Ace Combat 7 Review
My first encounter with Ace Combat was through a friend who had it for the PS1. The first time I played it, it felt boring and the pacing was far too slow for someone my age. As cool as jet-fighters were, learning this new control/gameplay style and having to play somewhat conservatively compared to what I was used to, meant that I didn’t give it the time it deserved back then. Fast forward a little, and I had a demo disc containing a demo for Ace Combat 3. Everything changed.
After having played a much more polished and revised entry (and at an older age), I found myself sticking around a little longer for the 3rd title. I never purchased the game in the end, but I played a lot of the demo, and was in awe at how the PS1 was able to produce these graphics. It was one of the best looking titles on the system for sure. My first real experience didn’t come until Ace Combat 6 on the Xbox 360 though. An impulse buy during a slow month, I saw it on sale and gave it a try. I loved it, and still remember it fondly to this day. Forward a little more, and you have Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, which had left the fanbase divided in opinion. Personally I loved it, and appreciated the series taking a more cinematic direction. Legions of fans were disappointed however, and I completely understand why.
So here comes the 7th entry, and what becomes of it? In all honesty, it’s an incredibly good game, and feels as close to a pure Ace Combat game as you get. Entertaining voice-acting (make of that what you will), some crazy Sci-Fi style plot, new tech, a war, and a bunch of interesting set pieces to hold it all together like glue. There’re a few things missing that I would have liked included, but overall it’s a neat little package that I think fans of the originals would be pleased with.
First off, let’s address the obvious; the game looks amazing. Developed using Unreal Engine 4, the game is stunning to look at, and is probably one of the best, if not the best looking jet-fighter game out there. There are a few hiccups with low resolution textures near the edges of the map, or when you fly close to certain areas, but overall the graphics are almost flawless. The sun kisses the metal of the plane in just the right way, shadows cast in a realistic manner, raindrops on the glass of the cockpit, smoke trails from missiles and wreckages, and finally the volumetric clouds. The clouds react to all kinds of interesting dynamic lighting, and have a very nice fluff-factor to them (first time I’ve ever used that word for sure!). I was looking back at footage of older games, and I have to say that the graphics in Ace Combat 6 on the Xbox 360 still hold up extremely well, even compared to this game. Goes to show you that the series has always focused on its presentation.
The gameplay holds up too. We leave AH’s cinematic style behind completely, and return to the arcade style gameplay of its predecessors. It’s as fun as ever to engage in dogfights and take out objectives in the numerous jet fighters available at your disposal. They’re unlocked through an aircraft tree system, where you spend your points to buy various planes as well as upgrades/effects. There’re also various challenges/conditions for unlocking named planes, which is interesting, but the conditions required are not always clear (they’re considered secrets basically). Something else to sustain the singleplayer experience and give you an excuse to go back however, should you not fancy the multiplayer on offer.
Speaking of the multiplayer, it’s there. I can’t say how fun it is, as no one was available when I logged in. I’m writing this in Japan (where I live currently), so it’s possible the servers are region-based, and that the game isn’t so popular online here. Not sure, but from what I’ve seen of it played online, it’s barebones but fun enough. Being present is about as positive as I can be. What isn’t present however is the online coop. I loved playing online coop on the 360 with Ace Combat 6, it was a great way to play something different with friends. We were always on shooters or racers, so a jet-fighter game was perfect to mix things up during an evening of gaming. It also kept us away from becoming annoyed at dying constantly to other higher-skilled players in PvP matches. We never played PvP in games like this, because the fans will always have an edge compared to you, so we never bothered. Despite the lack of coop however, the game’s singleplayer still holds its own.
It holds very well in fact. It’s simple enough to be digestible, and complex enough to be interesting. It won’t win any awards, but it’s very serviceable. It’s very B-movie at times, but that’s what is expected from the series (in a good way). The music is fantastic, and drives you through each mission, with the sound effects equally packing a punch to them that excites and delights. Mission variety is the biggest winner here however. I can’t say for sure how much variety it has compared with other entries in the series, but it has a lot of elements that had me completing at least 2 missions every night after work. Skip the next 2 red paragraphs if you want to avoid spoilers of what you’ll be doing.
Some missions are fairly basic. Kill [x] amount of enemies in [x] amount of time, and stay alive until something happens etc. There’s a nifty little canyon section with stealth however, where the objective is to remain in the canyon to avoid enemy radar, but you also have to time your flight paths to avoid the searchlights scanning the area too. Another stealth level has you staying at a certain altitude beneath the clouds, only being able to use your machine guns in order to not set off the surveillance equipment in the area. The stealth is short, and the focus is high-skill flying and not so much the stealth aspect, so it’s exciting to take part in. There’re also some situational missions, that require you navigate through a thunderstorm or some other kind of obstacle, such as EMP-like bombs detonating around you at set intervals.
Aside from those missions, there’s still a lot more variety. Not being able to tell friend from foe until you’ve scanned them is another mechanic that keeps you on your toes. Another has you attacking a giant plane that launches drones (a fan favourite boss-type that regularly returns). There’re unique locations and bases that you have to take down in various locations, and the whole game ends with a spectacular high-octane series pair of missions, that has you take down the super-aircraft without assistance from artillery of any kind, and also chasing a drone through a tight underwater highway tunnel leading to a space elevator. Great stuff!
Ok you’re safe now, no more spoilers. In terms of gameplay, the game is fairly straightforward. If you can line yourself up with slower and less capable enemies, you can attack them with your missiles. If they’re more troublesome, then your machine guns are you only safe bet. More difficult than it sounds, as you have to line-up your shots carefully and lead your targets correctly. There are some more advanced missiles that will lock on more heavily, and should have the speed and manoeuvrability to take out higher rank targets, so there’s a few options available to you. If you know the mission is going to have some ground targets, you can take some guided/un-guided rockets to take them out, or use bomber-type aircraft to take care of them.
Dogfights can be a little tedious. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of aircraft in my roster and my low skill that is causing me to take longer, or whether the game purposefully cheats by giving the A.I tighter turns and abilities that you as a player don’t have, but I feel the higher ranking targets have more in their arsenal than I do. It could be down to my slim list of planes, but games regularly cheat by giving A.I higher stats sometimes to artificially inflate the difficulty. Who knows. They’re challenging without being frustrating though, just a little tedious on occasion. Before anyone wonders, yes, I was using the drift/stall type mechanics for tighter turns, it still wasn’t as good as what they were doing. I’m prepared to admit my lack of skill here as a strong possibility however.
I feel I’ve detracted a little too much into negativity here however, and I want to return my focus onto praising the game for its various achievements in bringing back the formula I and others used to know, and will probably make a lot of longtime fans happy again. A fantastic game if you have even a slight interest in jet fighters, and highly recommended if you’re a fan of the series. At full price? I personally wouldn’t have bought it. At half price on sale? A great purchase which I’ll go back to for a mission or 2 when I feel like it. With such a variety of mission types available, it means I’ll always be in the mood in the upcoming weeks to play at least 1 of them.
Images Taken From: https://www.bandainamcoent.com/games/ace-combat-7#media
Review Update [July 8th 2019] I erroneously stated that I finished the game with 3 aircraft, and I wasn’t sure how to unlock more, accusing the game of being too restrictive/secretive in this matter. Turns out, there’s an aircraft tree available to browse, which has branches of aircraft to purchase with points earned after completing missions. I’ve edited the review to reflect this, and removed my criticisms about aircraft unlockables being blocked off in a restrictive manner. Sorry for the error. I’m now enjoying my F-22 Raptor and upgrades items. The game has become much easier with these unlockables than my first playthrough.