'Ace Combat 7: Unknown Skies' In VR, Hands On

It didn’t take long for a specific song to get in our head after we donned the PlayStation VR headset and started the demo for Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. As our fighter jet rode the massive platform to the top of the carrier, we imagined someone strumming an electric guitar. Another jet was ready to go before us, and we watched it quickly launch off the tarmac thanks to the carrier’s catapult system. Then it was our turn. By holding down the R2 button, our engines were at maximum power, and as the catapult flung us off the carrier, we "heard" the dulcet sound of Kenny Loggins singing the first words of “Danger Zone,” which made the demo an experience to remember.

The first thing we noticed about the plane’s cockpit was that the interior was fully detailed, with all the knobs, switches, and screens you would expect in a powerful fighter plane. As we moved our head in the virtual space, we noticed that our center of vision always included two holographic lines with numbers adjacent to either line that displayed the plane’s overall speed and altitude. The targeting reticule was on a glass display at the front of the cockpit, and additional UI data, such as the map, overall score, and missile type and count, were displayed beneath the targeting screen as a set of holographic images. For an extra layer of immersion, even the cockpit glass had a bit of reflection when the sun hit it at just the right angle. 

Our main concern was nausea during flight. Elite: Dangerous is one of the few flight-based titles today that support virtual reality. We didn’t experience nausea with Frontier Development’s game, but we were still skeptical that Bandai Namco would deliver on a comfortable experience this early in Ace Combat 7's development. To our shock, we felt no nausea throughout the game, even after fast dips, climbs, and turns in the plane.

With the controls familiarized, we headed to our main objective of taking out enemy pilots intruding on our airspace. As we got closer to the enemy, our missile system locked on to one aircraft. With two missiles it was destroyed, however, there was a problem. Another enemy plane swooped in to flank from the rear. We could see its exact position on the map, but we could also visually confirm its position in the game by simply turning our head during flight. Even in these intense and fast-paced aerial dogfights there weren’t any nausea-inducing moments, which was impressive for a game still in development. We had fun dodging enemies and taking tight turns in the air. The developers made the experience even more realistic by showing planes flying through cloud cover, and you couldn’t find them within the cloud.  After taking down a few more enemies, it was time to return the base. 

As fun as it was to use the DualShock 4 controller, we still prefer the traditional peripherals to go with flight games, specifically the hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) system. Despite the nostalgic feeling of playing an Ace Combatgame with a controller, it’s only fitting that a VR title like Ace Combat 7 should support a HOTAS setup for an additional feeling of immersion.

In terms of performance, the demo worked well. The framerates within the VR HMD appeared to be smooth, and we didn't notice any stuttering issues whatsoever. However, its main problem lies in its visual presentation. The images on the PSVR doesn’t seem to hold up to the standard of today’s games. In fact, the graphical quality reminded us of a PlayStation 3 game. Due to the hardware constraints inside the PlayStation 4 console, the graphics quality was sacrificed for smoother performance. Bandai Namco mentioned that the game was exclusive to PSVR, but it would be a shame for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive to miss out on an opportunity to bring another flight game to virtual reality.

Nevertheless, we were thrilled to play a new Ace Combat game. The last numbered installment in the series came out 10 years ago, and a new game was long overdue. This new game was supposed to come out this year, but its release date was pushed to 2018 to give the developers more time to polish the final product. Based on our experience with the demo, the developers were able to make it familiar to fans with its intense gameplay, and all that’s left to do is to improve the VR version and bring its visual quality up to par with some of the most popular PSVR titles.

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NameAce Combat 7: Skies Unknown
TypeShooter, Aerial Combat
DeveloperBandai Namco
PublisherBandai Namco
PlatformsPC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Where To BuyAmazon
Release Date2018
  • Chris_Harlock
    Top Gun's great and all but can we not reference it when talking about an Ace Combat game for once? Two veeeery different things here. Love the coverage of one of my favorite series though, would be even more pleased if the author knew what he was talking about
  • falchard
    Top Gun reference poor if you are not in an F-14.
  • Brendon Gaige
    One of the demo planes was in fact, an F-14D.