Ace Com­bat 7: Skies Un­known

The clas­sic flight-sim ac­tion se­ries pro­pels it­self into the fu­ture

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper Bandai Namco Stu­dios, Project Aces Pub­lisher Bandai Namco En­ter­tain­ment For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin Ja­pan Re­lease Jan­uary 18

PC, PS4, Xbox One

We get the feel­ing Project Aces is try­ing to im­press us. As we sit in the cock­pit of our F/A-18F Su­per Hor­net and trun­dle to­wards the run­way, all hell breaks loose. Fighter jets ca­reen to­wards the ground like me­te­ors while a friendly tank fires wildly into the sky; next, a plane hur­tles across our path, miss­ing our nose cone by a hair be­fore ex­plod­ing into a fire­ball. This is typ­i­cal vir­tual re­al­ity show­boat­ing – dra­matic stuff, but gim­micky.

But as soon as we pull up into the skies to de­fend the air­base, we for­get about the ground-based the­atrics en­tirely. Here is where

Ace Com­bat 7: Skies Un­known’s VR mode re­ally comes into its own, as we dip and loop after en­emy pi­lots, even fly­ing up­side-down com­fort­ably for long stretches as the fic­tional world of Stran­ge­real falls away above us. “There’s a lot of knowl­edge of tech­niques crammed into this,” se­ries pro­ducer Kazu­toki

Kono says. “Things like the flame around the cock­pit, the speed set­tings caused by other ef­fects not in­flu­enced by play­ers’ han­dling, or warn­ing sounds that an­nounce the speed change to play­ers in ad­vance. This helps them psy­cho­log­i­cally pre­pare for the next move­ment.” It’s stag­ger­ing how nau­sea-free it is to re­peat­edly bar­rel roll away from in­com­ing mis­siles, or dive down into the clouds be­fore pop­ping up to flank a tar­get: Kono’s team have plenty of pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence de­sign­ing for VR, and it shows. “We weren’t in the grip of the fixed idea that jet fighters are not suit­able for VR con­tent, which many peo­ple were wor­ried about when this was an­nounced,” he says. “We tried with­out stereo­type, and we found many things in Ace Com­bat’s game­play were re­ally suit­able, and the causes of nau­sea are few.”

It’s the at­ten­tion to de­tail that re­ally en­chants. Veer­ing into cloud cover to cloak our­selves from en­emy fire is par­tic­u­larly pleas­ing: wa­ter droplets stream over the glass of our cock­pit, and even the ac­com­pa­ny­ing score is plunged into sub­ma­rine sound. The ef­fect is some­thing Kono calls “func­tional beauty”, the re­sult of a slightly ex­ag­ger­ated ver­sion of re­al­ity that acts as a UI in­di­ca­tor of where ex­actly the player is in the sky with­out clut­ter­ing up the screen. “In ev­ery mo­ment, all the el­e­ments need to in­flu­ence each other with­out any waste, com­bine to­gether del­i­cately and match to­gether in the high­est qual­ity, so that the im­pres­sion that play­ers feel will be in­creased many times more.”

Whether it’s this keenly en­gi­neered syn­ergy that con­trib­utes to our im­proved per­for­mance in VR, or whether the chal­lenge has been di­alled down in this mode, it’s hard to say. But we dearly miss the sen­sa­tion of pi­lot­ing a real jet when play­ing Ace Com­bat 7 on a reg­u­lar screen, and even find it more dif­fi­cult to nav­i­gate. Still, the over­cast Yin­shi Val­ley is a de­light to slalom a nippy F-14D Su­per Tom­cat through: the moun­tain­ous canyon is filled with tow­er­ing pil­lars of rock that both of­fer cover and threaten to spike us out of the air should we lose fo­cus. We pep­per en­emy radar fa­cil­i­ties and anti-air­craft guns with long-range mis­siles, hop­ing for the safe res­cue of our squadron.

Se­ries stal­warts will doubt­less pre­fer the clas­sic ap­proach, but on this ev­i­dence, the (sadly rather lim­ited, we’re told) VR mode is

Ace Com­bat 7’ s crown­ing achieve­ment, and an at­trac­tive en­try point to a ven­er­a­ble, and per­haps in­tim­i­dat­ing, se­ries of games for new play­ers. It’s also an ideal fit for what the se­ries has al­ways been about: the feel­ing of be­ing an ac­tual fighter pi­lot. “‘Imi­ta­tion’ is one of the philo­soph­i­cal el­e­ments at play, and

Ace Com­bat is ‘pre­tend play’,” Kono says. “I’m pleased if the de­pic­tion is as close to re­al­ity as pos­si­ble. On the other hand, it also needs the el­e­ments that help peo­ple en­joy the world. These two fac­tors are op­posed to each other – but ‘pre­tend play’ in­te­grates both. The key is to give play­ers the im­pres­sion that their ex­pe­ri­ence in the game ac­tu­ally hap­pened, and when peo­ple tell other peo­ple about how won­der­ful the game is, they talk about the re­al­ity they ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­enced in their mind.”

On this ev­i­dence, the VR mode is Ace Com­bat 7’s crown­ing achieve­ment

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