Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC

Flight simulators have largely faded from mainstream view in the gaming arena, which makes any new addition to Bandai Namco’s long-running aerial series an event – and even better when it’s one as good as Ace Combat 7.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

The latest installment returns to the world of Strangereal, a reality technologically comparable to our own but without the pesky real-world geopolitics to restrict storytelling. Caught up in an escalating conflict between the warring nations of Osea and Erusea, you enter the cockpit as an elite pilot with the callsign Trigger – until you’re framed for the murder of a prominent politician. Despite the alternate world setting, the themes Ace Combat 7 explores – including the use of drones in military engagements and the ethical quandaries they create – make for thought-provoking parallels to the real world. The plot delves into melodrama at times, but it’s nice that developer Project ACES still puts so much effort into the narrative, when it could coast on the strength of the flight mechanics.

An exceptional flight sim, accessible to newcomers and devotees alike.

As ever for an Ace Combat title, gameplay walks a delicate tightrope between hardcore flight sim authenticity and aerial shooter accessibility. The more committed player can choose ‘Expert’ controls, where everything from targeting to simply turning left or right is governed by a series of accurate inputs – or as accurate as can be mapped onto a controller – while those who want a more arcade-like experience, where tilting the left thumbstick left or right turns the plane in that direction, have that freedom too.

One of Ace Combat 7’s real highlights though – if you have the kit – is its PlayStation VR mode. Although limited to only three core missions, it’s a spectacular use of virtual reality, seating you right at the controls and providing you a dizzyingly authentic flight sim experience. The various HUD elements from the main game are mapped into the aircraft itself, with the radar on your left, embedded in the dashboard, while targeting reticules appear almost as if projected on your flight helmet.

Actually flying is an almost joyous affair though, tearing through the skies as though you’re really there. It’s one of the most thoroughly immersive VR experiences to date, from the moment your jet is elevated onto the launch pad of an aircraft carrier, with numerous support crew running around, to the thrilling aerial chases and dogfights that follow. Attention to detail is everything – water accrues on your windshield when you fly through a cloud, while detritus pings off your jet as you burst through enemy wreckage.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

For anyone who gets nauseous at even slow paced, ground level VR experiences though, Ace Combat 7 is not for you. Pulling off loops or barrel rolls feels so real you can practically feel the G-force. This is compounded by VR only being playable with expert controls – an unfortunate decision, one that will make it even trickier for anyone less comfortable with virtual reality to really get to grips with the experience. Thankfully, a Free Flight mode lets you get to grips with flight, without the stressors of combat, while an Air Show adds a more sedate viewing mode.

Even if you can’t stand the rigours of the extraordinary VR, Ace Combat 7 is an exceptional flight sim, accessible to newcomers and devotees alike, and with just enough story to keep players’ attentions, without sacrificing # the core shooting action. A fantastic return to form for the series.

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