After six previous titles in the franchise, Bandai Namco was looking to spice things up, to change the way you approach an Ace Combat game. The last installment I played, Ace Combat 5 on the PS4 was one of my favorite titles of the year, mainly because it captured the internal drive to fly and my own childhood dream of being a fighter pilot. Being a child of the 80’s, I grew up on films like Top Gun and even the lesser known Iron Eagle. My grandfather would take me to the annual air shows. My 14th birthday party was at a flight simulator arcade (shoutout to the now defunct Fightertown USA). Does Ace Combat 7 hold up? Does this recapture that same feeling of being the absolute ace in the sky? Yes, and unfortunately, no. As previously stated, Bandai Namco felt they needed to change up the formula a little bit, and as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
This time around, Ace Combat 7 utilizes an upgrade tree for your aircraft. This is for certain improvements to handling, top speed, weapons, etc. Aircraft are unlocked via a specific upgrade tree you have to follow in order to obtain the craft you want, by spending exorbitant amounts of Mission Points. From memory, previous titles didn’t include this RPG-esque feature, and I find it lacking. That’s a small gripe, but it’s a gripe nonetheless; as I was about 12 missions in and I was still stuck in crappy planes, and of course, the aircraft you really want are the very last ones to unlock, meaning you essentially have to complete the game to obtain them. Also, and probably a bit more of an issue I have, there’s only about 12 or so planes to unlock. The variety is very low as opposed to previous installments of the franchise.
The story is absolutely forgettable and if you’ve played an Ace Combat game before, it’s more of the same. This time around I found myself skipping most of the story cutscenes, something I never do in games. Simply put, I just don’t care. I tried, I really did. However after the first 3 cutscenes I was bored and just wanted to skip to the action, which is bad because I missed out on mission details that would have helped me with my load out, something I will get into when I talk about gameplay. It’s not not that the story is “bad”, it’s just lifeless. I might give it another go in a subsequent play through when I’m not rushing through to get the review out, but I doubt I’ll really find much there.
The gameplay is where every Ace Combat title has thrived. When I speak about recapturing that childhood fantasy of being a fighter pilot, AC7 brings it all back, with great ease. I can’t stress enough how fantastic it feels to dogfight and knock your enemies out of the sky from the cockpit of a billion dollar machine. This iteration is definitely more difficult than previous titles, and I think that’s due to certain choices Bandai Namco made, such as not being able to access high performance planes early on via the RPG upgrade path.
There’s also the fact that despite whatever the mission brief states, there’s always a surprise plot twist that you are rarely — if ever — equipped to handle. This is due to another development choice to lock down your load out to only having one special weapon type per mission, and of course, the one weapon you choose to complete the main mission is never useful to the now completely telegraphed plot twist that happens almost every mission. On top of that, there’s less mission variety this time around. The player is constantly doing one of two different types of missions, and occasionally missions where they’re a blend of those two things. This isn’t exactly bad, and it’s a narrative/plot feature that I prefer, but if you’re looking to pilot a wide variety of craft on a wide open scope of sortie types, you might be let down.
All that being said, it’s a very fun game, and that’s what we, as gamers are after right? I actually applaud Bandai Namco sacrificing accessibility for a shred of realism (although there are upgrade perks that allow you to carry something like 89 standard missiles on your fighter jet… heh.. narrative dissonance at its finest). Locking certain elements behind upgrade trees makes for a more deliberate grind and I’m sure when I get there, a very satisfying feeling when I get to pilot the F-35 and the F-22. Multiplayer feels tacked on, and I never find that to be fun, so I unfortunately have not had the chance to play it. There’s also limited VR support, and as I do not own a PSVR, that is also something I have not had the pleasure of getting sick in.
I enjoy Ace Combat 7 for what it is. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but it’s well worth my time. If you yearn to fly, to knock bogies out of the sky and turn and burn. If you feel the need, the need for speed, there really isn’t anything else out there that comes close to the Ace Combat franchise. It’s good, not great. Fun, but not essential. 3.75/5 Airborne Bibles.