During the PlayStation 2 era, the Ace Combat series was a highlight of that generation. An excellent showcase of the power of those consoles, frantically having dog fights at breakneck speeds, barrel-rolling around and doing loop the loops; at the time you hadn’t seen anything like it on consoles. Once widely talked about games now seem to have its own niche market; they still sell well, though they don’t seem to be in the gaming conscious. However, Bandai Namco plan to revitalize the series with 2019’s Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown.
Ace Combat is a flight combat action game developed and published by Bandai Namco. The game has you control a fighter jet and you must complete various tasks, objectives and missions in order to complete the level. These may range from taking out bases to wiping out enemy forces by having intense dog fights. Ace Combat 7 will feature exclusive missions on PlayStation 4 for the use on the PlayStation VR. Skies Unknown is set for a January 2019 release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with a Windows release following a month after.
Bandai Namco have decided to develop a more robust story with this entry than previous entries. Featuring multiple characters, along with character and narrative arches. Set in 2019, during a conflict between the Kingdom of Erusea and the Osean Federation. You play as Trigger, a fighter pilot for the Osean Air Defense Force until Trigger is accused of murdering the former President of Osean. It is here Trigger joins the Osea’s Spare Squadron, a penal unit.
The inclusion of a narrative and character led story is a welcome change to the series, making it more appealing to a larger demographic. As this generation has been strongly led by single player narrative experiences, this new added focus on story and character may find Ace Combat back into the gamer conscious once more. Moreover, the game appears to dabble in more than just a character story too, as the trailer hints towards philosophies regarding war itself and the digital age.
Visually the game looks wonderful. Showcasing dynamic lighting relative to the suns positioning as sections of the plane glimmer with the suns reflection to suddenly stop as they sharply turn. That’s not all, it’s the little details of raindrop shimmering down the cockpit window, seeing clouds being teared through, the jets tails heat wave or sea being ripped up if you fly too close. These little details add to the high-octane action of flying a fighter jet. It’s these details that make the environments seem impressive than what they actually are; not that you’d notice when you are zooming around chasing bogies off your tail.
The sound design also compliments the visual tremendously. Hearing the planes sonic boom pass your plane or the fizz of missiles being ejected makes for exciting stuff. Complimented by the voice actor’s urgency in telling you vital information ramps up the tension and the franticness of being a fighter pilot.
Like previous titles in the Ace Combat series, flying a plane feels great and is very intuitive. While the games HUD does an excellent job of distinguishing its information to you very simply and understandable, as not to distract you from combat. Just after a couple of minutes everything sticks, you’ll be barrel rolling and dodging missiles like a pro. Before the mission I played I got to choose what fighter jet I wanted and the load out, adding a layer of strategy into your choices. Fear not, it’s arcade feel is still there, with a timer on levels and a score system means replayability with a leaderboard to find out who is the true Val Kilmer.
The mission I played, I had to take out fuel resources, a convoy and enemy fighters. As previously mentioned, it’s the simplicity of the controls that makes the game accessible and a joy to play. Though do not get confused with it being easy, as I didn’t finish the demo due to either me getting too cocky and not paying attention, resulting in starting the level again.
It’s all the elements together why Ace Combat games works, the sounds, the visuals and the pick up and play nature. It creates this cohesive meld of frantic fun that switches to panic in a second when the HUD flashes red and the voice saying missiles meaning you must do a quick manoeuvre or send some flares out. It’s that split-second change in pace that makes the Ace Combat series an exhilarating play and unlike most other games. A game in which a newbie, gets too cocky only a few minutes into the game.
I hope this entry see Ace Combat on form again. It was a thrilling experience, even though I didn’t finish the demo I heavily enjoyed what I played. The accessibility is the key; the game wants everyone to have fun and ride through the danger zone. The trailer providing a glimpse of a story that generally looks meaningful and epic, I can only hope that the gaming public give this game a chance. It could be possible, this generation we’ve seen games like Persona, Nier become industry highlights and with a sequel to Top Gun in the works it couldn’t time it better. This is a game you want to be keeping your eye on.
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