Posted on 09 Feb 2019 by Jay Shaw

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

The Defence

Developer: Project Aces
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Genre: Arcade, Simulator
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: No
Release date: 31 Jan 2019

The Prosecution

OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i3 7100 : None
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB
AMD equivalent
HDD: 50 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 7500 @3.8 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 3GB
AMD equivalent
HDD: 50 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

The long running Ace Combat series are arcade style flight games, often with dozens of aircraft, weapons, and missions to conquer with your insane flying skills. Set in the venerable strangereal universe, Ace Combat 7 has a lot to live up to as it continues the series main story after the events of previous games. Does Ace Combat 7 “splash one bogey” or crash and burn?

The Trial

Lets start out by saying that those who played Assault Horizon and were worried that the terrible dogfight mode mechanic would make a return can rest easy. There’s no dogfight mode, no ace pilots you have to sit through a semi-interactive chase with before you can kill, and no helicopters doing barrel rolls to dodge SAMs. This is pure, old-school Ace Combat goodness with a modern coat of paint.

Most striking in terms of both looks and new mechanics is the clouds and wind. Clouds are static in the air but look like big voluminous misty chunks, y’know, like clouds. Flying into one; the sound volume drops and becomes muffled, water droplets cover the canopy and begin streaming backwards from the wind, and eventually your canopy will begin to ice up and restrict your vision if you stay in there too long. Clouds also play havoc with your ability to lock on to targets and make your missiles less effective at tracking targets. Blowing through the cloud cover at over 2000 kilometres an hour with a swarm of missiles and jets on your tail, only for you to break out into the bright blue sky above and turn the tables on your opponents makes you feel like a real fighter ace.

Wind also plays a part now. Pockets of turbulence and wind in any direction are invisible in the air and hitting one at an inopportune time may throw you off target or even crash your plane. They’re not just a hazard to battle against though, crosswinds can be exploited to throw a relatively slow moving jet into a sideways, drift style flight for a couple of seconds or allow you to fly into the wind and bleed speed off so rapidly that an opponent on your tail will overshoot. It’s an absolute thrill to be blasting down a canyon or between huge spires of rock only to be hit by turbulence that threatens to slam your plane fatally into the harsh terrain only for you to wrestle it free with quick thinking.

The Macross Missile Massacre has nothing on Ace Combat 7.

The flight mechanics are fairly light on complexity but each plane still manages to feel fairly unique. Naturally, there’s some crossover as you reach planes with near identical statistics and it may come down to personal preference or one having a more suitable weapon for a given mission. The developers have done a great job of making every plane viable though. You can still take your early-game F-16 into the end-game missions and have a reasonable chance of winning; it won’t be easy but it can be done. The reverse is also true, once you complete the game you can play any mission with any of your unlocked planes so you can take an F-22 or fictional X-02S into the early missions and absolutely dominate with a far superior aircraft.

There’s a decent selection of aircraft, not as many as some previous games, but a respectable number across three categories: fighters, multirole, and attackers. Fighters specialise in air-to-air combat with better speed and manoeuvrability; attackers specialise in hitting ground targets and being heavily armoured but slow and are often armed with more powerful machine guns than other types; lastly, multirole planes are a mix of the two, usually more sluggish than a fighter but faster than an attacker and just as armed to the teeth against both air and ground targets. Your choice of plane will largely be influenced by personal taste and mission objectives: I ended up using the Gripen E and F-22 for most of the game but you could just as easily fly an F-2 and Su-37.

Another new feature of the series are modifications you can apply to each aircraft. Limited by two sets of slots; one set of 8 that sets a hard limit on the number of mods, and three categories with slot amounts that vary between planes. You can enhance almost every aspect of your plane’s performance with these mods; increasing stability or acceleration, better special weapon reload times or longer lock-on range, carrying more missiles or faster yaw/roll/pitch. It’s easy enough to tailor an aircraft to your liking; you can equip mods to buff out a plane’s shortcomings, or increase abilities that benefit one particular mission. Unfortunately, a down-side of this feature is that only level-1 modifications can be equipped in the campaign while higher level ones are restricted to multiplayer mode, which is a shame but not a huge issue.

The early-mid game Gripen is a beast of a plane.

The campaign’s story, as mentioned previously, is a continuation of the strangereal universe timeline. This time taking place in a brief but bloody conflict between Erusia and Osia over a perceived economic invasion via a space elevator and aid project. Erusia want their independence back and are willing to fight for it, seizing the space elevator and taking an ex-president hostage. Events quickly spiral out of control as a plot involving the series resident nation of schemers, Belka, unfolds and you’re accused of murder and demoted to a penal squadron drafted to fight in the war.

It’s not long before drones and their gigantic flying carrier aircraft, the Arsenal Bird, show up and hound you from mission to mission. Usually deploying dozens of drones and powerful anti-air and laser weapons against everything in its path. As is customary, the super weapon has to be dismantled piece by piece in a series of protracted air battles where you’re outgunned and swamped by a horde of powerful but dumb drones. Finally bringing one of these things down on your own feels amazing, watching it break apart and crash is a beautiful moment. However, the fights don’t feel as exciting or tense as Ace Combat 6‘s excellent battle against Estovakia’s Aigaion, Kottos, and Gyges fleet of airborne super weapons.

Another staple of the series makes a return in the form of ace pilot Archange. A frail old man and legendary pilot who appears several times in different aircraft to torment and dominate the airspace with his superior skills and wingmen. Mihaly/Archange will push your skills to the limit with his escalating skill and plane quality, forcing you into crazy fast dogfights that can easily last several minutes as you vie for a shot at each other. Not averse to using insane tactics like flying close to the ground and weaving between terrain and buildings and supersonic speeds, you need to be alert and in great command of your aircraft to keep up with him.

Old man Mihaly wants you to get off his lawn.

The fights against Archange unfortunately highlight a great oversight in Ace Combat 7‘s plane handling: Supermaneuverability isn’t available to the player plane. You’ll regularly see drones and Archange pull amazing moves like the Kulbit and be essentially unable to respond even if you’re in an aircraft that should be capable of matching them. High-G turns, another returning feature, help mitigate this somewhat by sacrificing speed and stability for tighter turning briefly but it’s still a little frustrating to see the AI capable of pulling something you can’t.

All that might be forgotten in the heat of the moment though; Highway To The Danger Zone might be playing at maximum volume and on repeat in your head as you throw an F-15 around 20 meters off the surface while raining explosive death on everything in sight but the game also has an excellent soundtrack of its own. The music fits into the action and mood of each mission perfectly; pumping you up with confidence and energy at just the right moments and helping mitigate the near constant wail of alarms your aircraft produces. None of the tracks really stand up to the same lofty heights as series greats like the Razgriz theme from Ace Combat 5 but it never outstays its welcome either, being consistently good and blending with what’s happening without ever really fully fading into the background to be ignored.

Unfortunately, the game’s also lacking any major emotional moments like previous games had. Chopper (a wingman in a previous game) being shot down coupled with the emotional radio chatter of your wingmen really made a friendly going down a serious event you were interested in. You wanted to avenge him, you fought harder because you liked him. The panic of your enemies as they realised they’d gone over the line and awakened your squad’s fighting spirit was so satisfying; in that moment you could forget you’re holding a pad and be out for blood. Ace Combat 7 on the other hand has plenty of friendlies get shot down and none of them have any emotional impact at all. You’re never given a reason to care when betrayal sees friendly fire take out a comrade or Archange ambushes a retreating plane. Sure you’ve flown with those guys for several missions and may even like them but you never really give a shit about them or what happens to them.

Tunnel flights make a return and are crazy fun as always.

You’re barely given a reason to care about your silent protagonist, Trigger. He seems to stoically accept anything that happens without so much as a word, to the point where other characters even comment on it, and presents a kind of Mary-Sue type power fantasy. He might be a rookie at the start of the game but he’s already a badass pilot downing several planes in rapid succession and flying into what should be suicide only to slaughter dozens of enemy aircraft with relative ease. If you enjoy the power trip, and you almost certainly will at least once in the campaign, then he’s an okay protagonist but after previous charismatic leaders like Mobius 1 and Blaze it feels more than a little lazy.

Even your enemies coming to fear you rings hollow. “It’s the three strikes!” they’ll proclaim in terror, recognising the signature mark on your tail. The first time it happens a veteran of the series may be thinking “finally, here comes the awesome moment where the protagonist and his squad cement their legendary status” but it just never happens. You shoot down cruise missiles, gigantic airborne aircraft carriers, defend Stonehenge (a giant super weapon consisting of multiple skyscraper size cannons), and decimate enemy fleets and floating resupply platforms but you’re just doing it because you’re told to. There’s never the ultra-cool moment; like Ace Combat 5‘s taking out the Hrimfaxi while the Razgriz theme plays. At least you can plaster your plane with previous legendary squadron’s insignia once you unlock them so you can pretend to be Wardog, and if all those fantasy names mean nothing to you, then you probably won’t care about any of this and can just enjoy the ride.

The Verdict

Ace Combat 7 falls plenty short on emotional impact but long-running series fans are likely as hungry as I am for more of the strangereal story and 7 doesn’t disappoint in that area. It also doesn’t let you down in heart-stopping, Mach 3, action so intense that it would make Tom Cruise’s Maverick soil his flight suit and probably die of overstimulation like a deer. If you’re not looking for realism there’s no substitute. Ace Combat 7 doesn’t innovate a lot but after the mediocre Assault Horizon it’s a more than welcome return to the series roots. Despite not living up to the series greats, it doesn’t sink to the series depths either, occupying a position somewhere around “good” but shy of “hell yeah!”

Case Review

  • Sonic Boom: Flooring the throttle and tearing through the sky at thousands of kilometres and hour still feels amazing, especially when skimming the ground.

  • Icing: The new cloud and wind mechanics may not be revolutionary but they’re a great step towards making the busy sky more interesting to navigate.

  • Fox 2: The rewarding sight of a distant plane exploding as your missiles find their mark is remarkable and only dims after repeated runs through the game where you’re more interested in efficiency.

  • Multiplayer: With only two modes, and a lot of aircraft modifications locked to them, it feels both shoehorned in and undercooked. At least the netcode is good and other players provide a challenge the AI can’t.

  • Trigger Warning: The main character is blander than a dry cracker and about as welcome as stale bread.

  • Danger Zoooone: Those who play it safe and don’t do stupid things like fly through tunnels or skim rocks at supersonic speeds while engaging another plane may miss out on a lot of the game’s spectacle and excitement, rendering it a rote exercise in scrubbing out targets.

4 Score: 4/5
A very competent sequel set in the best parts of the long-running series with plenty to please fans of the series past.


  • Controls: Fully rebindable keyboard controls, basic options for altering yaw, pitch, and radar/switch weapons buttons for pads. No rebinding controls for flight sticks. Choice between simple and advanced flight control modes.
  • Audio: Sound effects, music, and voice volume sliders. Subtitle toggle. Choice between English and Japanese subtitles.
  • Graphics: Window mode, resolution, vsync, frame rate limit, bloom toggle, motion blur toggle, and advanced settings for tuning performance.

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