referred to as MRP. With MRP, you can visit the Aircraft Tree, an upgrade menu that gives you multiple jets to purchase, in addition to parts and weapons that will add certain bonuses or effects on the plane of your choice. Every plane can hold up to 8 parts at once, and parts revolve around three different categories like body, arms, and miscellaneous. Most planes offer the option of choosing a special weapon before beginning a sortie, and generally have two to choose from

While in a mission you?ll have enemies highlighted on-screen with the option to cycle between active targets quickly. Generally this is based on how close they are to you, and which direction you?re pointed in. Radar can be expanded out to encompass the whole area, or minimized depending on need. It?s not difficult to pick up on where you need to go or what you need to do, and you?ll get a lot of chatter from fellow A.I. pilots while waiting for combat to start. Controls are relatively easy to understand, and if you?ve ever played the Ace Combat series before, you?ll likely want to start with the Expert setting. This allows for full control, so you can spin and barrel roll to your heart?s content. New players can opt for Standard controls which simplifies the control scheme, but I?d urge even new players to try and get accustomed to Expert. If you opt to hop online you?ll have to use Expert to compete.

Multiplayer modes consist of Battle Royal, which is actually a Free-For-All mode with 2 to 8 players, or Team Deathmatch with 2 vs. 2 or 4 vs. 4. There are lobbies and player hosted rooms to join, with various settings including overall jet strength, the ability to hot join, privacy settings, disabled special weapons and so on. Online multiplayer is still pretty well populated after release, I had no issues as recently as yesterday finding games to join with full groups. Also, Aircraft Tree progress is shared between multiplayer and campaign, so you can still earn MRP to spend between both modes. The Aircraft Tree does have multiplayer specific upgrades, but you can spend your points however you choose.

The VR campaign is short, but worth checking out if you have the option. My VR experience is generally limited to PSVR, but I think as far as jet flying experiences go, the Ace Combat VR missions are going to be tough to beat. Everything from looking around the aircraft carrier before launching to actually being in the skies and seeing the condensation gather on your windshield while amongst the clouds is impressive. Dogfights feel even more chaotic and frenzied, and there?s a definite rush when skirting close to a mountaintop or the ocean water below. It?s a really effective use of VR, and one of the highlights in this package for me.

I don?t have much in the way of complaints with Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, other than the somewhat drab presentation for the story and the uneven mission difficulty in the campaign. Folks like me who have played Ace Combat in the past but might not be the most hardcore fans will likely find moments of frustration with certain missions in the game. Something like mission 6, which tasks you with achieving a goal score within a time limit, is a particularly big hurdle early on. On the plus side it does force you to pay attention to both the type of jet and the weapons you take into a fight, but even when focused on air-to-ground it ended up being a mission that I had to attempt again, and again, and again. Missions like this will pop up a few times throughout, but the difficulty rarely feels consistent.

The story, while very much in line with previous Ace Combat games, can still be a bit of a chore to get through. A lot of that comes down to style for me, which predominantly consists of narration from different points of view over barely animated images. Again, this isn?t unusual for the series, but it?s not nearly dynamic enough to hold my interest, and I often found myself gravitating towards the ?skip? option so I could rejoin the fight.

Still, despite those issues, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is definitely a good, if not great, Ace Combat game. For those that were disappointed with Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, I think you?ll be pleasantly surprised here. It?s also a perfectly fine jumping on point for new players, and the online multiplayer component will likely give this game legs well past the initial launch. Finally, the VR really should be one of the first things you boot up, and stands out as one of the better VR experiences on the platform thus far.

Note: Bandai Namco provided us with a Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown PS4 code for review purposes.

Grade: B+