Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown review (PSVR)

One of this month’s most anticipated titles, and possibly one of the top Playstation VR games in recent months, has finally arrived. Bandai Namco’s Ace Combat 7 – Skies Unknown takes flight on the Playstation 4 and performs a near perfect landing. For our review, we focused on the VR portion of the game.

We’ve actually had our eye on Ace Combat 7 for over a year and a half now. We got to play a VR-enabled demo of the game back in the summer of 2017 and came away being very impressed. Since then, the Playstation VR library has grown immensely, but the truth of the matter is that not many PSVR titles are AAA productions with budgets that can squeeze cutting edge visuals out of Sony’s technically limited headset. Ace Combat 7, even in 2019, stands out from the crowd.

Of course, the Ace Combat series has always been about flashy arcade-inspired fighter jet combat with impressive visuals. It’s After Burner for the modern console generation in many ways, and number 7 definitely delivers the explosive fun you’d expect. It even tries very hard to make sure the action doesn’t get repetitive, which is no small feat in a genre which has its roots in arcade games that had campaigns which lasted for under an hour.

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Instead of just focusing on aerial combat high up in the skies, Ace Combat 7 mixes things up with missions that take you closer to the ground. This can mean flying through a canyon for cover from the enemy’s radar only to pop up at the last moment, or doing recon to identify targets before all hell breaks loose. They’re familiar variations on a theme, strung together with a story campaign that’s told through cutscenes in between the various missions. The storytelling isn’t especially great and feels a bit like a straight to video action movie, with a few references to modern day tech that bring the game to the 2019 generation when compared to the previous game, which I played on an Xbox 360. But hey, the story’s not what you play Ace Combat for anyway.

The main draw for any game in the series has always been the smooth arcade-like experience with flashy audiovisual delivery, and Ace Combat 7 understands that like no other. It was always the closest thing to being the star of a Top Gun movie, but that honor has to go to the VR portion of the game now. Literally planting you in the cockpit and rendering the game world around you in stunning audiovisual detail, it’s certainly a sight to behold and one of the most intense VR experiences to date. Head tracking can be used for targeting as well, which feels incredibly immersive as your VR gear quickly starts to feel like a fighter pilot helmet.

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The VR mode, for me, is definitely the main draw here. But it does have two downsides, and they’re important to mention. I’m very tolerant to VR motion sickness, but this is definitely a game that will be tough to swallow for those who are more susceptible to the condition. The other drawback is that VR is only supported for a VR-dedicated prequel mini campaign (which features three missions), and the experience can’t be carried over into the main campaign.

Still, it’s easily one of the best VR experiences so far. Peeking out of your window and seeing another plane emerge from the cover of clouds and open fire is the stuff that adrenaline is made of, even if the graphics in your headset aren’t as crisp as what your TV display shows. If you own a PSVR headset, I’d say this is a must own and if it were available as a cheap standalone spinoff I bet it’d sell like hotcakes.

That’s not to say that Ace Combat 7 isn’t worth it outside of the VR mode – there’s a more than competent online multiplayer mode included, and there’s an upgrade system in place that’ll keep you coming back for more attempts and better scores so you can unlock new upgrades and weapons. It’s a great arcade shooter, but oh my, the VR experience certainly is the icing on the cake here.

Score: 8.8/10

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