It’s been over a decade since we last saw a new mainline Ace Combat game, though the series has always been one of the most beloved and best-selling videogame franchises to grace Sony PlayStation consoles. Known for being equal parts arcadey-action and flight sim, the Ace Combat games gave us a candy-coated glimpse at what it feels like to be an ace pilot burning up the skies. This year, Bandai-Namco and series developer Project Aces gave us the seventh numbered entry, this time with online multiplayer, VR-exclusive missions, a few new game mechanics, and a serious bump in visual upgrades that make it the prettiest Ace Combat yet.
Just like riding a bike
In terms of gameplay, Ace Combat pretty much sticks to its tried-and-true formula, and in this case, it’s not a bad thing. The game’s controls make the available jets a joy to handle. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to play Ace Combat 7 using a HOTAS flight stick (which can be purchased separately). But playing Ace Combat 7 via controller feels totally natural. Controls are responsive with the right mix of both sim and arcade elements. From the start, the game offers either Standard or Expert controls. Standard lets you automatically turn your plane properly by pushing the left stick to move either left or right, while Expert requires you to turn the plane realistically by pushing left or right on the left stick to ROLL your plane - you’ll then PITCH up or down to turn in the desired direction. Choosing either mode is fine, as both handle pretty well, whether you are locking in tangos and out-maneuvering enemy missiles in the middle of a dogfight, or swooping down enemy bases and loading out all of your sweet ASMs.
“I found Ace Combat 7’s multiplayer offering disappointing, due to its having just two game modes that are as vanilla as your boring neighbor’s ice cream.”
Ace Combat 7 is classic Ace Combat, down to the action, and I’ve been loving it. It is fast, sometimes even chaotic and difficult during some missions. But when you finally get on your groove and you’re in “the zone” shooting down enemy drones and fighters one by one, Ace Combat 7 perfectly nails the feeling of having a sense of power over your virtual enemies during the theatre of war between Erusea and the Ocean Federation.
… wait, what now?
Welcome to Strangereal
To anyone who hasn’t played a single Ace Combat game, you are in for a treat! Ace Combat 7 (and previous series entries) take place in a unique alternate world with different regions and countries. The developers started using this setting and universe in Ace Combat 4 to retcon the first three games; they’ve named this wacky alternate universe “Strangereal”.
So what’s the deal with Strangereal and Ace Combat 7’s story? Alternate history and events! There’s no America, Germany, or Japan here. Instead, we get aptly-named regions like Osea, Anea, Usea, and Verusa, and to be sure, Project Aces has filled their little universe with a timeline full of wars and events. From the Belkan War (Ace Combat Zero) to the Circum-Pacific War (Ace Combat 5), Strangereal has given players a fictional world where technology is almost on par with our own... except it’s really not. Strangereal is home to a plot-centric Space Elevator.
And so, that brings us to the story of Ace Combat 7. It’s the year 2019 (?!), and Erusea has declared war on Osea by capturing the Osean Federation’s Space Elevator. You play as a fighter pilot codenamed Trigger, a rookie fighting for Osea and the IUN. As you play through mission after mission, you’re rewarded with cutscenes introducing characters that have something to do with the war, but whom your character won’t necessarily encounter. This only makes sense, since you’re perpetually inside a fighter jet, and the Princess of Erusea is… well, way down there. Also, there’s Avril Mead, a gifted mechanic who serves as one of the game’s main narrators. There’s also your expendable squad of misfit convicts who serve their time by piloting junk jet fighters, often at modernized and militarized drones. Then there’s the most ridiculous character you’ll encounter - a godly pilot with royal blood named Mihaly A. Shilage. But that’s not his full name. No, not at all.
What I’m trying to say is that Ace Combat 7’s world and story are weird, wacky and awesome. They’re one of the reasons fans love the series. A good comparison I can give for Strangereal is that it’s a lot like Gundam 00’s universe. Space Elevator(s)? Check. Fictional countries and federations fighting over said elevator? Check. Ace pilots with buckwild names? Hells yeah, checkmate. Jpeg Dog? Now that is a bonus.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it
I could not get enough Ace Combat lore. That said, the only way to get more story is to play through the twenty non-VR-exclusive missions in Campaign mode. Each mission offers something new and fresh. Sure there are a few “eliminate x drones” missions to fill up certain moments in the game, but there are a lot of unique scenarios that can be exciting, and sometimes unbelievable. There’s one mission where you have to navigate your way through enemy airspace undetected by flying through narrow “safe spots” to avoid enemy radar. After meticulously sneak-flying through enemy lines, you’re all set to finish your objective and blow up turrets defending the space elevator. Then the mission suddenly shifts into escorting a former President of Osea to safety. One of my favorite missions drops you in a thunderstorm-infested area where you have to help your squad eliminate enemy aircraft while also trying to dodge lightning. LIGHTNING. The crazy thing is, that mission isn’t even the most bonkers of the lot.
Some missions also begin and end with you either taking off from an airfield or setting up to land on an airfield - these are mini-games or icebreakers to lower your adrenaline between all the dogfighting. After completing each mission, you’re given a score sheet to see how well you performed. There’s even a cinematic replay mode for you to check out the whole mission via several camera angles and without the game’s UI turned on.
[Unfortunately, during this time of writing, we’re unable to check out Ace Combat 7’s VR content since we don’t have a PSVR available to test it out. We will definitely update this article when we get the chance to check out the game’s exclusive VR missions!]
Ace Combat 7 also gives you the ability to upgrade and customize your flying metal death dealers. Originally from Ace Combat: Infinity on the PlayStation 3, the Aircraft Tree is your way to buying and unlocking upgrades for your planes and weapons. At first, you’ll unlock a few planes, as well as additional Weapons and Modification Parts. Then from your first unlock, the tree sets up branches that will lead you to different sets of jets and upgrades. Will you go ahead and unlock every single plane and upgrade the Aircraft Tree has to offer? Or will you try to head to the fastest route to unlock the F-22A Raptor? The world (or tree) is your oyster. To actually unlock stuff in the game, you’ll have to accumulate MRPs. Fortunately, MRPs can be accumulated in the Campaign, Free Play mode, AND Online Multiplayer.
Unlocking stuff via the Aircraft Tree will eventually give you Modification Parts to tune up your planes. Before every mission, you’ll be brought to the game’s Hangar to choose a plane for your sortie, which of its special missiles you want to equip, and any Modification Parts. These Modification Parts range from mobility upgrades and weapon upgrades to added buffs for your plane. Also in multiplayer, you’ll be able to customize your plane a bit more with decals and skins (you’ll only be able to select skins in Campaign mode after finishing it).
Other than clearing missions in Campaign, Free Play, and VR, Ace Combat 7 also boasts a few multiplayer modes for players to check out. So far there are only two multiplayer modes in the game: Battle Royale, which is a free-for-all mode, and Team Deathmatch, where you team up with other players and compete in a classic 4v4 team deathmatch. Before starting a match, you get to customize and load up your selected plane. Once you’re all sorted out, you’re queued into whatever game mode you chose, and multiplayer chaos naturally ensues!
I found Battle Royale my preferred mode of the two, thanks to it being surprisingly more intense and exhilarating than Team Deathmatch. Unfortunately, I found Ace Combat 7’s multiplayer offering disappointing, due to its having just two game modes that are as vanilla as your boring neighbor’s ice cream. It would’ve been nice to have Capture the Flag, or to bring back Ace Combat 6’s other multiplayer modes such as Siege Battles, or better yet, Co-op Missions! Ace Combat 7 would’ve been such a blast if they added in a few co-op missions and scenarios. There’s no split-screen either.
On the Final Approach
Ace Combat 7 is as pure of an Ace Combat game as it gets. Playing through the campaign was a blast, and a challenging experience. This could’ve been a perfect return to form had they presented a chunkier multiplayer package. However, the campaign alone is worth giving this game a shot, and with the campaign missions replayable in Free Play, as well as the upcoming new missions promised in the Season Pass, fans will be in for even more high-flying hijinks even after they complete the one-of-a-kind story. Ace Combat is back, baby!
[This review is based on a PS4 review copy provided to Too Much Gaming by Bandai Namco.]
(+) Classic Ace Combat gameplay
(+) Lots of planes and customization options to play with
(+) Pretty visuals thanks to photorealistic backdrops during gameplay
(-) Hilariously bad CGI models during cutscenes may kill off interest in the story
(-) Multiplayer Suite is weak
What I’ve Played
14 hours spent ridin’ into the Danger Zo- I mean in Campaign Mode
2-4 hours spent screwing around with Online Multiplayer
Frustratingly tried performing successful Pugachev Cobras in the game… to no avail.