The Ace Combat franchise has been a highly successful series that’s going to spawn its seventh iteration in 2018 with Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Steam. In addition to the standard console and PC versions Bandai Namco has developed a virtual reality (VR) component which will be exclusive to PlayStation VR, and during the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2017 in Los Angeles, VRFocus got some hands-on on time with the experience, taking to the skies in the latest fighter jets.
Well just one plane to be more precise. The demo available to attendees equated to around 10-15 minutes of gameplay starting on an aircraft carrier. From here the demo fired you into some sunny, cloud filled skies, above some exotic looking islands. There was no time to waste looking at the pretty scenery as you were instantly put into a dogfight with several hostiles.
If you’ve played flying experiences like EVE: Valkyrie you’ll be instantly at home with Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. Cocooned in the cockpit – decidedly less roomy than the space title – you can instantly see every knob, dial, button and instrument panel, recreated in fantastic detail even though you can’t use any of them. It’s your heads-up-display (HUD) that gives you all the info you need, most importantly when your missiles are locked on to take out those pesky enemy fighters. There were two different sets of missiles available, depending on your range, as well as machine guns for that up close and personal touch – really only useful for expert pilots or for those that waste all of their missiles.
Being an Ace Combat title, it’s all about arcade action in the skies – its not trying to be a simulator – so all the flight control were handled by the left stick, with the face buttons and triggers for firing weapons and activating the afterburner. All simple and self explanatory, it only takes a couple of minutes to get the hang of the basics and you’ll be flying (almost) like a pro in no time. The initial dogfights don’t present too much of a challenge, once you’ve got a target lock-on just let the missiles do their job but you do need to keep the enemy in your sights just in case they manage to evade.
The real joy in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown – and any VR cockpit-based title – is the ability to properly look around for those targets. While they do become highlighted in your HUD, flying at thousands of feet above sea level whizzing through the clouds hunting down opponents really does immerse you in the combat. The title provides just the right amount of control to make you feel like a Top Gun pilot without being super realistic and overwhelming.
What wasn’t clear in the brief demo is how much VR gameplay there is to enjoy. As VRFocus has previously reported Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown will feature a separate VR off-shoot from the main campaign featuring portions of the main title as well as specific VR features, but as yet they’ve not been fully announced. With what’s already been shown it would be a shame if the VR portion only included small gameplay segments rather than a fully realised videogame.
In its present state Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown promises high octane flying action for PlayStation VR players that’s sure to encourage legions of fans to try the VR compatibility. As long as Bandai Namco manage to provide enough content to satisfy then PlayStation VR is likely to have another killer exclusive title when the videogame finally arrives next year.