PAX WEST 2018: Ace Combat 7 Goes Back To its Roots And Soars

Ace Combat 7

It’s been six years since the last proper entry in the legendary Ace Combat franchise, with 2011’s Ace Combat: Assault Horizon being the last console entry in the franchise. Since then, the world of gaming has changed, with new systems, breakthrough games, and new terms like “Battle Royale.” In that time span, very few flight games have been released, if at all.

Bandai Namco and the skilled team at PROJECT ACES are looking to bring flight combat games back with the release of Ace Combat 7. A demo of the game was available for the very first time at PAX WEST 2018, and our Stack Up Air Assault Programs, as well as myself, had the opportunity to check it out. As the Air Assault absolutely enjoyed their time with Ace Combat, I followed after them, determined to see the experience for myself. The results were stellar, and it makes the wait for January all the much more exciting.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is the 17th installment of the Ace Combat franchise and the 8th installment of the main series, dating back to 1993 when the franchise began as an arcade game, called ” Air Combat.” In 1995, Air Combat was released on the very first PlayStation console, and for the past 23 years, the franchise has enthralled and excited players as being the only franchise to embrace the cinematic thrills of being a fighter pilot.

The franchise has featured great hallmarks, such as dizzying air-to-air missions, intense ground fighting, and mammoth boss fights, all set against a meticulously polished photo-realistic presentation and amazing orchestral score. While there have been competitors over the years, such as Tom Clancy’s HAWX, the Ace Combat franchise has written itself into one of gaming’s most triumphant franchises. With the announcement of a sequel and its impending release date, I was more than eager to check out the game for myself at PAX WEST.

The 10-minute demo gave me a choice between two missions. One involved the European EF-2000 Typhoon combat craft commonly used by Europe and the Royal Airforce. The other featured one of the most iconic aircraft of all time, the U.S Navy F-14 Tomcat. I chose the F-14 Tomcat and proceeded with the briefing.

Intelligence indicated a very large enemy force that could affect an ongoing mission elsewhere on the war front. The objective was to destroy as many targets as possible within the time limit in an effort to disrupt enemy movements and cripple their fighting capabilities. My mission would be supported by AWACS and several other fighter aircraft. After choosing my fighter, I chose my preferred secondary weapon, the precision-guided bomb. With that, the mission commenced.

As someone that has played all main installments of Ace Combat, I am pleased to say Ace Combat 7 is a true return to form for the franchise. From the very beginning, I had full control of my fighter plane over a very large battlefield. I entered a target-rich environment, consisting of a variety of both air and ground targets.  I was able to move the craft freely and without hindrance.

The style of the original games followed this particular mechanic, giving players the opportunity to have a degree of choices as they engaged the enemy. This was refreshing, as the game’s predecessor, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, followed a more scripted gameplay mechanic, which gave players the impression that the entire gameplay experience was automatic, instead of being tied to player input. After a few moments of adjusting to the game, I heightened my senses and readied for combat.

Airbases, convoys, and patrolling fighters filled the radar screen. A wide-open, brown desert stretched as far as the eye can see. The enemy wisely constructed facilities around plateaus to form natural defenses. With the clock ticking down and the operation critical to the success of the war effort, I pitched my plane and accelerated.  It was time to do some yard work. I set my sights on the nearest base, readied my weapons, and moved in to attack. The radio was crackling with my wingmen beginning their attacks. The roar of my thrusters echoed through the field. My HUB locked onto my first target, and away my first missile went.

As I played, I couldn’t help but cheer to the booth members, and the other PAX attendees waiting in line. It was quite an exciting experience! Ace Combat had always tapped into the high-octane action of movies, such as TopGun and Iron Eagle. With Ace Combat 7, that feeling was truly back. I strafe runways, squeezing the trigger and watching the tracer fire of my Vulcan pepper targets.

I turned around to fire a volley of missiles at an enemy harrier jet and then used my precision-guided bombs to destroy heavily armored tanks. I made various maneuvers, from hugging the ground to rapidly ascending for air-to-air engagements. I whizzed between plateaus and destroyed enemy bridges. I defeated enemy SAM sites, just as they were launching their missiles at me. That same tried-and-true Ace Combat gameplay was back!

As for the visual and presentation, I am very pleased to say that has returned in great form. I engaged the enemy from both the cockpit view and third-person views as well. The sound changes depending on which view you take. The cockpit was finely detailed, giving a true sensation of piloting such a large carrier-based craft. Outside the craft, the F-14 looked photorealistic, with excellent effects and details. The rising sun glimmers off the fuselage and the afterburner thrusters brightened as I accelerated through the skies.

Even the smallest details, such as the ailerons, could be seen flapping and moving under the reign of control by the player. There was also a solid degree of destructibility, seeing planes fall apart in mid-air and ground explosions that have been pulled straight from real-life combat footage. With the banter of pilots and a soaring orchestral score, combined with the gameplay, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, becomes an incredibly exciting experience. Regrettably, after 10 minutes, the screen faded to black and my demo ended.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is shaping to be a fantastic experience, regardless of a player’s skill or familiarity. The gameplay is extremely refined, the presentation is sharp, and the overall experience is looking to be fantastic for both casual gamers and experienced die-hards of the franchise that fought Yellow Squadron and The Knights Of The Round Table on Expert Difficulty.  This is shaping to be one of 2019’s best games. Ace Combat: 7 Skies Unknown, will launch on PlayStation 4, PSVR, Xbox One, and Steam on January 18th, 2019.