Ace Combat 7 is the latest title in Namco Bandai’s long running aerial combat series, one that debuted back in 1995 and, despite what your basic understanding of maths tells you, is the seventeenth title bearing the Ace (or Air) Combat name.
The game takes place in a fictional, but familiar, universe known as Strangereal. You’ve got the Useans on the West of the map, keeping the peace but riling up the rest of the world, and Erusea in the East launching bold attacks on them. It’s basically America vs. Russia with Europe in the middle (there’s even the Kingdom of Sapin, which is clearly Spain).
In the meantime you play as Trigger, a talented young pilot, who is tasked with completing various missions across the campaign’s twenty levels while a separate but interlinking story is played out in cutscenes, telling us about Avril, a talented mechanic who ends up on the wrong side of the law after getting caught up in the conflict.
The story has hints of the blue-tinted, wistful storytelling of previous games in the series but is a little less pretentious and is actually fairly interesting in how it plays out but as big fans of the PAL release of Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere, we’re happy to eschew the plot and get our Maverick on.
So, before long you’ll be ready to take off. We recommend picking the ‘expert’ mode as this just gives you better controls (rather than upping the difficulty) but whatever you choose you’ll soon be up in the air. At this point, if you’re a veteran of the series then playing Ace Combat 7 is almost like playing a FIFA game in that the controls already make sense instantly. I’ve not played an Ace Combat since 2007’s Ace Combat 6, but everything felt natural and intuitive right away.
As expected, the gameplay generally involves peppering enemy planes with machine gun fire, locking on and launching missiles, dropping bombs and pulling hard turns in order to avoid heatseeking missles that are aimed at your six. The settings change, of course.
You’ll be flying over land and ocean, over fields and cities and over and through rock formations and mountains, all standard environments for the series but now you’ll also have to contend with adverse weather with sandstorms, high winds and radar-wrecking thunderstrikes all hindering you but equally you can use cloud cover to hide from the enemy and give yourself a rest from the lock-on alarm.
The controls feel great in basic movement and in combat. Everything is slick and responsive and true to the arcade roots of the series which means you can just get on with enjoying the action and not worrying about how you’re going to land your aluminium death tube when the time comes. The feeling of pulling a loop at low altitude in order to get behind an enemy bogey before blowing them out of the sky always feels good. Especially when you come very close to buzzing the ground.
It helps that the game looks gorgeous. From the cutscenes, which occasionally look like actual footage, to the in-gameplay visuals, everything is pretty spectacular. Especially once the weather kicks in and you’re avoiding lightning strikes and blowing enemy planes apart and watching bits of them fly past you. All while the jet vapours distort the air behind you.
You can, of course, select different views. The smart choice is behind you but you also have two cockpit views which are a bit less useful but do give you the benefit of seeing how the weather affects your view if you want to be a sim nerd about these things.
Generally the game is a pleasure to play but there are occasional difficulty spikes that can slow things down. Usually these don’t normally come from the combat itself but rather score or time limits imposed on missions. These tend to be a little strict and can get frustrating. Especially the mission that tasked me with taking out twenty tankers in a sandstorm that disrupted the radar, making it very difficult to find them. When I ran out of time with 19 tankers destroyed, I wanted to quit the skies forever and if a mission chains together a couple of these tricky sections then you may find yourself wishing you could drop the difficulty mid-campaign which, unfortunately, you can’t.
Aside from the campaign (which comes in three difficulty levels), you also get online PvP in the form of team deathmatches and an eight player battle royale mode. It’s a shame that we don’t get online co-op for the campaign as that would be great and really in the spirit of the game itself which is all about being part of a squad (even if your character seems to be some sort of Red Baron style angel of death while everyone else is useless).
The other main addition to the game is the PSVR support. This is disappointingly brief, offering just three missions, but is absolutely spectacular. Having owned a PSVR headset since launch, I’ve become a little bit immune to the VR effect with most games on the platform now looking like I’m watching the action on a really big, close up screen but in Ace Combat 7 the effect is amazing. You really feel like you’re in the cockpit living out your best Top Gun fantasies. It’s nothing short of astonishing and is one of the best things you can do with your PSVR. The additional VR airshow mode is a nice extra too.
So, overall we’re very, very happy with Ace Combat 7. It’s exactly what you’d want from a current gen entry in the series and while it might be a bit tricky for some, the satisfaction you get from beating the missions is genuinely rewarding and when you spend most of your days reviewing indie titles in all their 8/16-bit glory, it’s nice to have a game that is so damned impressive to look at.
+ Good level of challenge
+ Excellent visuals
+ Interesting story
+ VR mode is brief but amazing
- Probably has too many plane and weapon options to buy
- Prone to occasional difficulty spikes
- Needs more VR missions