Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review – Clear Skies, Dark Blue

12 years since Fires of Liberation back on the Xbox 360 we return to Strangereal for another intriguing chapter in a world where the skies often determine the fate of nations and turn the tides of war. Project Aces have a clear runway to land a current generation flight action game after 5 long years of waiting, along with some very welcome PSVR support.

Making the leap to current generation consoles has allowed for a big boost in visual quality, with aircraft models well detailed. Skies look fantastic with a large range of clouds, weather effects and missions taking place at different times of the day. Effects from weapon trails, impacts and launches light up and it’s not uncommon to have a dozen active fighters on screen. Icing up going through long clouds and blowing through an exploding opponent all benefit from the improved resolution and art assets, even towns look quite nice from mid range. Ground models and foliage quality drop quite a lot in the PlayStation VR modes but once you are active in the sky you barely have a chance to notice, especially since the cockpit and surrounds look fantastic.

The series has a long history of epic soundtracks and Skies Unknown continues the trend standing alongside classics from Ace Combat 4 or 5, swelling during key moments of missions to get the blood pumping even harder. I’ve had the upgrade menu music stuck in my head all week which is a testament to the catchy but low key nature of the majority of the music in the game. Aircraft and weapons all sound crisp, especially in PSVR mode where the audio experience helps link the visual feedback in a way that feels natural. Voice acting is played fairly straight despite some quirky lines, you even have the option to play using the Japanese voice acting if preferred.

A hefty campaign of missions makes up the bulk of Ace Combat 7. The story goes through some interesting twists and turns, each character teases their backstory without giving too much away and missions flow from one to the next using cutscenes to set them up very effectively without any silly leaps of logic. Weaving story beats into gameplay, such as your targeting computer having issues identifying friend or foe, goes a long way to make you feel invested in making sure the missions and characters succeed. Despite a long campaign the developers have done a fantastic job keeping each fresh and ensuring back to back sorties are different enough that you always want to try the next one before putting it down. You can go from causing mass carnage while able to resupply to dogfighting a master pilot through jagged ravines before supporting ground forces retaking an airfield, always pushing hard to complete your next objective before your forces are wiped out.

Each successful run at a mission earns credits which you can use to unlock more aircraft, weapons and parts. Choosing which aircraft to take into each mission can be critical, as you have a choice of 3 special weapons which can be a massive help when organised correctly, taking bombs into a mission focused on air to air combat would be pointless and sometimes a quick bombing run would get you back into dogfighting quick enough to avoid the tide turning against you. The missions themselves have various difficulty and scoring benchmarks to aim for, with a lot of replayability to continue to rack up credits or medals for excellence. The framerate is generally solid on Playstation 4 Pro, allowing aircraft to feel responsive and making hard turns without losing track of your target an enjoyable exercise.

It may seem disappointing that the main series of missions aren’t playable in PSVR but the separate mission mode has clearly been crafted with VR in mind, with mission structure and key events best experienced from a first person view. Your first skirmish in the skies above using PSVR will definitely be a memorable one, the game retains its arcade feel but having complete 360 degree viewing ability takes the action to another level. While exclusive to PSVR for the next 12 months I’d recommend anyone with a VR headset to experience Skies Unknown once available to you, I can see it being one I will bring out to showcase the PSVR to those new to the world of VR.

Unfortunately my attempts at entering the multiplayer portion have seen an endless stream of error messages trying to join lobbies so I hope to add to this review after launch when the player population opens up. Available at launch will be an 8 player deathmatch mode and an 8 player team deathmatch mode with a few modifiers.

Project Aces has delivered another fantastic entry in the series, bringing the series into the current generation with a lot of style. Combat looks and feels great, with tons of replayability.

Ace Combat fans will be very pleased with an extremely fun aerial combat game with plenty to do. The fantastic PlayStation VR mode is a must-play and a great addition to an already fantastic game.
Wide variety of mission objectives that are continually fun
Feels and looks fantastic to play
PSVR modes are well designed and impressive
Story can be brisk and light on content considering the series history
Settings are quite basic, especially in PSVR mode

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