'Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown' Takes Genre to New Heights

"Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown" (Bandai Namco)

One of the indelible memories from my childhood is trying to land a plane in "Top Gun" for the NES. Back then, the process seemed nearly impossible as I fiddled with air speed and aircraft before watching my plane dive into the ocean.

Since then, I haven't been too keen on jet fighter games. The trauma from the constant crashes had a lasting impact. It's a challenge that I veered away from until I started playing "Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown." The latest entry in the long-running flight action game arrives after a long delay.

Originally slated for a 2017 release, the game launched this year and the extra time that the developer, Project Aces, put in the sequel paid off with a title that's fully featured touting a robust single-player campaign, a multiplayer mode and virtual reality missions for PlayStation VR.

It's a game where I faced the horrors of both landing a plane and refueling midair, and somehow I managed to do both. Part of that could be from age and experience: I'm old enough to understand momentum, speed and angles. The more likely reason for my success is that modern game design has improved the flight combat genre. "Ace Combat" has been a series that has steadily advanced the category, balancing the attraction of realism and the accessibility of arcade-style action.

The meat of the game lies in the single-player campaign, which follows a war between the Kingdom of Erusea and the Osean Federation. The Erusean launch a surprise attack with drones that cripple the Osean forces. As Trigger, an Osean fighter pilot, players take on a pivotal role in the war.

But the journey isn't so smooth for Trigger as he is accused of murdering a former president during a rescue mission. He's sent down to prison squadron, where he flies missions on junk planes. As the Osean plight grows more precarious, he gains recognition for his abilities and is promoted through the ranks once again.

The unconventional career path lets the developers create unusual missions through "Ace Combat 7's" 20 levels. The team uses the weather effects, creating hurdles and cover for players. If they're in a dogfight, they can take cover in clouds and throw off homing missiles. But keep in mind, adversaries can use the weather, too. Enemy oil trucks will use sandstorms for cover and players will have to hunt them down by flying close to the ground.

Each mission tests players' skill in different ways. "Ace Combat 7" isn't just about killing all the bogeys as quickly as possible. Although there are a few missions like that, others ask players to use precision as they blast certain foes or target missile silos for bunker buster bombs. This missions can be frustrating because they require careful analog stick movements and that can be difficult.

Other mildly frustrating scenarios include ones where players have to protect ground or air units from attack. These escort missions require several playthroughs but are eventually doable. They won't be everyone's favorite task, but they help stave off monotony and offer good change of pace.

A peripheral that improved the experience is the Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas 4. The flight stick is mainly used for flying games, and more importantly, it was integrated with the PlayStation 4 version of the game. It offered a more immersive experience and better control of the aircraft.

With it, I could easily make banked turns and finely control my throttle. It takes a mission or two to adjust to the peripheral, but once one has played on Thrustmaster, it's hard to go back to the standard controller. The ability to turn and control yaw through the joystick or the paddles on the throttle is a huge plus.

What players give up is the force feedback from the controllers, but that isn't a huge loss compared to the more responsive and finely tuned controls from the Thrustmaster. At $69.99, it's an affordable peripheral, but players have to keep in mind that it's only for one type of game. It's recommended for flight enthusiasts who don't mind a cheaper build quality and lack of heft.

Both of those features will prove useful in the multiplayer mode, which is surprisingly fleshed out with a progression system that lets players upgrade their planes and rewards them with emblems and nicknames. The Team Deathmatch and Battle Royale modes feature up to eight planes and can be tense.n They'll often test players skills more than the single-player campaign.

For more immersion, players can check out virtual reality missions on PSVR. They offer a convincing feeling of flight, but at the same time, with only three levels, the experience is way too short. It does show the potential the technology though and offers a peek at new frontier for the "Ace Combat" series.


'Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown'

3 1/2 stars

Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC


This article is written by Gieson Cacho from East Bay Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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