Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review — VR is Lacking, But a Welcome Addition Anyway
Somehow, it has been six years, and a whole console generation, since the previous Ace Combat game hit shelves. We were overdue for a new iteration, as plane technology and aerial warfare have undeniably advanced in the intervening years, and now we have it in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown.
It isn't just new planes and enhanced weaponry that sets Ace Combat 7 apart from the previous games in the franchise though, as, this time, the series has a major ace up its sleeve: a VR mode.
VR Flight School Crash Course (With A Side Of Vomit)
Although not a VR-only game, the VR sections are a welcome addition to Ace Combat 7, and their inclusion put the game on our list of most anticipated PSVR titles due to launch in 2019.
These handful of virtual reality missions will be exclusive to the Playstation 4 until 2020, at which point they will presumably unlock for the Steam version as well.
Gotta Learn To Walk Before You Can Fly
While the ability to soar at supersonic speeds above the landscape in VR (while constantly looking around to admire your various panels and scan for bogeys) is a thing of beauty, there are some big limitations in Ace Combat 7.
To begin, there's oddly no tutorial for the VR missions. After a brief look around the cockpit and being towed through the bowels of an aircraft carrier, you are off on your first sortie against hostile planes.
If you aren't a flight simulator pro, do yourself a favor and learn from my mistake: play some non-VR missions first to master the flight mechanics before jumping into VR missions. I didn't do that, and I greatly regret my poor decision.
These normal campaign missions will teach you how to utilize the radar and quickly lock onto different targets, but there's a much more important reason to play the non-VR mission's first.
That is, if there's sudden, constant changes in direction and speed, VR, in its current form, is very prone to causing nausea If you don't know how to properly level off, move horizontally with the yaw, and perform a combination of wide passes and tighter, higher speed turns in Ace Combat 7, you will find yourself getting actively sick.
In my haste to get a proper VR cockpit experience, I was so nauseated by the end of the first mission that I had to throw the headset off and run to the bathroom to empty the contents of my stomach. No joke. I feel like I've been through real flight school now.
Air Combat Gameplay Redefined
When you've got the movement mechanics down though, the VR missions in Ace Combat 7 are a ton of fun. Aerial dogfights are a totally different experience from playing them in first-person view, increasing the tension created by the beeping red lights and auditory warnings about missile locks.
The immersion created by VR also enhances the sense of accomplishment as you learn how to outmaneuver enemy aircraft and take them down with missiles or well placed bursts of machine gun fire, ultimately becoming the apex predator of the sky.
Unfortunately, there isn't a large amount of content to play through in VR mode. It isn't as limited as Gran Turismo Sport's sad VR element, which only lets you race against one single other car in VR mode, but it is noticeable within this full-scale game.
Specifically, you only get about three hours of playtime out of Ace Combat 7's VR campaign. It beats the Call Of Duty space jackal PSVR demo to be sure, but it still may leave PS4 players wanting a more sizable VR flight experience.
Thankfully, you can unlock a free-fly mode if you just want to experience the wide open sky and see the landscape passing by below after completing the missions.
Separately, I was left wondering why the developers didn't implement PS Move controller support. It may have been difficult to program proper tracking, since, obviously, they don't remain stationary like a traditional flight simulator controller, but using the Move controllers (as the control stick for movement and side stick for thrust) really would have increased the immersion factor.
The Non VR-Experience
For those who aren't buying Ace Combat 7 for the VR missions and just want a high-end flight combat simulator, you are in for a treat.
With an expert mode for more realistic flight and varied missions switching between air and ground targets, you won't be lacking for content or challenge like in the VR mode.
Re-Playability Through Unlockables
There's reason to re-play the campaign as well (or just skip over to multiplayer if you don't care about canned missions), and that's the equipment tree.
With new aircraft, special weapons, and even individual parts to customize, you could be playing for weeks before running out of content. To move along that tree, you have to earn points by completing campaign missions or performing well during matches in multiplayer mode.
Unlocking new equipment on that tree is crucial in some missions, particularly when you need the ability to target multiple planes at once or have to destroy ground facilities and then quickly switch over to dealing with enemy air support.
I've always been more of a single-player guy myself, preferring an unfolding story to an endless stream of pointless death matches, and I wasn't disappointed on that front.
For a game about aerial dog fights and customizing your ultimate fighter jet, there is a surprising amount of storyline in Ace Combat 7. Some twists and turns pop-up as well, and they make you want to know what will happen next in this battle between two fictional warring nations and the pilots stuck in the middle.
While you don't got clobbered over the head with political commentary or anything, the game does manage to bring up some real world technological worries. In particular, the prevalence of unmanned drones, the need to develop space elevators, and a looming energy crisis are all central themes.
The Bottom Line
- VR mode
- Engaging story
- Lots of replay from unlockables
- Great plane movement mechanics
- Multiplayer matches
- VR mode is sadly very limited
- No Move controller support
- For the most authentic experience, you'll want to drop an extra $110 on the Thrustmaster T. Flight Hotas 4 flight stick controller released specifically for Ace Combat 7
Long story short, if you love flight combat simulators, you are going to love Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown regardless of if you prefer a single-player campaign or multiplayer dog fights.
The VR mode is a very welcome addition for PSVR owners, although, sadly, its much more limited than the main story campaign or the multiplayer combat.
If you don't already own the PSVR equipment, I can't say that Ace Combat 7 will be the deciding factor to make you drop the cash, but existing owners should definitely give it a shot.
Rather than the limited content being a huge downside though, it essentially just makes me want more VR flight games to arrive in the future. Hopefully, this is just a taste of things to come.