We just don’t see as many flight simulators or aerial combat games as we used to, and that’s a real shame. Growing up, I couldn’t move for all the Star Foxes and Rogue Squadrons as I engaged in thrilling sky-high combat
These days, you’re lucky to get in a bit of video game dogfighting. While the likes of Battlefield and Battlefront offer up aerial combat, the fact it’s never the focus of the game means it’s never quite as developed or robust as fans of the genre would want it to be.
Thank God for Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown then. Developed by Project Aces, and published by Bandai Namco, it really is the most comprehensive, exciting, polished, and detailed combat flight simulator since… well, probably since the last Ace Combat.
Set in the far flung future (otherwise known as 2019), Ace Combat 7 is set during a conflict between the Osean Federation and the Kingdom of Erusea known as the Second Usean Continental War.
Don’t worry if that last sentence has left you questioning whether or not you paid much attention in school, AC7 is set in an entirely fictional world, and is all the more willing to lean into some of the more absurd, Top Gun style action as a result.
On the downside, there’s also the chance that the constant references to fictional countries and a war you’ve never heard of before will leave newcomers feeling a little alienated. This is the seventh game in the core series after all, and 17th overall. The fact that the campaign mode’s cutscenes are little more than dull exposition dumps with little character do nothing to help us connect with the world on a personal level.
Whether or not you get something about of the campaign narrative is a matter of taste I guess, but for me the cutscenes really did just feel like interruptions in between me getting to blow stuff up in a fighter jet.
In general though, the developers have struck just the right balance between real and fantasy, not just in the game’s story, but in its gameplay, which feels so great to play through a pleasing combo of tight, responsive controls, and a wealth of details that keep you fully immersed.
Ace Combat 7 really is packed with breathtaking moments that take full advantage of the power of the current gen. Rocketing up into the sky for the first time is an absolute treat, and the first time I burst through the clouds to emerge into a bright blue sky dotted with previously hidden enemy gents was legitimately jaw dropping.
Gorgeous weather effects such as clouds and rain don’t just look pretty though – although they definitely do look pretty – they also play a vital role in the moment to moment gameplay.
Clouds, for example, can act as handy cover, but they can also interfere with your systems if you remain too high for too long, messing up your missile guidance systems and throwing your aim off.
Meanwhile, air currents and changes in the wind can cause turbulence and even force you to rethink your battle plan on the fly (heh). Heavy rain, meanwhile, can obscure your view, leading to nasty accidents.
It’s details like these that help to keep the levels constantly surprising, and make sure you as the player remain very much on your toes.
This feeling of variety and possibility is aided by the refreshing level of freedom that AC7 gives players. Where other flight sims might force you along a set path, or shoot you down for flying to high, this is a game that wants you to take to the skies in your own way.
There’s a skill tree packed with branching upgrades for you to be the best plane you can be, and a ton of other neat customisation options that let you mess with everything from your ship’s model to its speed, and what weapons it’s packing. If you want a silent, speedy stealth jet, you’ve got it. If you want to build more of a slow but powerful sky tank, that can be yours too.
With this freedom comes more possibilities and crucially, more of a need to come up with a competent strategy instead of just whizzing around doing barrel rolls and shooting down anything that looks shady – although you can do that too. Do be aware that you have a limited amount of ammunition though, so if you blow it all before you’ve reached your primary targets, you’ve played yourself really.
There’s a nice variety in the missions, too. One moment you can be shooting down drones while trying to minimalise civilian casualties below, the next you can be dashing through an enemy base laying waste to ground forces. Whatever it is you’re doing, it always looks and sounds incredible.
With that in mind, AC7 has thoughtfully included a robust video editor mode. A replay of your last adventure will start at the end of every mission, and here you can muck about changing the camera angles, speed up the action, or even slow it down for a better look at that spectacular bombing run you pulled off.
Controls can make or break a game like this of course, and thankfully gameplay in AC7 is tight, responsive, and an all around joy to control. Whizzing through the air dodging enemy missiles is a tense and exciting experience, and there’s nothing quite like lining up a perfect shot and firing off a missile – especially since the enemy AI is genuinely smart, and will often give you a run for your money.
There are also two main multiplayer modes, Battle Royale and Team Deathmatch. The former isn’t really a battle royale. It’s essentially just another spin on your standard deathmatch, but both are are entertaining enough to keep you invested in the game for a little longer after the dozens of hours you’ll put in playing through the campaign, perfecting your high scores, and building the perfect jet.
Ace Combat 7 really does soar above the competition to offer an engaging, immersive, and truly stunning looking arcade style flight sim that should be as appealing to newcomers as it is to longtime fans of the franchise, in spite of a fairly stodgy narrative. This is a game that’s had a ton of care and attention put into it, and that much is plane to see.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.