Review – Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

There’s no better way to start off the review of the first big-budget title of 2019 than saying it surpassed all of my already high expectations in every single conceivable way. I had the chance of playing Ace Combat 7 at Brasil Game Show last year and was really impressed with what that short demo had to offer, but I had no idea the rest of the game would impress me so much. Ace Combat 7 is a fantastic comeback for the series.

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Definitely a danger zone.

Ace Combat 7‘s way of captivating players and bringing them back in masses was by ditching gameplay elements from previous installments in favor of a more streamlined and accessible outing. Elements such as giving your squad orders have been removed and that’s for the best; your allies’ AI are smart enough to the point you don’t need to care about them asking for help at all times. The game wants you to focus on your jet, purely and simply.

Even though you are playing a jet fighter simulator and despite the traumas caused by the convoluted fighter control schemes in games like Battlefield 3 and 4, there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to Ace Combat 7‘s controls. The button layout is, for the lack of a better word, “unique”, but you’ll quickly learn how to pull off flashy and useful evasive maneuvers, as well as learning which weapons and attack patterns are best for each specific situation. It’s very accessible for newcomers, reminding me a lot of the simple and intuitive controls from the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron series. Veterans haven’t been forgotten, by the way, as the game offers another completely different control and physics scheme for those looking for a more simulation-heavy experience.

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The act of piloting a supersonic jet fighter can sometimes feel like such a serene experience…

That doesn’t mean this game has dumbed everything down and has nothing new to offer. One of the best additions this time around is the bigger emphasis on using the weather as your ally. Yep, you read it right: the weather.

You can use clouds as means to cloak yourself as well as distractions for enemy missiles, at the cost of your visual accuracy. You can use the wind on your favor, not entirely unlike the usage of the wind in The Wind Waker. You can even use thunderstorms to destroy drones chasing after you, as one electrical discharge can completely destroy them while all that’ll happen to you is losing the information on your HUD for a few seconds.

Ace Combat 7 has a story that follows up on the events set by its decade-old predecessor, but it’s not crucial for you to understand what’s going on in order to enjoy the game’s campaign. Don’t blame yourself if you become confused with the fact every country in this game sounds exactly like each other, it took me a few chapters to understand who I was even fighting for. The fact you spend a good chunk of the campaign on a squad comprised by underdogs and former criminals is very fun though, as it allows for the dialogue to be a lot less clichéd and less filled with air force-typical jargons. The overall voice acting is pretty good and some of the game’s tunes were very memorable.

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Annihilation missions are by far the most entertaining missions in the game.

Without a doubt, the most entertaining part of the game’s very replayable campaign was whenever I’d be greeted with an annihilation mission. Instead of following a set path and a set number of objectives, the game would throw me on a gigantic map full of bases and enemies to destroy; with just a tiny timer and a required score to reach before said time is over. This is where the game’s already entertaining gameplay loop becomes even more entertaining, as you’re basically given a huge playground for you to raise hell however you like. Given how these missions are the ones which give you the most money for you to spend on unlocking new aircraft and parts, you can already imagine how much time I spent on these annihilation chapters.

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I hope you’re not afraid of heights.

The game was tested on a regular Xbox One and that means we played the game on the weakest platform available. Despite the restrictions imposed by the console’s aging hardware, Ace Combat 7‘s visuals still managed to impress. Even though the game was being rendered at a boring 720p at all times, the visuals were still breathtaking and the framerate was always achieving its target, which was an odd 50 frames per second. No screen tearing has been noticed, thankfully enough. Even on such a struggling and dated console, Ace Combat 7 still managed to deliver amazing visuals, excellent lighting effects, and a constant and somewhat fast-paced experience, even when there were tons of enemies and/or particles onscreen. I can’t stress enough how well-optimized this game turned out to be.

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Am I flying a jet in Avatar’s planet of Pandora?

I had high hopes for Ace Combat 7 and I ended up getting even more than I was expecting. This is an excellent return to form, with good visuals, a simple control scheme, a simple but decent multiplayer mode, and an extremely replayable campaign. Gone are the days in which the best option to have fun with fighter jets was to play Battlefield 4‘s multiplayer mode. Ace Combat is back, so get your Maverick suit and Kenny Loggins playlist ready!

 

Graphics: 8.0

Ace Combat 7 still manages to deliver outstanding visuals and a quasi-constant framerate despite the limitations imposed by dated hardware.

Gameplay: 9.0

The control scheme is a lot more intuitive and newcomer-friendly than the tons of information onscreen or the complexity of piloting a real aircraft might suggest.

Sound: 9.0

A decent soundtrack featuring a handful of memorable tunes and an impressive performance by the voice cast.

Fun Factor: 9.5

A fun, if not confusing story, a simple yet addictive gameplay loop, lots of replayability, and even some pretty decent multiplayer options. Ace Combat 7 is tons of fun if you’re into arcade dogfighting.

Final Verdict: 9.0

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC

Reviewed on Xbox One.

A copy of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown was provided by the publisher.

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