HIGHWAY TO THE DANGER ZONE …MY REVIEW OF ACE COMBAT 7
January 18, 2019
Single and Multi Player
This is 2019, games aren’t supposed to be this good anymore. Unless it is a shooter or action game, genres I love have felt relegated to the endeavours of smaller teams, lower budgets or indie developers. There is no point taking a risk on anything that does not appeal to the lowest common denominator, or so the big studios would have us believe. It’s rare that those other genres get releases that feel like significant strides forward over the last decade. To release with a quality, polish and attention to detail that doesn’t feel held back by conservative budgets and risk hedging feels like something rare.
Ace Combat 7 feels like what I would have expected UN Squadron to turn into after 25 years of progress. Gorgeous visual, meticulous attention to detail, generously varied mission structures, a plethora of customization options and a tactile gameplay so smooth you’ll find yourself constantly slipping and falling into an immersive bliss. There are no micro transactions for in game currency and there was no grinding boring repetitive mechanics to pad out the length before I was allowed to get to the fun part. This game was designed with my constant enjoyment in mind, nothing else.
AC7 is not a flight sim but I mean that in the best way possible. It has the best aspects of flight sims, gorgeous visuals and an attention to detail that will satisfy anyone looking for military hardware porn. Anything past that gets sacrificed upon the altar of “Fun”. The rest of AC7 moves closer towards arcade shooter because that’s what offers the best feeling possible.
Nothing in the controls and gameplay was compromised to make things feel more realistic. Experimental planes with forward swept wings are in the game to unlock simply because they are gorgeous and fun, and they aren’t held back by the actual frustrations that physics imposes on forward swept wing designs. If you want to fly an SU-47 because you think it looks cool, and god damnit you do, then you fly that SU-47. It strikes a perfect balance between being a tactile fast paced combat game and a gorgeously detailed rendition of your favorite feats of aeronautical engineering.
The visuals are fantastic and are half the reason this game is so engrossing. Each mission feels different, from the terrain, do the time of day, to the weather and clouds. The variety has me loving every new mission. Some of the best missions leave me in awe as I turn the camera around my plane to see the suns light and the beautifully rendered clouds. There are some missions that truly give me the exhilaration of flying. On the PC there is nothing like it in Ultrawide, but unfortunately the amount of modding needed to play in Ultrawide is unacceptable for a 2019 release. There are times where the mission structure itself is inconsequential, I just want to relax and feel like the sky is my domain.
Mission structures are generous varied, most people will be able to recall what mission is being referred to just from a detail or two. There was only one instance where I thought “I hate this mission” but for me 19/20 is pretty good. I’ve provided air support for ground troops, devastated fleets, leveled oil refineries then picked off the fleeing trucks in sandstorms, brought down massive flying carriers and engaged in dog fights with the world’s best aces.
Other than the aforementioned mission where I was required to frustratingly use finicky laser guided bombs on bunkers, I appreciated the inclusion of everything else. Even when a mechanic wasn’t my favorite, I still appreciated the mission’s inclusion because of what it offered to the experience as a whole. When it comes to the best designed missions, wow are they great. There are a handful of missions I’ve played a dozen times over already just because they’re fun. I’m glad the game gives me so many replay options and allows me earn game currency while doing it. It’s always appreciated to be able to play whatever part I want however I want.
Fun is what is at the core of every feeling and thought I have about AC7. When I push the buttons, I’m happy. I’m smiling looking at the screen and I’m filled with joy that feels so absent from modern games. AC7 wants my inputs to be satisfying. It’s not leading me down a corridor, it’s not plopping me in an unwieldly large world and giving me repetitive tasks that require only the basest thought processes on my part to slowly grind through the game’s progression. It’s giving me an engaging experience and it wants me to enjoy it.
It’s that difficulty I find so satisfying that will also turn some people off. The game is hard. It’s hard because it has to be. It beckons back to an old age of gaming where you had to get good to continue. We’ve become engrained in a culture where we’re so concerned about “loosing the attention” of the user that we create these watered-down experiences where everyone can keep progressing by giving a minimal amount of effort and enough time.
That, or we want to offer a gameplay experience that’s “Just fun enough” it keeps users inputting more money. AC7 doesn’t let you cop out. There’s an amazing experience to be had that you have to put your honest effort into. It would be to the detriment of the game if you could just fly past a target and lazily push a button while half-paying attention mission after mission. You want to feel like an ace? Then put in some freaking effort. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you progress. Once you do start bringing your skills up you’re treated with a fantastic gameplay loop that feels satisfying on a tactile level but also well earned.
It’s almost sad once you’ve gotten good. I remember feeling sad once I’d gotten good at Tropical Freeze. The first time through many levels Tropical Freeze required a lot of effort and time, I really got to enjoy many of those levels. After 100%ing the game with all the collectables I was able to breeze through entire worlds in a single sitting, levels were only there for a few minutes before I whizzed past them. I remember reflecting on the fact that I’ll never have that feeling again. I missed when I was bad at the game because that was such a different experience. AC7 gives me similar remorse. I’ll never have that feeling back during my first play through where I felt really connected with the missions. Some missions took me more tries than my first kill of Orphan of Kos. Now I dance around the skies swatting bogies with a flourish that make Maverick look like Donald Duck. The entire experience was a journey, but that particular part of the journey I’ll only get to experience once. Non the less, it’s one that I truly appreciated in my life as a gamer.
Going into this type of game I was expecting the standard “America’s in trouble….. here’s some burly men to shoot at stuff” type of story. I played AC6 but didn’t remember a single thing about it. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself plopped in an interesting Anime world. Just like UN squadron it’s 90% real world hardware and 10% over the top near future extravaganza. There are city sized railgun groups, flying fortresses, space elevators.
There’s a ridiculously over the top Anime princess and warring nations that seemed more rounded than one would expect. Unfortunately, while the story isn’t boring in AC7, it’s not good. The setting didn’t develop any complex ideas and kind of spun its wheels for the middle half of the game. Early promises about rounded complex nations and commentary on wartime media coverage petered off before I could finish saying “That’s interesting I wonder where they’re going with that?”. It managed to hold my attention and keep me wondering what was next, but the result was not very meaningful. As plot structure go in this type of game, it’s good enough for what it needs to accomplish and is still much more enjoyable than most other modern military games.
I could probably gush for five more pages on how this game makes me feel. This is the reason why I game. To experience new things, to enjoy an entertainment medium that is reliant on my inputs through as the controller. So few games give me a fantastically structure challenge that makes me feel like I’m progressing my skills while also progressing through the game itself. I also feel wonderfully lucky that this is a AAA experience in a genre I love that would otherwise be left to the wayside. EA or Activision would never make this game, even if they tried to make a game in this genre it wouldn’t come close to this level of quality. Let’s be real, the aerial combat sim milkshake does not bring all the boys to the yard. But here I am being treated to an incredibly niche experience that I love and no expense was spared with the quality in which it was presented to me.
AC7 is in the running for my game of the year, along with Anno 1800 and hopefully Luigi’s Mansion. Even though Anno 1800 might win out as a better game the year go on, it’s hard to feel so passionate about a game that I had such high expectations for but isn’t even my favorite in the series (That goes to 2070).
Ace Combat 7 was unexpected; it hit me so hard because I was not ready for it. Every now and again I despair at the state of video games but there’s always a year where the industry comes out with a handful of releases that give me hope again. The last few weeks I’ve found myself sitting at work thinking “I wish I could go home and play Ace Combat”. It’s rare as an adult that a game makes me think about it when I’m not playing.
Holding the controller and flying through the air, I’m reminded of that feeling gaming used to give me. Taking the time to look around at gorgeous sunsets and clouds, twirling around in an F22 humming “Highway to the Danger Zone” and shouting “Fox 2!” every time I perform a sweet maneuver for a perfect missile shot brings me a sense of relaxation and peace that you can’t put a price on.
Silky smoother aerial combat
Varied and unique missions design
Gorgeously rendered skies and environments
Huge selection of diverse planes that are fantastically detailed and control differently.
Difficult in a way that feels incredibly rewarding.
No microtransactions or other modern AAA gimmicks. DLC structure feels fair.
An interesting setting is wasted with a bland story.
Disappointing amount of modding needed to get Ultrawide to work on PC.