Ace Combat 7 review: As real as you want it to be

As satisfying as it is to hear "Mission Accomplished. Bring it home, Trigger." over the comm, I can't afford to lose focus. Landing this F-14D isn't as challenging as some of the other jets I've been in, but it's far from easy after an extended dogfight. My hands ache from gripping the throttle and stick through the last couple of runs, and if I don't keep my nose straight this landing isn't going to go smoothly. I hear the control tower guidance to watch my speed, and slowly pull back to comply. Even with that decrease, it feels like the ground is coming up pretty fast. I take a deep breath, the wheels touch down, and this war machine I'm piloting eases to a stop.

I take my hands off the controls and exhale. NOW the mission has really been accomplished, but the war is far from over. And being on the ground mostly means I'm closer to people who don't really like me all that much. Oh well, it's time to go learn where I'm going to be sent next.

The Good

  • Visually impressive
  • Fantastic gameplay
  • Impressive difficulty modes
  • PSVR + HOTAS = 😍

The Bad

  • The story is not told well
  • VR only on PlayStation 4 (for now)
  • I wish Sony supported better HOTAS controllers

Ace Combat 7 What I like

I wanted a straightforward aerial combat game, and BandaiNamco gave me exactly that. From the moment the game starts, you have total control over your experience. Want to play through the campaign without sitting through cut scenes? You can skip through every cut scene in the entire campaign. And once you have completed all of the campaign missions, you can re-play them in Free Flight mode in whatever order you want. You don't even really need to replay the missions, you can fly around and tackle other objectives. Do whatever you want, it's cool.

The biggest reason to play through the campaign is to earn enough in-game currency to unlock other jets, of which there are many. I sprinted immediately to the F-14D Super Tomcat because it made me happy, but the unlock tree in this game has a ton of things for you to choose from. And each jet has its own set of upgrades to it as well, so you have a fair bit of customization within each option in the hangar you eventually fill by the end of the game. These aren't surface differences, either. The vehicle and weapon load-out you choose absolutely matters in most of the later missions, but the first couple are set aside for training and button familiarity which is nice.

Ace Combat 7 is a frenetic thrill ride that demands you spend every ounce of your adrenaline on survival.

Visually, Ace Combat 7 is fantastic. From the amazingly detailed planes you fight with and against to the surprisingly realistic atmosphere on the ground and in the air, your eyes will want for nothing. This is especially true for those of us who prefer to play from the cockpit view instead of outside the jet, but no matter how you play there's no chance you aren't thrilled by how great this game looks. And if you decide to play the VR-specific missions with a PlayStation VR headset and a Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS 4 controller, prepare to be truly wowed by what you get when taking off for the first time.

The difficulty levels in this game are well defined, too. Ace Combat 7 has the standard Easy, Normal, and Hard modes with quite a difference between each. Easy mode lets you take a few enemy rockets and actually physically bounce off of things before reaching that 100% damage meter where your plane actually explodes.

You're infinitely more likely to fail a mission by missing an objective than you are dying, which is exactly how it should be. Hard mode, on the other hand, is going to make a lot of pro flight sim fans very happy. Through this, Ace Combat 7 is a frenetic thrill ride that demands you spend every ounce of your adrenaline on survival. And in that respect, this game is going to be a huge success for a wider range of players than most aerial combat games get anywhere close to delivering.

Ace Combat 7 What I don't like

It's a really good thing the scenes woven into campaign mode in this game can be skipped, because you really don't need them. The overall story is actually pretty cool, instead of your standard post-apocalyptic future Earth we see a planet recovered from global tragedy which has reformed into new nation states. Those nation states have a beef, one side has a healthy supply of great pilots the other has a technological advantage with drones to fight. Truly, the world and conflict being created for Ace Combat 7 would make a great book. Unfortunately, this story isn't really told in the most effective ways. Most of the cut scenes feel like an HD version of something I would expect from an arcade simulator, with characters I know I'm supposed to care about but because I never really see them actually do anything it's difficult to really care.

It's a really good thing the Ace Combat 7 team made sure support for the only HOTAS controller Sony supports was included in the game, because playing with the DualShock 4 controller can get frustrating when playing in the more difficult environments. There's a lot going on in controlling these jets effectively with so few buttons, and to BandiaNamco's credit there are several layout options to choose from. But the game just screams for proper HOTAS support, and if you're playing on a PlayStation your only options are this cheap Thrustmaster and the $200 HORI controller made specifically for Ace Combat 7, which wasn't available at the time of this review.

You could pick this game up for another platform and enjoy a wider variety of HOTAS controllers, but then you'd lose VR support entirely. PlayStation VR is the only headset supported for this game, which is kind of a bummer unless you're a PlayStation 4 fan. Again, to BandaiNamco's credit, the game does look very good in PlayStation VR. But it's clear the Windows-based VR headsets would get quite a bit out of this experience as well.

Ace Combat 7 Should you buy it?

Yes. In fact, hell yes. Ace Combat 7 has the advantage of being one of very few aerial combat games available on modern gaming platforms, but even with that advantage this is a damn good game.

4 out of 5

The wealth of options make it possible to truly get the exact experience you want from this game, especially if you're a PlayStation 4 gamer. Unless you absolutely need a compelling campaign story to enjoy a game, if you enjoy flying around and blowing up other jets, you absolutely want this adventure in your life.

Russell Holly

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter