Whilst I consider myself quite ‘experienced’ with virtual reality these days (finished the whole of ‘Resident Evil 7’ with zero nausea, aw yiss), I had been a little worried about putting on the headset for Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, the latest title in Bandai Namco’s long-running flight combat series. Walking around a creepy mansion was hardly going to spin my stomach, but the thought of actually being in the air pulling off barrel-rolls and spinning out in crashes at high speed was a little intimidating – even more so when the Bandai Namco rep who demoed the game for me jokingly said they were thinking about including ‘sick bags’ with all Playstation 4 copies of the game.
Fortunately after spending time with the demo I can say that there was nothing to worry about at all; my time with Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown in a Playstation VR headset was not only problem-free, but one of the most exhilarating and immersive experiences I’ve had in virtual reality. I was hitting the skies from all angles, making death-defying barrel rolls, and even spinning out of control without a single feeling of stomach movement – I actually went out of my way to see if the game would make me feel queasy, but it never did. I’m not saying it’ll be the same for everyone, but knowing my stomach could survive the skies was a mighty relief.
Visually the game takes a bit of a downgrade in virtual reality, but that’s come to be expected – especially when you consider that Playstation VR is considered the least powerful of the virtual reality headsets available at the moment. However, the downgrade in quality is only really noticeable when you’re stationary.
The demo mission began with my plane on a carrier out at sea, and whilst not moving and prepping for take off I noticed the jagged edges of the environment around me. When I was actually in motion and flying through the clouds though, a lot of these graphical imperfections weren’t as visible. I’d zoom past enemy pilots and look at the islands that are laced across the sea below me, and it actually looked and felt like I was out flying across the skies. It’s a fantastic sensation and one I hadn’t felt yet in virtual reality; sure, I’ve traversed Space in a headset, but actually flying through an actual sky and looking down on land was incredibly impressive. It offered enough visually to make you feel like you’re there, which is all you really want from a game like Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. The demo mission took place over sea and I only had islands to see below me, but I’m hoping the full game includes a mission that’ll see you flying through cities – fingers crossed.
Gameplay-wise it’s a lot of the same we’ve come to expect from the ‘Ace Combat’ series over the years, though it has been said that the game is ‘returning to it’s roots’ and offering a more traditional experience than that players had in ‘Ace Combat Infinity’ or ‘Ace Combat Assault Horizon’. Having not played either of those titles I’m not entirely sure what they meant by that, but it felt enough like the entries I played through on the original Playstation and Playstation 2 to feel nostalgic for me.
You’ll control your plane through the use of the left stick, whilst aiming is assigned to head movements. Don’t worry, it all feels natural and you have a target reticule to show you where you’re aiming. In the demo I had access to machine guns and homing missiles, though it didn’t take me long to run out of my missiles – I assumed I had an infinite amount of them so was a little trigger-happy as I got used to playing the game, which is something I suffered the consequences for when having to manually aim against the unmanned planes that attack at the end of the demo. I was on a time-limit too, so having to line up each shot myself took too long and resulted in a mission failure.
Shooting feels natural and satisfying though, with head movement tracked perfectly in the demo I got to play. I’ve always been an advocate for manually aiming with the right analogue stick, regardless of whether or not I’m in virtual reality, but doing so with my head in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown just felt right. It was especially exhilarating when using the machine gun and lining up shots; the immersion of being in virtual reality makes it feel like you’re ACTUALLY in pursuit of these enemy planes, so lining up shots and taking them out offered a greater sense of fulfilment than anything I’ve experienced in other flight combat tiles.
It’s probably worth mentioning that you can’t play the entirety of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown in virtual reality. Whilst there’s a segment of the game dedicated to it, these missions have been specially crafted for use in Playstation VR. I’m not sure if this means that they’ll exclude some mechanics from the main game or if they’ve simply been designed to be a bit tamer to save gamers from suffering any nausea, though the mission I played offered enough to get me excited for what’s coming in the full release. It also seems like the virtual reality sections of the game are exclusive to Playstation VR, at least for launch; whilst Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is coming to PC, there’s been no confirmation that HTC Vive or Oculus Rift owners will get the chance to play it in virtual reality.
It’s also worth mentioning that I haven’t had the chance to try out Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown outside of virtual reality. From what I’ve seen in trailers and screenshots the game looks stunning, has a ton of new innovative features (hiding in the clouds sounds great), and has a strong emphasis on providing a decent story. I’ve not had a chance to see any of these things first hand though, so my opinion of the game is based entirely on virtual reality alone for now.
Whilst I don’t have any idea what the core experience of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown will offer, the virtual reality segments have me incredibly excited for the game. This really was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in Playstation VR so far – despite the series being over twenty years old, the way everything works almost makes it feel like it was designed with virtual reality in mind to begin with. It’s pulsating fun that’s got me pretty excited to see what else the game can offer, regardless of whether or not the full game is playable in virtual reality. I guess that’s my only real worry – that the virtual reality side of the game is a small addition that plays out alongside the main game and only offers a handful of missions. Hopefully that’s not the case though and we’ll have plenty of exciting missions to play through in virtual reality when the game finally releases later this year.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is coming to the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC.