Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown came out for PC just yesterday. It’s been 12 years since the release of Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation, and fans of the series are justifiably excited. Many of the people reviewing the game on Steam, however, are pissed. Right now the game has a mixed rating and, as angry commenters pile on, it’s likely to go even lower.
Steam customers are complaining about some of Ace Combat 7’s shortcomings on PC, namely a lack of full mouse support and lacking HOTAS (hands-on throttle and stick) controls. I have my own qualms about flight stick support, but many of the game’s negative reviews overlook an important detail: Ace Combat 7 is an arcade game. Full stop.
It’s not a flight simulator. It’s not a game designed for virtual reality. It doesn’t accurately portray modern air combat. In fact, the game doesn’t even seem to acknowledge how physics work in our plane of reality.
That being said, Ace Combat 7 is also a ton of fun. It’s gorgeous, especially in 4K. Anyone who is the slightest bit interested should try it out if they can, because it’s very easy to get started.
That makes it the exact opposite of other, more traditional flight simulators on Steam. I would argue that the barrier to entry for a modern combat flight simulator is the single greatest barrier in all of gaming. There is no simple way to learn how to fly the Warthog in DCS A10-C Warthog. If you want to make its big gun burp, you literally need to learn how to start and fly the actual airplane. That there is documentation online, and a community of people willing to help a civilian fly a military jet, is remarkable to me. But that’s beside the point.
Ace Combat 7, on the other hand, begins by putting you in the seat of the venerable F-4 Phantom II, a legendary airframe that went into service shortly after the Korean War. If you play through the game, you’ll eventually graduate into the cockpit of the F-22 Raptor, one of the most complex machines ever conceived by man, and the only combat-ready fifth-generation fighter aircraft in the world.
And you can fly both of those planes with a single thumbstick and two triggers found on a console controller. That’s incredible.
You don’t need fancy pedals. You don’t need a TrackIR. You don’t need a flightstick to make stuff blow up real good in Ace Combat 7.
Now, leaving aside the storyline of the game for now (which is crazy-town), the developers of Ace Combat 7 have some interesting ideas when it comes to fighting with modern airplanes. For instance, they seem to think that breaking the sound barrier is something that a kid can do with the parts they found lying around in their garage. They seem to think that you can slow an aircraft down to its stall speed for long periods of time without it plummeting out of the sky. They seem to think that the pilot of your average fighter plane can casually approach 30 times the force of gravity while traveling in a straight line. And they seem to think that actual combat pilots sound like idiot teens while they talk on their radios.
That’s fine. This is all fine. Because it’s an arcade game.
The hit boxes in Ace Combat 7 are generously proportioned. You can score devastating hits easily using deflection tactics, by which I mean approaching an enemy target from a perpendicular direction to its vector of flight. That’s incredibly difficult to do in the real world, and Ace Combat 7 makes it terribly satisfying. It’s actually my preferred method of engagement, because it let’s me get closer to the exploding bits of enemy plane as I shoot them down.
Air-to-air missiles are another thing entirely. The way that they’re modeled in the game is fairly low-tech. You basically lob a big, slow shell at an enemy plane. So long as you have a good feel for how maneuverable each of the different missiles are, you’re going to connect with your target. It’s a lot less satisfying than using your guns, but they’re key if you want to complete missions as quickly as possible and rack up points.
And you absolutely want to rack up as many points as possible, so that you can quickly unlock new planes to fly.
Because — and I can’t stress this enough — Ace Combat 7 is an arcade game.
If there is one grudge that I have with Bandai Namco, it’s their decision not to include support for flight sticks. Instead, they only include support for one flight stick, the Thrustmaster T.Flight 4. I have never before seen in my entire life a PC game that is only compatible with a single flight stick.
So go play Ace Combat 7. If you’ve got a PlayStation 4, and PlayStation VR, enjoy its several short VR missions. Go fire the game up and fly around with a beautiful modern aircraft. Watch how all its control surfaces flip and flap around as you maneuver the plane. And if you want a sophisticated experience with full VR support for an off-the-shelf flight stick and throttle, go play War Thunder.