Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4/PSVR)

Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4/PSVR)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • Blu-ray Disc / PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HDTV 4K HDR

Extras:

  • PlayStation VR Optional
  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
  • PS VR Aim Controller None
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Title: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (36.17 GB)
Release Date: January 18, 2019
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Project Aces / Bandai Namco
Original MSRP: $59.99 (US), £49.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: T
PEGI: 12
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Every time a new Ace Combat makes its debut on a new generation of consoles, I sit up and raise an eyebrow in curiosity at seeing how the jets are going to look with next gen power behind them.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is no exception. This time, however, I was excited for multiple reasons, as it was announced that the game would have some sort of VR support.

Later I found out that the VR content would be limited to a couple of hours’ worth of missions, and that was still okay, because Ace Combat can normally stand on its own merits.

So how does the new entry (and PS4 debut) fare?

Pretty damn well, actually.

Once again, story takes a back seat to the action, but the narrative here is one of a global battle between imaginary nations as always. Through narrated animated sequences, we follow the story of a plane mechanic who was captured for her skills putting together planes from wreckage. The sequences are worth watching, as there’s still an interesting and worldly story that gives purpose to your dogfighting.

Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4/PSVR)Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4/PSVR)

It’s been a while since I’ve played an Ace Combat game, so forgive me if my memory is a bit off on features. I found the plane tree system in Ace Combat 7 to be a unique, almost RPG-like, feature that I really enjoyed. It rewards playing well, and even jumping online.

In past games, the money you’ve earned would allow you to purchase new planes for your collection, like a Gran Turismo for fighter jet lovers. Ace Combat 7 sets up a tree system of leveling where your money unlocks new planes, as well as weapons and upgrades in general. Money earned in missions and online play contribute to this pool.

I suppose this could annoy some people who would rather jump straight into that F-15 as soon as they can afford it. I found it refreshing, particularly buying upgrades for my plane.

Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4/PSVR)

Once you take to the skies it becomes business as usual, more so if you’re familiar with the series. Controls are pretty tight, with novice and expert options available, although VR only supports expert controls.

Dogfighting can be intense but never unmanageable, and if you play with expert controls, lining up your target can be challenging and fun. While not every mission is an intense tour-de-force, there are enough epic moments to warrant playing through the entire campaign.

Optional PlayStation VR Content
PLAYSTATION VR
The only issue I had with the VR content in Ace Combat 7 is the simple fact that I did not want to go back to the regular game after experiencing it in immersive VR.

I always wanted to experience flying a jet. I even considered joining the Air Force as a teen. I’ll likely never fly a jet fighter, but this is a pretty damn close and satisfying alternative.

Not only does the game look great and pretty sharp in VR while playing on a PS4 Pro, but it moves like a dream. Plowing through clouds and seeing the moisture form around your plane’s window is indescribable.

Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4/PSVR)Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4/PSVR)

Being surrounded by enemy planes, and hearing them buzz by as you scan the horizon with your head, yeah, you have to be there, because nothing I write here will truly convey how well it works.

VR mode offers a few options. There are only three missions which is not nearly as many as I’d like, and there’s also a free-flight mode, where you can fly around environments for missions you’ve completed.

There’s also an Air Show mode you can watch from an aircraft carrier and choose what types of stunts that will be performed. You can select where you want to stand on the carrier and give directions to the pilot. It’s actually not a bad little mode.

I truly hope Bandai/Namco considers updating the game later with more VR content. I’d even pay for it.

Visuals:
Better hardware means prettier jets, and Ace Combat 7 is a prime example of this. But what about the environments? Like most games of this genre, the backdrops would never hold up to hyper close ups, but if you’re slowing down in a game like this you’re doing it wrong.

That said, the environments still look phenomenal, especially at top speeds and during those famous replays. If you’re new to the series, yes, Ace Combat 7 has instant replays of your entire battle and utilizes cinematic camera angles to make you feel like you’re a part of your own Top Gun movie.

Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4/PSVR)Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4/PSVR)

But this is for fans of fighter jets and it’s the planes that really shine. Truth be told, the aircraft have always looked great, even on last-generation hardware. But they really look sharp on the PlayStation 4. And this is true both in 4K and VR.

Audio:
Radio chatter brings every battle to life in an already visually stimulating game. Add to this the fantastic sound design that mixes amazing Doppler effects with sound barriers being broken, missile fire, and guns, and you have a very strong reason to play this with headphones. When playing VR, you have no excuse, you absolutely have to experience it with headphones.

Online/Multiplayer:
Another surprise in a game that could have just settled with a Deathmatch mode, is that there is a rank system, based on similar military rankings. Kills and damage done to enemies will grant you points towards that rank upgrade.
Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Battle Royale make up the game modes, and make for some absolutely-thrilling online experiences.

I’m not much of an online player, but this game broke me out of my comfort zone. Unfortunately, the online section is not available in VR.

Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4/PSVR)Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4/PSVR)

Conclusion:
Although not quite a flight simulator, Ace Combat 7 splits the difference with some of the best the console world has to offer in air superiority. It’s not quite perfect, and I will forever lament that VR support is not available throughout the entire campaign when games like wipEout and Resident Evil 7 offer such an option. But ultimately, this is still a solid entry worth experiencing.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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