Disclaimer: If you absolutely love your copy of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, then don't let me dampen your mood; enjoy the game. This is just my opinion about what I've observed in this latest iteration. Yes, I'm fully aware that this is an "arcade game", but just because it is doesn't mean we're not allowed to hold it to a higher standard. Yes, I made a Reddit account for the sole purpose of expressing my thoughts on this particular game (for now).
Background: I've played Air Combat on my relatives' PS1, bought a PS2 specifically to play Ace Combat 04, got AC5 when it came out and still have that extra DVD that came with it, got ACZ, got ACX for the PSP, bought an Xbox 360 initially to play Ace Combat 6 when it came out. I bought the PS4 initially to play Disgaea and Persona 5, but preordered AC7 when it was available. In addition, I've played various simulations such as X-Plane, Falcon 4.0 Allied Force, Falcon BMS, DCS World, and a C-172 Nav III full cockpit sim. I've flown actual aircraft for fun. In short, you could say I love to fly.
Out of all the Ace Combat games I've played, I can say without any doubt that Ace Combat 04 Shattered Skies is my favorite one to this day. It's my favorite, because of all the Ace Combat games I've played AC04 had the most believable flight physics. Sure, the A-10s in AC04 were still able to go supersonic, but all the planes in AC04 had a sense of inertia; it took time to accelerate to max speed, and if you pitched sharply you had a large angle-of-attack. Indeed you could still crash into the ground if your nose was pointed up while doing a loop. The return line was an obvious loading gate for the PS2 era, but when you did your landing in AC04, you had full control of the aircraft. By this I mean you could flare and do aerodynamic braking until gravity forced the nose of the plane down on the runway. Ace Combat 6 did a neat thing where they allowed you to land in the area of operations on a captured airbase. Would have been nice to see that mechanic implemented in AC7.
So I finally got my copy of AC7 and started playing. Mission 1 briefing, my first impression was "oh, we're going to do an interdiction, and splash the invading Eruseans" then immediately it turns into a base defense from enemy bombers. Normally, it would seem to be the norm to have to shoot down bombers in an Ace Combat game. With exception of AC6, all the first missions in the previous games I've played had you shoot down the bombers before
they hit their intended target. Tactically, it made sense, because these bombers would be picked up by radar from the base and/or AWACS, thus fighters would be scrambled to intercept them. Here in AC7, we've already been bombed; a docked aircraft carrier was hit (though it looks like it could be repaired), and a radar site had been destroyed. Immediately what crosses my mind after I takeoff is how is it that a flight of Tu-95s (assuming that the single bomber you initially see is the remnant of the initial attack) could make its way to bomb an airbase, a radar site, and an aircraft carrier without being picked up? Even if in this part of the story the Eruseans were hacking IUPF's satellite-based IFF, the base doesn't seem big enough to accommodate bombers, especially in that quantity. Assuming your AWACS is already airborne during the initial attack, since it's nowhere to be seen around the base, how'd the bombers slip through them? Even the morons at Thunderblockhead would have noticed it.
So I'm Mage 2 in this mission, and from the dialog it sounds like Mage 1 is the second Element of Golem Flight. Golem 1 seems to be barking orders to Mage 1 as if they were in the same flight. If this was true, then Mage 1 should really be something like Golem 3, and Trigger being the 2nd of this second element should be Golem 4, but I digress. You have no control of what people in your flight does, even when you become flight lead later on. So it seems like at least with this aspect they're regressing back to Ace Combat 04 mechanics. As much as I love AC04 (for its flight physics), the other games had some likable aspects to them when it came to teammates. Sure, your squadron in AC5 was very weak, and would barely help, but it at least gave you some sense that you were working together. Solo Wing Pixy was by far the best wingman I've seen, you could rest assured that when he targeted something, he'd destroy it. Kinda scary in hindsight, but at the time it felt like a competition. In AC7 I've seen my entire squadron launch like a dozen missiles at a single enemy plane, seemingly ineffective, only for me to have to actually fire 2 of my own standard missiles to take it out. Sure, sometimes they actually destroy something, but it seems like even the friendly aircraft from ISAF in AC04 was more effective.
The story, much like this review, seems to be all over the place. I wanted to like the Erusean princess, but she doesn't do anything. I wanted to like the mechanic, but she doesn't do anything except cuss, rubs her greasy fingers, monologues, and stares. I wanted to like (or dislike) the (human) antagonists, but they do nothing but monologue, stare, and in the case of the enemy ace, pull impossible maneuvers, that would definitely over-g the jet, easily tearing it apart. I really really wanted to like my squadron members, but seemingly at the drop of a hat you either have to transfer, or someone dies. As a result of all that shifting, and being unable to save anyone on your side because the story demands it, it's near impossible for me to be attached to any of the allied characters. So they brought back Harling, and then they killed him. I don't even remember if he even had anything to say. They could have easily replaced Harling with anyone (a current president of Osea, maybe), and it still would leave me saying "what the hell?" when they framed Trigger for shooting him down, and it would still feel just as contrived. Worse still, seeing that they allow convicts to fly fighter jets helped throw my suspension of disbelief out the window.
This game seems to either have some sort of deep grudge, or exorbitant fascination with UAVs. It feels like a cheap gimmick, in order to make it seem difficult. They fill the skies with dozens and dozens of UAVs, that your allies cannot hope to shoot down normally. It wouldn't be so bad, if they at least tried to pretend to obey the laws of physics, or to show that they are affected by aerodynamic forces associated with high speed. If AC7's mission was to make me hate UAVs, they succeeded, but for the wrong reason.
Each mission briefing felt like they had no clue what they were doing. I'd listen to the briefing, look at the map, and pick a plane + weapon to try the mission only to see that the mission was way different than what I was lead to believe. I mean it makes sense after the satellites are gone, as chains of command and communication would be broken down, but not before.
I've played my fair share of Ace Combat games as well as combat simulators, and never have I had a hard time using the guns like I have in AC7. That gun reticule flies all over the place with the slightest movement. The A-10's gun sounds and feels like every other aircraft's gun, and feels disturbingly weak. I personally love the F-104 Starfighter, because it's such a crazy plane. One distinguishing thing about the F-104 is the sound it makes as it flies; it whistles depending on the throttle setting. In AC7 I couldn't tell the difference between any of the aircraft sounds.
The aircraft tree is a terrible design concept. It effectively forces you to buy planes/parts you don't necessarily want at the moment before you could buy the plane you actually want to use. Ace Combat X for the PSP dealt with part purchases much better; you buy the plane you want (after unlocking it), and you buy the parts you want. I kinda like Sukhois, but it feels like there's too many Sukhois. Where's the Tornado? Where's the F-5? Where's the F-15 S/MTD? Where's the Fuel-Air-Explosive-Bombs? Sure could have used that in the fleet attack mission, as none of the other bombs can effectively destroy those naval platforms.
I'm sure there's many more things I could talk about, like how certain missions seem to be too short. Or how the HUD gets washed out when facing the sun, making it difficult to tell what's going on, but those are minor issues that could be easily overlooked. I will say that AC7 is the most visually stunning Ace Combat game I've seen thus far, pretty good models and cockpits, some of which has functioning gauges. TL;DR
Would much prefer it if Ace Combat 7 had:
- The flight physics of AC04
- A comparably comprehensive story like AC5
- Wingmen like in ACZ/5/6
- A better way of buying aircraft like in every other Ace combat game
- The Nosferatu + ADMM from AC6 to deal with those pesky UAVs
- Few or no UAVs
I'm not asking for it to be a full sim, I'm just asking for it (and future iterations) to try to retain the best qualities of its predecessors.