Oh, how it has been a long, long time since this was on my HDD. It has been over a decade since Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation came out to a lukewarm reception on PS3, PC and Xbox 360. I remember owning this and thinking that things had been better. Indeed, I looked back to the original Air Combat from the first Playstation and I remembered just how simplistic and enjoyable things were back then.
I mean, the problem with Ace Combat 6 was that it tried to sew a narrative with depth into a game mechanic that was relatively minimalist. It always felt like the combination didn’t fully work. And so, with that, it lay in stasis for many years, until infinity in 2014. Now, it tries to rise like an F-15 back into the skies for a new take on the genre. It has been a long time coming, but can “Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown” be king of the skies once again?
If you can picture what it is like to miss an entire season of a box set you have been binging for the longest time and THEN trying to catch up, you’ll get some sort of idea as to how silly the story is in Ace Combat 7. It will only make sense to those who have stuck the course and kept up with things all the way through.
You are part of a ruffian band of prisoners who have to take to the skies (NOT like Con Air, you understand) and save your side in a long, drawn out civil war. The fact you come from Strangereal, the fictional country that is the best case of two words being literally banged together to try and make up a bit of plot, just won’t cut it for those who have not been there from the beginning. The trick is to bypass most of this and move on to how the game actually plays. There we do a little better…
This is a lot more like it. It feels much like the Ace Combat of old. There is a huge amount of happiness in there, but also a little bit of sadness, but then what CAN you change about an arcade styled flight sim?
The controls feel just as snappy as they used to, and when you mix this with one of the most beautiful landscapes you could wish for in an arcade flight sim, you get lost in all of the razzamatazz that Ace Combat 7 generates.
Having said that, it does get a little bit, well, dull in some areas. The problem is that we, as a gaming population, want to have immediate thrills on a constant basis. Ace Combat gives us more of what we had before, which isn’t a bad thing, but there are also those mundane missions from WAY back, like flying slowly through canyons and bombing runs and so on. For me, this isn’t a problem, but others may not find these bits so entertaining.
On a personal level, I enjoy the mix. Some may find it a bit hard to get back into the “danger zone” with no major tutorial to speak of, but then it is from the same publisher as the Dark Souls series, so maybe the constant death idea has moved from land to air.
In terms of the aesthetics, Ace Combat 7 looks absolutely gorgeous. The best thing is that it isn’t because of rose tinted glasses either. The firepower of the current generation workhorse has meant that this new iteration is very realistic. When the weather changes, it doesn’t just mean a change of visuals, which is beautiful, but it changes the dynamic of the level and can impact on the control you have of your aircraft.
In terms of multiplayer, you get a pretty simplified battle model. You have a standard deathmatch and a team version, where players can pair up and have a dogfight in a proper squad with someone to help. It does what you would expect and is a welcome addition, but a “king of the skies” mode would not have been impossible, in my opinion. The only thing is that, like most other games with a very limited appeal online, it may not be in the minds of people for long. It would be like FIFA just having you in front of a brick wall and kicking it against it. You’d try it for the sake of curiosity, but then interest would wane VERY quickly.
So, what to make of Ace Combat 7? It has a story which may well feel like it was written by a B-Movie production crew and the multiplayer may be slender, but as a throwback to the way the game used to be, you can’t knock it. I’m personally just happy we have it back in our lives. Other than Infinity, which was on a very limited format, the last time we had a chance to raid the skies on a home console was well over a decade ago. I feel happy to see it here. It plays just as I remember it and it gives you enough new tweaks to make it worthwhile. There’s still room for improvement though. The next title will need a more fulfilling multiplayer, perhaps even a co-op story playthrough, but in a world where online is the new king, we need improvement, instead of just resting on old laurels.
The bottom line is… Ace Combat is back in my life, and I’ve missed it.