“If you are working on something that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” –Steve Jobs
Shortly after Operation Magic Spear saw Strider Squadron neutralise Erusean missile silos, they are assigned to investigate the reappearance of the Alicorn, a nuclear submarine that was born from Yuktobania’s project to extend the Scinfaxi and Hrimfaxi submarines, which would combine the abilities of a submarine with that of an aircraft carrier. The hull was completed some time later, and Erusea purchased the submarine, placing Captain Matias Torres in command. However, the submarine went missing for two years, and so, when it reappeared at Artiglio Port to reinforce the Erusean military, which had already lost an Arsenal Bird, Strider Squadron was sent to investigate, with the intent of capturing the submarine for political reasons, per Howard Clemens’s orders. After arriving in the airspace over Artiglio Port, Strider Squadron engage numerous aircraft, including two unknown aircraft, and eventually, Trigger is tasked with shooting down a Rafale M carrying a nuclear-tipped cruise missile that took off from the Alicorn under Torres’ orders. The ground forces are unsuccessful in securing the Alicorn, which leaves port and sets off for Anchorhead Bay. Clemens sends Strider here to damage the fleet stationed here ahead of the Alicorn’s arrival. During the course of the fighting, Erusean naval officers are killed in the combat, and Torres begins shelling the port to test the Alicorn’s main cannon, and Trigger manages to defeat the unknown pilots from Mimic Squadron. It turns out they had been hired by Clemens to eliminate Trigger; Clemens is arrested for treason, and Trigger is deemed as being worthy of contributing to the war effort. In the chaos, the Alicorn leaves Anchorhead Bay with two nuclear shells for its main railgun – Torres reveals his plan is to strike Oured and inflict a million casualties to end the Lighthouse War, which he predicted to cost upwards of ten million lives. After locating the Alicorn in shallow ocean waters, Strider Squadron forces the submarine to surface and begin attacking it. The Alicorn counterattacks with its sophisticated arsenal, but is severely damaged. Torres feigns surrender, but uses the time to prepare the railgun. Trigger manages to strike the railgun and knocks the first projectile off course, then lines up for an attack run that destroys the weapon. The Alicorn is split in two and sinks to the seafloor, while Strider Squadron returns to rest up for their assault on Cape Rainy. It is determined that Trigger’s presence allows missions to be swiftly completed with reduced allied casualties, and he is recommended to continue flying, becoming an integral pilot in bringing an end to the Lighthouse War and providing additional missions that show how Trigger came to be so widely respected by squadron mates and the Osean military alike.
The Ace Combat 7 extra missions were released between September and November of 2019, and I had been quite mindful of what picking up the additional content to Ace Combat 7 would entail – on one hand, three new missions and three new aircraft did not exactly justify the price of the season pass, but on the flipside, Ace Combat 7 was the first title on PC to provide a true experience that had, until now, only been available on the PlayStation consoles. With the Steam Winter sale providing a modest discount, and the fact that I can use the additional missions to earn in-game currency to unlock the remainder of the aircraft and parts, the decision to pick up Ace Combat 7‘s season pass became easy enough. I immediately jumped into the first mission with the ADF-01 Falken, an experimental fighter that made its first playable appearance in Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, and made my way into a set of additional missions that provided an immensely satisfying supplementary experience for Ace Combat 7. While the mission structures are similar enough to the missions of Ace Combat 7‘s main game, there are enough nuances in these extra missions to keep gameplay refreshing. The first mission, Unexpected Visitor, gives players a chance to experience the ESM, which dramatically increases one’s performance and effectiveness, as well as subjecting players to ECM and forcing them to fly more strategically. Mimic Squadron provides an additional layer of excitement to both Unexpected Visitor and Anchorhead Raid: the latter is a bog-standard annihilation mission, but once they arrive, players have a chance to dogfight two psychotic and unusal pilots whose aircraft can create fake targeting boxes that dramatically changes the way players must fight them. The final of the missions, Ten Million Relief Plan (referring to Torres’ scheme of using nuclear-tipped shells to shock the world into ending the Lighthouse War and save ten million lives) features a thrilling hunt for the Alicorn that switches over to an action-packed showdown with Torres that ultimately felt like the mission to destroy the SOLG in Ace Combat 5; both the SOLG mission and Ten Million Relief Plan involve disabling a super-weapon before it can inflict damage on Oured, Osea’s capital. In my case, I was armed with the Morgan and its Multi-Purpose Burst Missile, which allowed me to make short work of the Alicorn’s systems and railgun. This brought my journey with the additional missions to a close, and the value in picking up the season pass became clear: besides offering additional insight into Strangereal that enhances the lore of this detailed world, it also means that I was able to fly the Falken on PC for the first time, before the decade was out.
Screenshots and Commentary
- It only felt appropriate to start the party by flying a Falken armed with its signature tactical laser system into combat, and then further kick the post off with me using the Falken’s tactical laser. The first stage of Unexpected Visitor is an annihilation mission, with the object being to score a certain number of points in the time limit. Engaging a variety of air and ground targets will secure the required score, but care must be taken not to hit the Alicron, which is docked below.
- The Falken is a shade above the F-22 and Su-57 in performance, so dog-fighting with it was not a problem. The ADF series of aircraft come with 150 missiles by default, which is plenty for most operations, and so, with this legendary plane in my arsenal, wiping floor with the squadrons positioned over Artiglio Port became a trivial exercise. The Falken also has one additional feature worthy of note: its cockpit is highly advanced and completely enclosed, and switching over to first-person mode will allow one to see the COFFIN (Connection For Flight Interface) system in a modern game engine.
- For me, the Falken was most noteworthy as being many pilots’ aircraft of choice for squaring off against the SOLG in Ace Combat 5. Seeing footage of players piloting this aircraft through the foggy skies of Sudentor and then take off from Oured itself to confront the SOLG was something I’d always wished to do on a modern system, and with the Falken in Ace Combat 7, while it may not be possible to fly over Sudentor or November City again, it is now possible to see how an Ace Combat icon handles.
- Mimic Squadron appears partway through the mission; they pilot the unique Su-47 Berkut, a Russian fighter with a distinct forward swept-wing design that gave it incredible mobility at the expense of stability. Mimic’s “Rage” and “Scream” have custom Su-47s equipped with a ECM system that allow them to project false HUD images and conceal missile lock-ons, making them deadly enemies. In my case, I had the presence of mind turn the Falken’s tactical laser against them as soon as they appeared, sending them packing on short order.
- Even though the first mission is set on September 4 in-game, the vast blue skies and general atmospherics of the mission give it a New Year’s Eve feel: by winter in my area, the low winter sun creates a warm golden glow for the hours that the sun is up, and the skies become a periwinkle blue. When Ace Combat 7 was first announced, I wondered if there would be a December 31 mission: Ace Combat 5‘s final mission saw Razgriz Squadron take to the skies at dawn on the 31st to stop the SOLG, and one of my friends remarked that the choice of date was deliberate, to symbolise the ending of the old grudges of warfare in time for a new year to arrive.
- Ace Combat 7 is at its best when players get to fly under brilliant blue skies: this is what made the Unexpected Visitor mission particularly fun, and in general, Ace Combat 7‘s missions featuring sunny weather with blue skies perfectly capture the feeling that Avril expresses as being what makes it worthwhile to be a pilot. While Ace Combat 7 lacks this ability in its free flight mode, it would be nice if future installments of Ace Combat allowed players to be able to fly in the campaign maps under different weather conditions.
- I’ve heard that the tactical laser of Ace Combat 7 is far weaker than those seen in its predecessors because the game needed multiplayer balance: in the old games, merely grazing an enemy plane with the laser would destroy it instantly, but in Ace Combat 7, it takes at least a few seconds of sustained fire on a target to destroy it entirely. I typically equip my planes with the parts that boosts the laser’s firepower, range and effective radius to improve its performance: for my part, the tactical laser is more of a skill weapon, since it requires more precise flying to keep the beam focused on one’s target.
- One of my favourite aspects about Long Caster’s role is how often he mentions food: on the topic of food, yesterday evening, I had the equivalent of one-and-a-half dinners. After a crab-topped salmon bake on a bed of zucchini, I stepped out into a blustery evening to meet up with a friend who was in town. We met at a local Denny’s and I decided to get their loaded nacho tots. Despite being marked as an appetizer, these tater tots are covered with a delicious combination of Cheddar, Pepper Jack queso, seasoned nacho meat, bacon, jalapeños and sour cream and thus, were quite substantial; I enjoyed them while we swapped conversation about movies and did some catching up: I think the last time my friend was in town, it was February. After sharing stories, we decided to call it an evening, as all of the Starbucks around were closed and therefore, we weren’t able to chat further over Exploding Kittens.
- I got back home before the New Year’s Eve countdown and shared the remainder of the day with family. Then today, I spent most of the morning sleeping in and taking it easy. As noon arrived, I helped whip up homemade Swiss-mushroom burgers topped with caramerlised onions and lettuce, with a side of shoe-string fries, to welcome 2020. One of my goals this year will be to learn how to make a greater variety of vegetable dishes. Back in Ace Combat 7, from Longcaster’s in-game dialogue, he only eats finger foods while on an assignment, saving the fork-and-knife meals to after a mission ends, and appreciates Trigger’s combat efficiency precisely for letting him get to his food faster.
- The final objective in Unexpected Visitor will be to take out a Rafale M carrying a nuclear warhead for Torres. While the game states that players have ten minutes to shoot it down, the reality is that there will be a lot less time on the clock to complete this assignment. The Rafale’s escorts will make this task more difficult, since they can take hits intended for the lead aircraft, but armed with my tactical laser, I melted through the fleeing aircraft on very short order to bring my first extra mission to a close.
- For the Anchorhead Raid mission, I ended up going with the Su-57, a top-tier Russian fifth generation fighter that is one of the best real-world aircraft available in the game, alongside the F-22 and YF-23. What set the Su-57 apart from the F-22 is the fact that it can equip pulse lasers, which I’ve found to be the most versatile and effective special weapon in the whole of Ace Combat 7, and moreover, has a starting ammunition count of 650 shots over the F-15C’s 500 shots and the MiG-31B’s 450.
- In practise, despite having a limited rate of fire, the pulse lasers deal solid damage, being able to shoot down enemy aircraft in as few as three shots out to a range of five kilometres. Pulse lasers are also highly effective against large ground targets like ships, so where anti-ship warfare is expected, I fall back on any plane with pulse lasers. Their only real disadvantage is that clouds will diffuse and stop the shots.
- With the aim of the raid on Anchorhead being to destroy the Erusean naval forces stationed there, the arrival of Strider squadron strikes terror into the ground controllers – panic is clearly heard in one female ground controller’s voice when she states that the slaughter she’s witnessing is no hallucination, it’s a nightmare. The abject terror that Trigger strikes into the hearts of his enemies is nothing short of astounding, and as players go through the campaign, it becomes clear that even veteran pilots grow concerned when “Three Strikes” is their opponent.
- While it may not be a snow-covered castle in Belka, the moody, overcast skies of Anchorhead nonetheless captures that classic Ace Combat feeling: for me, overcast winter days scream Ace Combat because of the design choices employed in earlier titles. Overcast, foggy weather was technically unimposing to implement and were a common feature in older games, and while sophisticated game engine technologies now allow for any weather and lighting condition to be captured, the old style will forever remain memorable to me.
- During the course of the assault on Anchorhead, players will have access to three return lines. On lower difficulties, damage to the player’s aircraft will be repaired, all ammunition is resupplied, and players will also be given the option to switch out their preferred special weapon: there’s a return line by the amassed enemy fleet, so I was able to empty more stores on the ships below and then resupply.
- The best part about the Ace Combat 7 Alicorn missions are that they each offer something unique to experience, and in conjunction with the cutscenes, a very vivid and rich picture of Strangereal is created, providing insights into the Lighthouse War and complex history surrounding all of the conflicts seen in the Ace Combat universe. Torres’ character was a particularly interesting one: with a long history of violence and aggression, director Kazutoki Kono describes him as probably one of the most vile villians to ever be featured in Ace Combat, being so deluded in his own visions of the world as to completely lack any empathy for others.
- As players run up against the time limit, the Alicorn begins shelling Anchorhead’s airspace with shots from its primary weapon, a 600mm/128 caliber rail cannon with a maximum range of three thousand kilometers. Using guidance provided by SLUAVs, these projectiles can dynamically alter their trajectories mid-flight, and here, Torres tests their capabilities by firing on Strider Squadron. Like the airburst missiles the Arsenal Bird fires, their expected trajectory is projected onto the minimap so pilots have a fair shot at escaping their blast radius.
- The explosions here aren’t from New Years’ Eve fireworks – when the Alicorn’s shells arrive, they create a very distinct blast pattern that inflicts massive damage to aircraft caught in the blast radius. Húxiān is hit by the first shell and forced to withdraw. Players may choose to shoot down the SLUAVs, which will cause the shells to self-destruct: it’s not possible to prevent the first shell from hitting Húxiān, and shooting the SLUAV’s don’t affect the mission, so blasting the drones out of the sky is purely optional.
- In order to simplify the rematch with Mimic Squadron, shooting Rage down first is preferred: if Scream is destroyed first, Rage will ramp up his aggression and fire more missiles in quick succession, making the fight trickier. Conversely, shooting Rage down first makes the fight easier. Equipped with pulse lasers, I therefore focused my fire on Rage and burned him to the ground, leaving a much simpler fight with Scream.
- Scream proved easy to eliminate: while her Su-47 is equipped with stealth gear, pulse lasers are unaffected and would make short work of her aircraft. She refuses to eject and dies in the ensuing crash. In the aftermath, with the revelation that Clemens had intended to dispose of Trigger, he is arrested and is no longer a factor for the final mission. I intend to return to Anchorhead and do a free-flight: unlike Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, Ace Combat 7 has a free flight mode. I would’ve loved to explore some of the locations in Assault Horizon, even if some levels were clearly not designed for aircraft. By comparison, every mission in Ace Combat 7 supports free flight, as each level was designed for aircraft, and it will be fun to explore the city below when normally, one’s attention is focused entirely on the skies and ground targets.
- Looking back on the past decade, I’ve seen some notable triumphs and disappointments that have done much to shape me as a person. From nearly being kicked from my undergraduate program for poor academic standing, an unrequited love that sapped me of my resolve and a brutally trying project to save an iOS app with a backend team that clearly did not want to be there, to finishing grad school with a perfect 4.0, contributing to the Giant Walkthrough Brain project, travelling to various conferences and constantly pushing myself to be a better iOS developer, these past ten years have seen experiences on both ends of the spectrum, with unpleasant ones helping me to learn, and pleasant ones reaffirming that there is a payoff for effort and sincerity.
- No one can forecast the future with unerring accuracy, but what I do know is that honesty, resilience and hard work is all one needs to get by. In the next ten years, I will continue doing what I’ve done, drawing on my experiences to be more effective and capable. Doing my part means there’s one fewer ruffian dragging society backwards, and even if this is about all I can do for the world, it counts for something.
- Back in Ace Combat 7‘s final extra mission, I’ve equipped the ADFX-01 Morgan, the precursor to the Falken. The first part of Ten Million Relief Plan is to locate the Alicorn, and the initial search was tricky: I only managed to find the Alicorn using the MAD system with ten seconds remaining, and initially, the task is so tricky that Count wishes the Alicorn’s crew would sing, the same way that Jonsey would locate the Red October in The Hunt for Red October, when Ramius’ crew began singing the Russian national anthem.
- For this mission, I equipped the Multi-Purpose Burst Missile (MPBM), a highly powerful missile that has a massive blast radius and deals a respectable amount of damage. Once the Alicorn surfaced, I fired my first shot, which connected and knocked out several of the CIWS guns on its deck immediately with an incredible explosion. I’ve heard that the weapon is far less effective in anti-air combat than it is against ground targets, but playing around with it against the Alicorn, I found it to be quite useful. In order to gain a better measure of the MPBM’s performance against other special weapons, I will have to try out the Morgen in the base game’s campaign missions.
- Once players have done a number on the Alicorn’s weapons and super-structure, Torres will feign surrender to buy himself time to deploy the railgun. Firing on the Alicorn during this time will result in a mission failure, but moments later, a large number of barrier UAVs are sent into the skies, forming a protective shield around the Alicorn. Players must make haste to fire on the Alicorn: any damage will disrupt the railgun’s firing sequence and cause its first nuclear-tipped shell to miss its mark: I found that it was easier to fly around the drones and then fire on the Alicorn: these shields are capable of absorbing even the MPBM’s explosions.
- While Ace Combat 7 may not have a SOLG mission, fighting the Alicorn actually does have the same atmosphere as the final mission of Ace Combat 5, minus Nagase shouting encouragement in the player’s ear every few moments. The 600mm/128 calibre railgun is the Alicorn’s most powerful weapon, but against players, the Alicorn has a pair of powerful 200mm electromagnetic launchers that can blast the player out of the sky. I’m actually flying in the path of one shot here, and after I unload my MPBM, my next priority is to turn around and get out of the shot’s trajectory immediately.
- There are no revolving panels to shoot at on the Alicorn: a carefully placed shot to the railgun’s core will put it out of commission. Players are operating under a strict timeline here, and since the railgun will be fully charged within two minutes, it is imperative to aim well and hit the core, otherwise, Torres will still be able to get a shot off and cause a considerable amount of damage in Oured. On my run, a well-placed MPBM created a massive explosion here that marks the end of the mission. Once the Alicorn’s railgun is disabled, the mission draws to a close.
- A strange light emanates from the Alicorn after its railgun is put out of action, and an insane Torres declares that Trigger is lacking in vision to have stopped his plans. The Alicorn explodes shortly after, sending Torres to the bottom of the ocean and putting an end to his machinations once and for all. With this mission done, Trigger is given some down time, before being deployed to Cape Rainy for the night raid on an Erusean base.
- Before I wrap up this post, I remark that the page quote is one that’s well-chosen for the new year: I’ve always been about putting forth the best effort possible into what I do, and the late Steve Job’s remarks were that, if one is doing something they genuinely believe in, they will be putting forth their best every time because it’s something meaningful and important to them. Of course, this “something” has to be beneficial in some way to society; there are certain things, like social media activism and outrage culture, that don’t qualify simply because they offer the world no tangible value and require no effort. This is ultimately what drives progress: people who work hard because they want to are more motivated to hone their craft and make a difference, leaving a more tangible, positive impact on the world.
- With Ten Million Relief Plan in the books, I’m done all of the available extra missions in Ace Combat 7. While it would be phenomenal to return to Sudentor for another tunnel flight on a cold winter’s night and then square off against the SOLG on New Year’s Eve, I also appreciate that the missions we got could be all that there is, with Bandai-Namco working towards a new Ace Combat title for the future. My first post of 2020 is now in the books, and I will be kicking off the new year’s anime post with a talk on Koisuru Asteriod, before wrapping up each of Kandagawa Jet Girls, Rifle is Beautiful and as time allows, a talk on Azur Lane.
Happy New Year 2020!
- I realise that this year, I’ve not posted a customary calendar or my usual set of resolutions in the traditional format. The reasoning behind this was we are beginning a new decade, and I wished to do something a little different. A quick glance back at least years shows that I did keep with my resolutions, and because I believe in incremental progress, I’ll kick off the new decade with a manageable set of 2020 resolutions: I’ll keep doing me, more efficiently, better and continue to learn all that is necessary to drive personal and professional growth.