Team Aces and Bandai Namco’s Ace Combat franchise has been around for a very long time. While the initial releases were on PS1 and then PSP and PS2, last generation saw them expand into not only a multi platform title for a spinoff (Assault Horizon) but also an Xbox 360 exclusive in the form of Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation. The franchise returns after a long break with Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown for PS4, Xbox One, and PC (at a later date). Having never played an Ace Combat game before outside of the 3DS port that arrived recently, I was looking forward to experiencing a proper numbered entry in the Ace Combat franchise and Ace Combat 7 delivers for the most part with only a few annoyances.
War has broken out between the Osean Federation and Erusea that are both in the world you will spend time in here and you get into the boots of a pilot just getting into grips with everything going on but thrust into the action headfirst. I was reminded of Earth Defense Force quite a bit but not because of how nonsensical that story is but how it shouldn’t work on paper but it managed to hook me nearly all the way. This game makes me wish Bandai Namco just did a collection of the earlier releases for consoles to experience more stories from Project Aces on modern systems.
Barring the main campaign mode that is quite expansive, there are multiplayer modes and a free mode that lets you replay any of the campaign maps without any story aspects just to explore. The multiplayer modes in my testing worked out mostly well. I expected a mess given 8 pilots flying in a single session but the game handles the battle royale mode (no not that one) very well and facing off against human controlled planes is a whole other experience.
Ace Combat 7 has multiple difficulty options and control schemes. One control scheme is meant for veterans of the franchise while the other is for newcomers and while the newcomer control scene is very easy to get into, I’d recommend spending some time in earlier missions through free mode with the expert scheme to see if it works for you because that gives you a ton of more control which helps in some later missions involving quick reflexes. The customisation tree for unlocks and your own loadout before you sortie is very well thought out.
On Xbox One X, performance has been mostly great. There are some hiccups in multiplayer but that is likely more network related. Visuals are a mixed bag with the planes and some key elements on the ground looking great but a lot of the other aspects looking dated. Some textures look pretty bad while others look very good. The most noticeable visual issue is pop in while flying close to land. In missions, it isn’t as noticeable because of all the action you are looking at but when you watch a replay after a mission, it is very evident. Hopefully we get proper Xbox One X support in the future because right now it doesn’t feel like it is there.
Despite having not played the previous games, I had heard a ton about the music being fantastic for earlier entries. Ace Combat 5’s music is phenomenal and thankfully Ace Combat 7’s soundtrack delivers in almost every aspect. It is full of memorable tunes and great atmospheric music for the more quiet moments. When it comes to in game audio, both the voice acting and sound effects in general are top notch. I’d recommend playing this with a good pair of headphones.
The major flaws with Ace Combat 7 in its current state have to do with some of the core missions. Some of them have instructions that are a bit too vague and this results in you ending up selecting the wrong equipment which can result in a waste of time. The checkpoint system is definitely the biggest problem here because it needs to be much more lenient. Having to replay 10 to 15 minute chunks after a mission fails towards the end of a single phase is annoying. This coupled with some difficulty spikes makes matters a bit worse. Hopefully Bandai Namco Entertainment and Team Aces can work on the checkpoint system at least for future updates. These things need to be sortied out.
Overall, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is an excellent game. If you’ve never played a game in the franchise before, this is a great starting point. It runs great on Xbox One X and is a joy to control across both control schemes. There has been a dearth of great flight simulation action games on consoles this generation and this is exactly what we all needed.