Ace Combat returns to PC, this time in its first mainline entry on the platform. It brings with it the outstanding soundtrack and visual design the series is known for as well as some incredibly responsive controls and diverse mission design. However, the game does stumble in a few areas, most notably with its story and lackluster control settings.
Diverse mission design. Given that most of the game’s missions boil down to “eliminate all enemies”, I was quite surprised with just how Ace Combat 7 went about doing so. Not only is there some cool twist to each level, but it’s done so in such a way as to not feel repetitive. For example, there was one mission where I had to fly through a ravine and avoid spotlights before eliminating all enemies on a base and another mission where I had to relay bombing coordinates while avoiding constant enemy fire. It’s little twists like this that kept me playing the campaign — it never really felt like I was just doing the same thing over and over like most arcade flight games seem to do.
Very responsive controls. Having not played a flight game like this in years, I worried that picking up the controls would be a bit of a hassle, but Ace Combat 7 proved me wrong. Right at the start of the game, the player is prompted to choose between “standard” and “expert” controls, with the former really limiting the amount of control you have over your plane. As such, I went with expert and found that the controls were both really responsive and pretty intuitive despite the “expert” label. Within just one mission I had the hang of things and was zipping all over the place, doing high-G turns and shooting down enemies with ease. Even the more precise movements (which some of the later levels require) were relatively easy to pull off — I was really rather impressed with just how well the game played with a controller. The game can be played with keyboard and mouse (and it felt fine from what I played), but it is definitely more suited for a controller.
Excellent visual design. Not only does Ace Combat 7 have some fun gameplay, but it manages to look really good while doing so. The different weather effects looked cool, textures were never really blurry, and even the optimization was pretty good, especially so considering that this is a PC port. Although I did run into some frame drops, the game was pretty well-polished overall, both in singleplayer and multiplayer, the latter of which had no lag from what I played. On top of that, the cutscenes are some of the best I have seen as of late. Half the time I couldn’t even tell if I was looking at recorded footage or some pre-rendered sequence, especially in some of the environmental shots — it was just that good. However, one complaint I do have is with the game’s choice of color in its HUD. It was kind of hard to see at times, so some sort of color customization there would have been nice, I poked around in the settings and was unable to find one.
Outstanding soundtrack. If there is one thing that Ace Combat always manages to do well, it would have to be its soundtrack. In fact, despite having little experience in the series, I have been listening to its many soundtracks for years. As such, I was very happy to see the trend continued in Ace Combat 7. You have your epic orchestral tracks, intense battle themes, and even some electronic tracks that really fit with the theme of the game. It may not be on the level of Ace Combat 5‘s soundtrack, but it is definitely not a disappointment. I only hope that we can see a full OST release sometime soon, as there has been no announcement for one yet.
Unclear mission objectives. I did praise the diverse mission design, but it does come with some drawbacks, mainly being that the game sometimes does not communicate its objectives properly. For example, there’s several missions where you are tasked with defending some objective, but are oftentimes given little indication of threats to that objective. There was one mission where I had to defend some massive land-based cannon from both land and air targets. I was instructed to take down a squadron of bombers that had just appeared and went about doing so, but was not told that friendly land forces had been wiped and enemies were now on top of the cannon until it was already too late, resulting in a mission failed. It wasn’t just that mission either, there were a few others that I ended up failing due to the game’s lack of communication, but I at least did not make the same mistake again after that initial failure.
Forgetful storyline. Given that I was playing the game for its campaign mode, I was a bit let down by its storyline. Sure, the cutscenes looked good and all, but the overall story was ridiculously over the top and made it really hard to care for any of the game’s characters. It was constantly jumping around, introducing new characters only to have them disappear after a mission or two, and really just trying to be something bigger than what it needed to be. It was by no means an awful story, as it did fit the gameplay, but it is definitely not something that I will remember.
Lackluster control settings. When Ace Combat 7 first launched on PC, it was promptly review bombed by people upset over the game’s lack of flight stick support. While the game does indeed have some shoddy flight stick support (only supporting four setups and even giving problems to people with those four), it has more than just that problem when it comes to controls. For example, the game is clearly a PC port, with Xbox button prompts being used throughout despite having no controller plugged in. On top of that, there’s no mouse support within the game’s menus. Even when I did use a controller, I was not given the option to rebind controls, instead being limited to just a few pre-selected control schemes. This is unacceptable for a game released in 2019 and hopefully something we can see patched along with further flight stick support.
As the first mainline game on PC, Ace Combat 7 does a pretty good job. The graphics and soundtrack are excellent, the mission design is diverse, and the controls are very responsive. However, the game is not perfect, bringing with it a rather forgetful storyline and several problems when it comes to control configuration. Despite this, I do recommend the game, as it was an enjoyable experience. I only hope that some of these problems can be fixed in future patches, but we shall see.
You can buy Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.