The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Ace Combat

Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War- At the Halfway Point

“Amidst the eternal waves of time, From a ripple of change shall the storm rise, Out of the abyss peer the eyes of a demon, Behold the Razgriz, its wings of black sheath!” –Razgriz Poem, Part One

In 2010, an unidentified spy plane appears near Sand Island, prompting Wardog squadron to scramble. Rookie pilot, Blaze, accompanies Captain Jack Bartlett and two other trainees, Kei Nagase and Alvin H. Davenport into the air to intercept the plane, which unexpectedly calls for support. Although they are successful in repelling the attackers, a second spy plane shows up three days later, forcing Wardog squadron to scramble yet again. During the combat, Bartlett is shot down and declared missing. On the same day, Yuktobania declares war on Osea. Wardog squadron is sent to defend the Osean fleet, before returning to Sand Island. Hans Grimm joins Wardog squadron, and Blaze’s actions lead him to become promoted to Wardog’s flight lead. Wardog escorts the Kestrel and two other carriers, but an attack from the Yuktobanian submarine, Scinfaxi, destroys the other aircraft carriers and most of the air forces with burst missiles. This turn of events prompts Osea to accelerate the installation of a laser module on the Arkbird, a low-orbiting space craft originally intended to be utilised as a testbed for aeronautical technologies and space exploration. Yuktobanian forces launch an attack on the facility, but Wardog manages to repel them. When the Scinfaxi attacks Sand Island, the Arkbird’s support allows the defenders to focus on the Scinfaxi, and despite severe losses from the last of the burst missiles, Wardog squadron sinks the Scinfaxi. To prevent the war from escalating, Osean president Vincent Harling makes his way over to a secret peace summit with the Yuktobanian government. Although the aircraft carrying Harling comes under fire, Wardog defends him. The Osean army prepares for a massive amphibious operation against Yuktobania, and with Wardog’s assistance, deal the Yuktobanian army a defeat by destroying their bunkers and capturing their fortress. Wardog pursues the withdrawing Yuktobanian forces, and while they are able to shoot down their transport aircraft, Wardog is made the scapegoat after a terrorist attack at a Yuktobanian university kills civilians. This leads Yuktobania to launch a massive attack on the Osean capital, Oured, and on Bana City. Wardog is in Oured while awaiting a disciplinary hearing, but the unexpected attack forces them to take to the skies and engage the Yuktobanian air force. They manage to defend the airport and minimise damage to the city. To prove their innocence, Wardog next takes an assignment to destroy a Yuktobanian ammunition depot and successfully complete their task. Later, a ballistic missile attack reveals that Yuktobania has another Scinfaxi-class submarine, the Hrimfaxi. Travelling to the far north, Wardog engages and destroys the Hrimfaxi, earning them the nickname of Razgriz. Later, when Wardog is set to support the extraction of Osean POWs, Nagase is shot down, and command decides to wait until the next morning to pick her up from behind enemy line. To their surprise, when Nagase is located, she’d actually managed to turn the tables on the Yuktobanian forces sent to capture her.

Right out of the gates, my immediate impressions of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War (The Unsung War from here on out for brevity) are overwhelmingly positive. The flight controls are smooth and responsive, allowing me to direct my plane towards any target and participate in most dogfights with confidence: after beating the first few missions, I became at home with how things handled. However, it also became clear that unlike Skies Unknown, the fact that The Unsung War dates back to an older time means that some mechanics were simplified from what I’d been accustomed to. For one, enemy planes cannot equip countermeasures. In Skies Unknown, enemy pilots could sometimes put flares out if a missile would impact, but here, one needn’t worry about flares. Similarly, clouds were utilised to act as cover in Skies Unknown, and planes could ice up if they spent extended periods inside cloud cover while attempting to break an enemy lock. Moreover, laser weapons would fail to function if a target was behind a cloud. The Unsung War has none of these elements, and this actually simplifies things for players, who can focus purely on the mission at hand. Missiles are consistently useful; they can reliably hit targets between 2500 and 5000 feet, and one can chain kills in succession by rapidly switching between targets. Like Skies Unknown, having gotten through half of the missions in the campaign, I am now quite confident that my flying is sufficient for me to be successful in The Unsung War‘s second half. With a good understanding of The Unsung War‘s control scheme now that I’ve fifteen missions under my belt, one more remark that I will add is that being able to play The Unsung War has furthered my appreciation for Skies Unknown, as well. It is clear that The Unsung War had pioneered the sort of creativity that returned in Skies Unknown. Missions with special mechanics (such as phony radar contacts, flying down a narrow, specific course and special bombing runs) help to keep things novel and challenging. In this way, Skies Unknown ends up being the developers’, Project Aces’, way of thanking players for having waited this long for Ace Combat‘s return to form after almost a decade of spinoffs which lacked the original series’ finesse and staying power. The success that Skies Unknown enjoyed is also a testament to the extensive list of things that The Unsung War did particularly well in: numerous elements from The Unsung War made their way to Skies Unknown, demonstrating that this classic evidently still holds up to more modern games where mechanics and narrative are concerned.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My first exposure to Ace Combat was sixteen years ago: it was the middle of the summer, and back then, the local public libraries had a wonderful selection of books. There wasn’t anything quite like it nowadays, but previously, libraries had books on every conceivable topic of interest, from Reader’s Digest’s Treasures of China, to Smithsonian’s Universe: The Definitive Visual Guide. There was even a small section with video game strategy guides, and as luck would have it, the newly-opened local branch happened to have guides for a handful of games I’d been curious about, including Halo 2.

  • On that day, I found a copy of Brady Games’ Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, and upon perusing it, I was captured by the extensive aircraft listings. The strategy guide had been intriguing enough for me to check it out for the two weeks, and reading through it, I found myself wishing that I had a copy of The Unsung War for my PlayStation 2, which was a brand-new console at the time. Upon arriving home, I sat down and began reading through the strategy guide, which had detailed a rich world beyond imagination. Over the years, I would check The Unsung War‘s strategy guide out a few more times, but as I moved into secondary school and stopped going to the library, Ace Combat began falling to the back of my mind.

  • This changed when I came upon a link to The Unsung War‘s soundtrack during the early winter semester of my second year in university. The music was exceptional, far beyond anything available to games of The Unsung War‘s era, and instead of studying for organic chemistry, I remember spending an afternoon reading about The Unsung War‘s missions, aircraft and superweapons. At the time, I wished that I’d bought The Unsung War back when copies were still being sold at local gaming stores, but I resigned myself to watching YouTube playthroughs and reading about things, believing there wouldn’t be a chance to ever go through this game for myself.

  • All of this changed recently, and I was able to acquire a copy of Ace Combat 5: this is something that I’d long given up hope for and thought to be impossible until now. However, with a functional copy, I’ve been able to step into the world of The Unsung War for myself for the first time since checking out the strategy guide from the library sixteen years earlier. I don’t recall every detail in that strategy guide, except for the fact that Nagase gets shot down at some point, that the Arkbird plays a major role in The Unsung War‘s story and that the best missions are in the game’s second half.

  • In order to reach the second half, I needed to become familiar with the controls anew, and then beat the first half of the game. Fortunately for me, The Unsung War handles very well, and I have no trouble in getting the aircraft to go where I need it to go. Things aren’t quite as smooth as they are in Skies Unknown, the consequence of Skies Unknown being some fifteen years newer, but overall, the controls are as responsive as can be reasonably expected. After I acclimatised to the controls and had the chance to fly a few sorties, my confidence increased.

  • After repelling spy aircraft from the skies over Sand Island, Wardog is sent to assist the Kestrel, an Osean aircraft carrier that served in the Belkan War. The goal here is to fend off enemy aircraft while the Kestrel heads for open water, and the level marks the first time players get to fight over a populated area. The graphics have aged quite gracefully, and while smaller buildings are just textures on the ground, simple structures do have some height to them. Despite being far simpler than the visuals in Skies Unknown, where every building has height, the visuals still hold up quite nicely.

  • Initially, Wardog will only have access to the F-5E Tiger II, a supersonic light fighter designed by Northrop. Despite being less renowned than its larger and heavier cousin, the F-4 Phantom, the F-5 did have a strong service record, being utilised in the Vietnam War, and it was thought to be similar in the MiG-21 in terms of air performance. In fact, the F-5 was adopted as the aircraft to stand in for MiG-21s during air combat training, and it was found that in the hands of a good pilot, an F-5 could give both the newer F-14 and F-15 trouble.

  • In The Unsung War, the F-5E carries twelve unguided bombs to go with its missile payload, making it a fair all-around aircraft for beginners. The missiles of Ace Combat is one of the series’ defining features: players will carry a prodigious amount of missiles with them into combat, and while these missiles are either the AIM-9 Sidewinder (when using an American aircraft) or the Russian Vympel R-60, which are heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles in reality, Ace Combat allows the standard missiles to lock onto both air and ground targets alike.

  • I’d grown accustomed to missiles acquiring a lock at around two thousand metres in Skies Unknown, so it was a little jarring to see them acquire targets at five thousand in The Unsung War. However, as it turns out, I’d left the units on Imperial for my run. The Unsung War does allow players to freely switch between Imperial and Metric units: using Imperial units, speed is measured in miles per hour, while distances and altitudes are measured in feet. I normally have difficulty with miles, since they’re an arbitrary measure (kilometres is more natural for me), but feet is something I’m okay with, since I approximate one metre as about three feet.

  • Given that missiles lock on at around two thousand metres in Skies Unknown, I’d say they actually have a longer distance than they do in The Unsung War. However, owing to the way the older Ace Combat games work, missiles do tend to be quite reliable between three and four thousand feet, and it’s possible to fire off two missiles in rapid succession, switch over to another target, and watch as the system displays to players that their target was destroyed. This was something that became an integral part of older Ace Combat games, so when I entered the franchise for the first time through Assault Horizon, I was disappointed that dogfight mode was needed to shoot down a larger number of foes.

  • Skies Unknown marked a true return to classic game mechanics, and it became possible to once again fire off missiles at one target and switch over to the next without worrying about whether or not one’s shots would find their mark. Playing through The Unsung War, it becomes clear that many elements from an old classic would make their way into the latest instalment, and in this way, my appreciation of Skies Unknown increased. Back in The Unsung War, I continue to fly the venerable F-5E into combat. It’s one of the weaker aircraft of the game, but in the beginning, this doesn’t matter too much: the game doesn’t throw insanely mobile or large numbers of foes at the player.

  • This is fortunate, since unguided bombs, the F-5E’s special weapon, don’t have any application in missions where the combat is primarily anti-air. Special weapons have long been a feature in Ace Combat, and in The Unsung War, different aircraft will be granted different special weapons. These weapons are more powerful than the standard missile and have different capabilities, whether it be locking onto multiple targets simultaneously or tracking them with a much greater accuracy than standard missiles. Iron bombs are about as basic as it gets and simply free-fall towards their target, dealing slightly more damage than the missiles would.

  • All aircraft in Ace Combat will automatically display a gun reticule when within two thousand feet of a target. At these ranges, missiles become useless. The documentation incorrectly calls the gun a “machine gun” – this is a misnomer, since a machine gun is an automatic weapon firing rifle cartridges. The guns aircraft carry are correctly called “auto-cannon” since they fire rounds of 20 mm or larger. On lower difficulties, the gun has unlimited ammunition, making it a great way of conserving missiles when engaging targets that are too close for missiles, or stationary ground targets.

  • The mission to defend the mass driver from a Yuktobanian attack brought back memories of the mission to protect Tyler Island and destroy cargo launched from the mass driver, as well as the mission after Trigger is transferred to the penal unit and sent up to protect a phoney airbase from Erusean forces in Skies Unknown. The setting here reminds me of the former, and this mission actually did give me some trouble when I first played it, since I was having trouble finding all of the tanks attacking the launch facility.

  • One of the most notable aspect of this mission was the soundtrack: up until now, the music in The Unsung War had been pretty bog-standard, but the moment the Yuktobanian forces show up with their tanks, a flute-like instrument is added to the incidental music, creating a summertime feeling that spells melancholy and wistfulness that reminds me a great deal of KyoAni’s AIR, a 2005 anime that adapted Jun Maeda’s visual novel of the same name, about a travelling showman whose aim is to find the enigmatic “girl in the sky” by summer. The Japanese have long excelled at creating collective nostalgia in their works. Collective nostalgia refers to a nostalgia for something one has never experienced, and in particular, their music is able to do this with great frequency.

  • Once all of the tanks are destroyed, the Yuktobanian forces will launch cruise missiles in a bid to destroy the mass driver. Conventional cruise missiles are subsonic and can be intercepted, but their advantage is accuracy: cruise missiles are highly accurate and can be considered as unmanned aircraft with an explosive payload intended for a single use. The Yuktobanians are counting on their numbers to destroy the mass driver, and missiles come from all directions – if the mass driver takes too much damage, the mission will end in failure.

  • It took me a few tries to get things right for this mission, which is why it reminded me of the mission in Skies Unknown to defend the false base from Erusean bombers: it would’ve been three years ago, at around this time of year, that I’d gotten to that mission, and after getting stomped by the mission, I ended up taking a short break from things before having another go at it. This time around, I was able to push forwards, and beating this mission showed me that I was ready for whatever lay ahead in The Unsung War.

  • Once the Oseans successfully outfit the Arkbird with the laser module, its power becomes apparent: the Yuktobanian navy deploys the Scinfaxi, a nuclear-powered submarine that served as a combined underwater carrier and ballistic missile platform. With a length of three hundred metres, the Scinfaxi-class submarines are double the length of the Russian Typhoon-class, and were capable of firing the highly lethal burst missiles, which have multiple warheads that scatter over a wide area before detonating. In Ace Combat games, burst missiles are used an area denial measure by forcing players to abandon their current target and reach a safe altitude.

  • Use of burst missiles annihilates entire squadrons, but with the Arkbird in Osea’s corner, several burst missiles are shot down before they have a chance to detonate. Wardog is then tasked with destroying the Scinfaxi. While sporting impressing specs, the Scinfaxi is actually a relatively slow moving and easy target to eliminate: several attack runs will destroy its weapons, weakening enough so that it can be sunk. I ended up using the iron bombs here to get a feel for things, and their area of effect damage proved helpful in destroying several targets at once.

  • It goes without saying that the Scinfaxi is nowhere nearly as treacherous as the Alicorn: the Scinfaxi cannot submerge and only has limited anti-air defense capabilities, so it was simple enough to simply make a few attack runs and sink it. This is the first super-weapon Wardog sinks in The Unsung War, and I was surprised that players would be involved with destroying a Yuktobanian super-submarine so early in the game. This is meant to show that Wardog squadron means business, and also tangibly indicate to players that their roles in this war are essential.

  • Having gone through a few missions with the basic F-5E, I picked up the F/A-18C, which was a minor upgrade over the F-5E in terms of anti-air performance and has better mobility and speed overall. The F/A-18 is a multi-role aircraft that the Canadian air force employs, and here, I flew a familiar mission: use of the yaw controls to stay out of a radar net being employed on the ground. Between these and canyon missions, I’ve found that if one can handle manoeuvre missions in Ace Combat, they’re more than ready to deal with more challenging missions.

  • The aim of this mission is to defend a transport after guiding it past the anti-air defenses, but almost immediately, enemy fighters will show up. The object here is to protect the transport and keep fighters off it: allowing attackers to deal enough damage to the transport will result in the mission ending. For my run, I stuck close to the transport and fired on any foe that got too close. It turns out President Harling is on board this transport, and he’s en route to peace negotiations with the Yuktobanians. Standing in for Russia, Yuktobania is the main foe players engage in The Unsung War, but remarks from Grimm and Nagase both suggest that there’s no real ill-will towards them.

  • During the chaos, the transport takes enough damage so that it needs to land, and Wardog is tasked with destroying a few windmills in the plane’s path. Once this is done, the mission will draw to a close. The 8492nd Squadron will then secure Harling, but he subsequently goes missing, foreshadowing the 8492nd’s affiliations. Although war is brewing, players cannot help but wonder if the Yuktobanians are the true enemy at this stage. As things escalate, however, these thoughts are pushed out of both Wardog and the players’ minds.

  • Osean forces launch a full-scale invasion of Yuktobania in retaliation for their actions at Bastok Peninsula, and Wardog is sent out to assist an amphibious assault on the Yuktobanian coast on an overcast day. The weather in The Unsung War is definitely capable of conveying a very specific mood; modern games are nearly photorealistic, and this leaves very little to the imagination, but with older games, just enough of a visual is provided such that the mind will fill the rest in, and this accentuates the atmosphere somewhat.

  • The goal of this mission is simply to neutralise the bunkers on the ground and support the advancing Osean forces. There are very few air targets to speak of, so equipping aircraft that are primarily focused on anti-ground operations will be helpful. Since I’m running the F/A-18C here, I’m running with the AGM-84 Harpoon. The LASM (Large Anti-Ship Missile) actually proved a viable option against the heavily fortified bunkers. Normally, anti-ship missiles are most effective against ships since they have long ranges and high damage against individual targets. However, because of their flat trajectories, they are less useful in ground operations.

  • After Yuktobania organises a retreat in response to the fierce Osean attack, Wardog is sent to deal with escaping transports. This mission is complicated by the fact that Yuktobanian forces are using E-767 jammers, which confound the radar and give the impression that there are more targets than there actually are. The key to this mission is to close the distance and engage targets after visually confirming their presence, as well as focusing on the jamming aircraft themselves. During the course of this mission, radio chatter indicates that an Osean squadron has just bombed out a Yuktobanian university, and Wardog is held accountable, since officially, there is no 8492nd squadron.

  • Players will be powerless to do anything about this outcome, but earlier in the mission, can make a decision that determines whether they are sent to Apito International Airport on Oured Bay, or Bana City. Chopper will ask players if they’d heard a certain song: if players answer yes, their mission is Apito International Airport. I ended up picking “yes”, which sent me over to Apito International Airport to defend it against attacking Yuktobanian forces. The first phase of this mission was to shoot down all attacking Yuktobanian aircraft by night, while the second part entails destroying Yuktobanian tanks that had snuck in via transport aircraft disguised as civilian vehicles.

  • Even though The Unsung War is eighteen years old, I remain impressed with how gracefully the visuals have aged, and fighting urban operations accentuates this fact. Oured below looks like a proper city despite using two-dimensional textures for low-rise buildings. High rises are still rendered with 3D structures, and while these are quite simple, especially compared to what was used in Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation and all subsequent games, The Unsung War represented a dramatic jump from what was seen in Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies. While I’ve long read about the Ace Combat universe, from a practical standpoint, I’m not an Ace Combat veteran by any means (in fact, I don’t even know what this manoeuvre is called or how to perform it).

  • My first in-game experience Ace Combat was 2013’s Assault Horizon, and I subsequently had the opportunity to play Ace Combat properly on PC through 2019’s Skies Unknown. To keep up with the lore and read up on different aircraft, and their efficacy in various missions, I turn to both online resources and YouTube videos. Ace Combat Fan is my go-to resource; his content is actually how my interest in The Unsung War was piqued, being uploaded to YouTube back during a time when there were no other videos. Beyond full play-throughs of older Ace Combat titles, Ace Combat Fan also has a variety of videos on how to fly, benchmarking different aircrafts and their weapons, and even full collections of the music throughout Ace Combat.

  • I respect this level of devotion from Ace Combat Fan: were it not for people like this uploading gameplay to YouTube, the only thing I’d have of The Unsung War would be memories from reading a strategy guide. One of my best friends has expressed an interest in trying The Unsung War for himself, as well, and he’d actually been in a similar position to myself; both of us have seen the YouTube videos and read extensively about the lore, but thanks to Ace Combat games being unavailable on PC until recently, we’ve never had a chance to otherwise try the games for ourselves.

  • Altogether, I greatly enjoyed this night mission and its aesthetics. At some point in the future, I’m going to have to return and take on its sister mission, which is set in the university town of Bana City. The Unsung War‘s branching missions add variety to things, and this also provides an incentive to replay missions: hidden hangars allow players to acquire parts for the legendary Falken. This is something that Skies Unknown was lacking. However, while alternate mission routes would’ve been great, overall, missions in Skies Unknown feel a ways larger, whereas here in The Unsung War, missions feel a bit shorter to complete.

  • After successfully repelling the Yuktobanian attack, Wardog is next sent out to a munitions depot. The object here is simply destroying everything before the time runs out, and while there’s a catch (the munitions sites are located inside tunnels that can only be hit from certain angles), the mission itself was quite straightforward. This level also contains a hidden hangar for the ADF-01 Falken, a super-plane that was first seen in Ace Combat 2. In Skies Unknown, players who bought the Year One Pass would acquire this legendary aircraft for free; in The Unsung War, players must replay several missions in order to destroy the hangars, although luckily, the hangars can be destroyed on lower difficulties in Free Mission mode.

  • For this playthough, I will not be flying the Falken: although I do have it unlocked, I plan on presenting things as people would’ve seen it for the first time, and here, I begin the operation to take down the Hrimfaxi, the second of the Scinfaxi-class submarines. The mission is set in the Arctic ice floes, and unlike the encounter with the Scinfaxi, this mission sees the Hrimfaxi diving and surfacing repeatedly to launch its drones against Wardog squadron. It is here that the F/A-18’s anti-ship missiles really shine, and after locating the Hrimfaxi, the goal is simple: to put it on the bottom of the ocean floor.

  • The Hrimfaxi’s captain has access to a wide range of anti-air weapons, and burst missiles will periodically be used. I ended up using the anti-ship missiles to disable the weapons on its surface, and once all of its weapons are disabled, the targetting system will indicate that the Hrimfaxi’s super-structure is the final thing to take down. I absolutely loved this mission for its aesthetics, and as I found with Skies Unknown, every mission in The Unsung War brings something new to the table.

  • The feat that Wardog accomplishes here earns them the moniker Razgriz, the name of a mythological deity of great power unique to Strangereal. Its traits make it similar to that of the Valkyries from Norse Mythology, and The Unsung War creates a very comprehensive collection of lore in its story surrounding the Razgriz, indicating that the pilots of Osea are likened to a mythological being whose existence was misunderstood, but ultimately, was a benevolent presence. Sora no Woto ultimately utilised similar elements from The Unsung War for its backstory, and a cursory search finds that no one’s drawn the conclusion until now.

  • As it stands, my coming upon The Unsung War should be a boon to the Sora no Woto community; I’m not too fond of grandstanding, but I will say that my approach towards anime means that I offer insights that often greatly augment one’s enjoyment of a series. In this case, assuming that the Fire Maidens and winged dæmons of Sora no Woto are based off the Razgriz, it is possible to say that the events of Sora no Woto parallel Wardog squadron’s reputation in The Unsung War. The 1121st are initially revealed as protectors of Seize, come to be seen as traitors when Colonel Hopkins takes charge, but ultimately demonstrate themselves to be saviours by stopping an all-out war between Helvetia and the Roman Empire.

  • While the mythology in both Sora no Woto and The Unsung War likely were derived from real-world stories, commonalities meant that spotting the connection between Razgriz and Sora no Woto‘s angels meant that one could’ve predicted, with high confidence, how the anime would’ve ended. From what I’ve seen, this connection was never drawn. Back in The Unsung War proper, I’ve embarked on the mission to rescue Osean prisoners of war from Glubina, a snowy and mountainous region of Yuktobania reminiscent of Siberia.

  • The operation is dependent on Wardog providing cover for the Sea Goblin helicopter team, and in the end, they are successful. During the operation, Nagase begins to believe that Bartlett might be amongst those being rescued, and becomes sufficiently distracted that she is shot down. Although she is able to bail, when one of the helicopters attempts to rescue her, the poor visibility causes it to crash, forcing the retrieval to be postponed until the next morning. The next mission deals with Nagase’s recovery, and utilises a signal system to guide players to the spot where Nagase is.

  • This system was reapplied to the hunt for the Alicon in The Unsung War‘s DLC missions, and having had familiarity with how that worked, I had no trouble in finding Nagase. For the final two missions in The Unsung War‘s first half, I’m rocking the F-15C. This air superiority fighter boasts solid all-around stats for air-to-air combat and equips the semi-active air-to-air missile, which is a long-range radar-guided missile best suited for engagements at range.

  • Once Nagase is rescued, the mission draws to a close, and with this, I’m now halfway through The Unsung War. Even though we’re just getting into the game’s best parts, I was thoroughly impressed with the sheer variety there is in The Unsung War, and at this halfway point, I’ve already seen the destruction of two superweapons in the Scinfaxi-class submarine. Coupled with the fact that the game takes players from the remote Taiga characteristic of Siberia, to the heart of Oured, and everywhere in between, The Unsung War has been a blast. I am very much look forwards to finishing The Unsung War, and for the time being, I should be on track to wrapping this game up before the month is over.

At The Unsung War‘s halfway point, I now appreciate why The Unsung War is considered one of the best in the franchise: besides solid gameplay, the story has proven to be very captivating. Mission briefings and banter between pilots and command are an immersive mode of exploring the story, explaining to players very clearly what their goals are, what’s at stake, and what their accomplishments are in the grand scheme of things. It is clear that war is brewing between two superpowers, but neither superpower seems to desire open conflict, and some of the Ace Combat world’s most devastating war machines are brought out to bear. In The Unsung War‘s first half, players already get to sink two of Yuktobania’s most powerful weapons, the Scinfaxi-class submarines. The Arkbird is unveiled, both as a symbol of peace that Kei idolises, and as Osea’s latest superweapon. The stakes of an all-out war prompt players to take to the skies and do what they can, providing incentive to keep pushing forwards such that they can see what happens next. The combination of world-building and exposition through events that players experience allows The Unsung War to add depth to the Strangereal universe in a then-unprecedented scale, giving the Ace Combat world a much more immersive feel to things than previous titles had done, and it is for this reason that even now, The Unsung War remains a fan-favourite. In fact, a part of me wishes that this game would be given a full remaster: when Skies Unknown released, PlayStation owners also gained access to an HD version of The Unsung War, but beyond this, it would be great to have a standalone version of The Unsung War on PC. I have heard that a new Ace Combat is in development, and beyond the fact that it will be built using Unreal Engine 5, not much more about this project is known. For me, I’d definitely love to see a return to Belka and Osea as seen in The Unsung War: these areas of the Ace Combat universe are iconic, and certainly worthy of being remastered with all of the improvements available to both computer graphics and hardware available today. In the meantime, I’ve got another whole half of The Unsung War to experience, and if my memory isn’t mistaken, this is the half of the game to look forwards to (which is saying something, considering how consistently enjoyable the first half has been).

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown- Hunt For the Winged Unicorn, Reflections On The Past Ten Years, and Looking Toward The New Decade

“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 HorizonAce 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 GirlsRifle is Beautiful and as time allows, a talk on Azur Lane.

I’ve been wanting to fly the Falken for more than a decade – ever since reading about Ace Combat 5 from a strategy guide sourced from my local library, and then watching the footage of the SOLG mission during the second year of my undergraduate degree when I was supposed to be studying for data structures and organic chemistry, the Gründer line of planes and the super-weapons of Strangereal always held a charm for me. Ace Combat 7 represented a chance to experience the games that I’d only seen, and with the season pass, I can check off something I’d longed to do for some time. Of course, the past ten years has been so much more than just about doing the sorts of things I’d wanted to experience when I had been younger: it’s been a time of discovery and learning, of triumph, failure and everything in between. From earning a Master’s Degree to learning how to develop iOS apps, from attending conferences abroad to discovering hidden trails of the mountains, the past ten years have been a learning experience, as well: my best moments create cherished memories, and my worst moments become chalked up as learning experiences that help me become a better person. We have now entered the second decade of the second millennium with 2020 – this represents the start of a brand-new chapter in life, and looking ahead, I am rather excited to see where things are headed. Before looking too far into the future, however, it’s worth taking things one step at a time, and so, for 2020, my resolutions for the new year are thus: I aim to look after myself properly in both a professional and personal capacity. For my professional growth, I aim to learn JavaScript and Node.JS to further my ability as an iOS developer, so that I can keep up with back-end developers, and I also will strive to develop my leadership and management skills, on top of learning and applying more intricate aspects of the Swift programming language. From a personal standpoint, I aim to maintain a respectable level of health, fitness and wellness. I also resolve to learn to cook more efficiently: although I may be a passable cook, I’d love to learn some family recipes and wash vegetables faster. For this blog, I simply resolve to maintain and promote positivity in everything I present to, and in interactions with, readers. For having provided this much support and encouragement, providing content that is instructive, fun and positive is the least I could do for everyone – with this being said, HI look forwards to seeing what lies ahead in the next decade, working together to weather out difficult times and sharing good times with both those important people around me, as well as for everyone who’s followed this blog:

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.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown- Final Review and Reflection at the Endgame

“When I close my eyes, the sky in my dreams…is a deep, dark blue.” ―Avril

With the Osean communications satellites destroyed, the Osean military is unable to organise a response to Erusean actions. Strider squadron is sent out to Anchorhead Bay to cover a defecting Erusean military official. With the IFF system down, Trigger must identify his targets to ensure he does not fire upon friendly forces, and manages to defend the official long enough from attack for him to reach a helicopter, but the Erusean official is accidentally shot down by Osean forces. Later, Strider Squadron heads to Tyler Island to take an airbase close to the space elevator. Here, they destroy occupying Erusean forces, save refugees and manage to protect the Erusean princess, as well as destroy aircraft launched from the mass driver with munitions headed for the Arsenal Bird. With provisions running low, Strider Squadron launches an assault on the Grand Duchy of Shilage to capture a base, and in the process, encounter Sol Squadron. Trigger manages to shoot down Mihaly in a dogfight, and Mihaly’s last wish is for drone production to be halted. Erusean and Osean forces form a coalition to destroy the Arsenal Bird and force the radicals to surrender. After eliminating radical Erusean forces, the Arsenal Bird appears. When saturation fire from ground forces fail to reach the Arsenal Bird, the princess manages to disable the power supply long enough for the Arsenal Bird’s shields to go down. Trigger knocks out its propellers and exposes its microwave powered dome, destroying it to sink the Arsenal Bird. However, two autonomous drones arrive in response to the Arsenal Bird’s destruction. After shooting down allied aircraft, they prepare to use the space elevator to transmit their accumulated data to drone manufacturing facilities around Erusea. Trigger manages to shoot down both drones, but the second drone ejects an ADF-11 unit that heads into the tunnels leading into the space elevator. Trigger and Count pursue the ADF-11 and successfully destroy it to prevent it from uploading its combat data. Both pilots manage to fly through the space elevator’s windbreak, back into open skies. Thus, my journey in Ace Combat 7 comes to an end, and with it, my first-ever experience with a true Ace Combat game on PC.

While Ace Combat games have always been about the arcade experience of taking to open skies and becoming a veritable ace, each of the games (save Assault Horizon) also has a distinct theme. The introduction of UAVs into Ace Combat 7 speak to the current events surrounding the increased presence of technology, automation and artificial intelligence. With UAVs providing Erusea with a powerful air force, Erusean military leaders deemed it prudent to turn their resentment against Osea into a war. While the initial drones are inferior to human pilots in terms of adaptability and creativity, they more than make up for it with superior endurance and mobility, being able to overwhelm human pilots with their numbers and wear them down over time. The lack of a pilot means that drones are expendable, as well. Pilots from both Erusean and Osean air forces continue to express their distaste in drones, feeling that they can never replace human pilots despite their advantages. However, when information from super-ace Mihaly is utilised in powering a new generation of UAVs, both sides, and even Mihaly objects, feeling that improved artificial intelligence and a powerful data set would allow machines to tirelessly fight wars without end, where humans might see the futility of warfare and set aside their differences. The gap between humans and machines, then, is empathy – machine learning algorithms are constantly improving and excelling at their tasks, but they have yet to reproduce the process that make humans distinct. Thus, where a machine might simply fight until its fitness function is satisfied, humans have the capabilities to understand how others might feel and make a decision that machines cannot comprehend. Mihaly recognises this, as do many of the pilots that resent the UAVs for being pale imitation of human pilots. Ace Combat 7 suggests that the most important decisions sometimes do have a human, emotional component to them, and that entrusting warfare to machines may have detrimental consequences that wind up being undesirable for all sides involved.

Themes of the horror and desolation of warfare are also explored in Ace Combat 7 – again, save for Assault Horizon, all of the Ace Combat games give players a glimpse of the effects that conflicts have on civilians. While players might get to fly in the skies, far removed from the destruction on the ground, as players push further into the campaign, it becomes clear that the war between Osea and Erusea is having a toll on both nation’s civilian populations. Erusea is particularly hit hard, and even those in the Erusean military begin to wonder whether or not their war is worth fighting. Anti-war themes are present in Ace Combat games with a degree of irony, suggesting to players that for all of the amusement derived from accomplishing incredible feats in the skies, war nonetheless is more tragedy than glory. This is likely the reason why Japanese games tend to place an emphasis on combat efficiency, scoring players favourably for swiftly completing a mission; the sooner an objective can be accomplished, the lower the odds that unnecessary casualties, both military and civilian, can result. Ace Combat missions are scored based on time, rewarding players for attacking precisely what they need to, and where necessary, do as much damage to an enemy as to limit their ability to wage war elsewhere. This mechanic encourages players to pick their engagements smartly and approach them with creativity, rather than brute force. Instead of destroying an enemy outright, it is preferable to stop them from fighting while other solutions are implemented. In a proper Ace Combat game, the themes of the game are directly baked into the mechanics that create a level of immersion that is unparalleled. With this being said, Bandai-Namco have not sacrificed gameplay in any way with these mechanics – Ace Combat 7 is thrilling, engaging and exciting, providing the first-ever Ace Combat experience on PC that was well worth the price of admissions and then some.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • After the satellite network goes down, the IFF system is taken down with it, and while the aircraft’s sensor suite thankfully still locates enemies, they are now tagged in yellow as unknowns. Players must fly close enough to them to positively identify them before they can start shooting. Flying closely amongst skyscrapers in the dark of night makes for an exceptionally exciting mission: players are taxed as they must simultaneously determine which targets present a threat to the convoy while at once maintaining a reasonable awareness of their surroundings.

  • Ace Combat 7 really kicks into high gear in its final quarter, and every mission is simply a thrill to fly in. At this point in time, I’ve become sufficiently versed with my controls such that losing sight of the convoy was never a concern – as threats materialised, I simply flew over them, melted them and then flew off to find more targets to ID. While the mission was a chaotic one, at no point did I ever feel like something was outside of my control. This was a problem in Assault Horizon, but by Ace Combat 7, it’s clear that all of the best elements from Ace Combat 5 were brought back.

  • I fly by a cable-stayed bridge en route to tagging unknown targets on my HUD here: this bridge looks like it’s modelled after Shanghai’s Nanpu Bridge, with its spiral ramp. Anchorhead Bay is a massive city, and offers one of the most compelling environments to fly in: when I saw the trailers for Ace Combat 7 and combat sequences set here, I knew immediately that I was going to pick up the game without any question.

  • Much as how I featured an image of an explosion’s shock wave in Assault Horizon, I feature one here from a fortuitous screenshot that I captured while flying low over the bridge and blasted the hostile armour on it. The pressure wave is clearly visible here in the dark of night, and I’m flying low enough so that the different lane markers are visible on the spiral ramp below; while this mission entailed some of the lowest altitudes I’ve flown at, the F-15E Strike Eagle was more than up to the task.

  • After the F-15E’s solid performance in the fourteenth mission, I elected to field it again over Anchorhead Bay; in hindsight, a different aircraft with dedicated anti-ground munitions might have been more effective owing to the abundance of surface targets. While there are enemy helicopter gunships and aircraft, most of the sixteenth mission entails strafing ground targets. The F-15E’s large missile capacity and handling means it’s more than up for the job even when equipped with the 6-target missiles, but specialised anti-ground weapons would make it more straightforwards to clear out ground targets.

  • After the Erusean general makes it safely to the helicopter, an unknown group of aircraft arrive. A few tense moments elapse, and Trigger is given the order to shoot them down. Most of the enemies up until now have been ground targets, and my missile stockpile was dwindling, but I did have a large reserve of the 6AAMs remaining, so I made short work of the remaining fighters in the sky to finish off the mission.

  • The seventeenth mission is set over Tyler Island, Osean territory that has been under Erusean attack since the conflict started. There’s a mass driver here (just visible in the image’s leftmost side): these electromagnetic catapults are used to slingshot objects at high velocities, and the Mobile Suit Gundam series is known for employing them as a practical means of launching craft into space. Ace Combat 7 feels, more than any other instalment of Ace Combat, like a Gundam game in the Unreal Engine with aircraft rather than mobile suits.

  • While a fair portion of mission seventeen deals with blasting ground targets, there is wisdom in carrying a good anti-air loadout: the ground targets are relatively easy to deal with, and as Trigger hammers the Erusean ground forces, their bombers make an appearance. Like previous missions, failure will result if the bombers are allowed to reach their targets, and the bombers come from difficult angles, so making good use of special weapons will allow these to be swiftly dealt with before they can deal any damage.

  • A glance at this blog’s archives show that I began writing the posts for Assault Horizon precisely five years ago. During this time, my application to graduate school was accepted, and I accepted an offer to work on The Giant Walkthrough Brain project. I also saw heartbreak of a calibre I’d never quite previously expected, and in hindsight, The Giant Walkthrough Brain ended up being the tonic that saved me from melancholy – this is one of the reasons why the project had such a profound impact on me, and why I continue to mention the project to this day.

  • In fact, news of the heartbreak came on social media precisely five years ago to this day. Five years since, while things’ve not really changed in that department, I’ve found other ways to turn things around. It’s important to never lose sight of what’s important, and during times of difficulty, regrouping and finding ways to move forward is critical in healing the hurts. Focus on The Giant Walkthrough Brain and graduate school was my answer to heartbreak; I think that after five years and troubling readers with numerous recollections of this later, I’m all the stronger for it.

  • I’m sure readers don’t come hear to read stories on how I accepted my rejection and moved on, so I’ll promptly return the discussion to Ace Combat 7, where I blasted remaining air targets with my missiles after clearing the bombers out. The moody skies of Tyler Island reflect on the general atmosphere surrounding allied forces: despite lacking communications with the military leaders, Strider Squadron and their allies continue to do what they feel is necessary to end this conflict.

  • The mission checkpoint is reached when players are tasked with rescuing Princess Cosette and Avril from hostile Erusean forces. There’s not much time to do this, and players must hasten to reach the two before the timer runs to zero. I quickly restarted from the checkpoint here to reset my damage and restock on munitions: this act is a rather low-handed but effective way to quickly resupply and repair without affecting one’s time spent (and corresponding score).

  • Yellow smoke marks the targets, and once the threats surrounding Avril and Cosette are neutralised, players have one final objective remaining – take out the supply ships carrying parts and munitions for the Arsenal Birds. Launched from the mass driver, players have a  maximum of ten minutes to pursue the ships and shoot them down.

  • In my case, the 6AAMs were more than sufficient in dealing with the supply ships: they turn out to be carrying Helios missiles, and will detonate in a brilliant flash of blue light once destroyed. The challenge in mission seventeen ended up being the bombers that appear mid-mission; they are quite difficult to pin down in the clouds, and so, while I was carrying anti-ground munitions on my first attempts, necessity dictated that I carry good anti-air weapons. I ultimately choose my special weapons based on what the tougher enemies of a mission are, and only use them for these segments.

  • The eighteenth mission is set in a small country adjacent to Erusea: Shilage was once an Erusean state and declared independence. Strider Squadron undertakes this mission with the aim of acquiring provisions, and launch an airstrike against Shilage Castle, a known site where supplies were stockpiled. This mission has some of the most beautiful skies of any level in Ace Combat 7, being set in the early hours of a quiet, misty morning.

  • With all unknowns presumed hostile, the need to identify targets before firing is no longer a part of the mission, and so, players are able to freely fire on all marked targets. For this mission, I chose the F-15C for its superior performance in air-to-air combat; I’d come into the mission knowing that I’d be squaring off against Sol Squadron and Mihaly again, so having a good plane for dogfighting would be critical. The pulse lasers that had worked so well earlier came to mind: unlike missiles, they cannot be dodged, and I knew that Mihaly in particular was every bit as agile as Assault Horizon‘s Markov.

  • The early part of the mission is melancholy – blasting hapless ground targets on a quiet morning did not offer too much in the way of excitement, and I turned the F-15C’s payload against ground targets. By this point in Ace Combat 7, I’ve become accustomed to rapidly switching between targets quickly: missiles will continue tracking the last target with a lock, and most ground targets only require one missile to destroy. With this being said, I’ve heard that tanks can shoot down players if they’re careless.

  • Shilage Castle is based off Slovakia’s Spiš Castle, a UNESCO world Heritage site that was built in the twelfth century as the political and economic center of Szepes Country. The castle was destroyed by fire in 1780, and while the cause is unknown, the castle underwent reconstruction towards the latter half of the twentieth century. It stands to reason that Shilage is probably a blend of Slovakian and Hungarian cultures.

  • With the pulse lasers, Sol Squadron becomes a pushover in air combat. However, when Mihaly arrives, he arrives in style with the X-02S Strike Wyvern, the most powerful aircraft in the game. Armed with an electromagnetic launcher of his own, the Strike Wyvern is a straight upgrade of the Wyvern, featuring improved electronics and flight control surfaces that allow Mihaly to dodge almost anything players can throw at him. The EML will devastate players, and I sustained one hit that brought me to the brink of death.

  • With my pulse lasers nearly exhausted, I managed to get behind Mihaly and downed him with missiles. This fight between two aces epitomises what dogfights in Ace Combat are about – just a player and their wits. Assault Horizon‘s handling of the fight between Bishop and Markov proved to be a chore to complete, and when I completed Assault Horizon, I wondered if I would ever go back on a summer’s evening to fly over Washington, D.C. again. The answer was that, with how ardous the fight with Markov was, I ended up never returning.

  • After Mihaly is shot down, he requests that Trigger, a worthy pilot, put an end to drone production. I never got the impression that Mihaly was an antagonist per se: a legendary pilot fighting for Erusea, Mihaly is not a warmonger or seeking revenge, and flies only for his own sake. His loss here, coupled with the toll of combat on his body, means that he will retire from active service. Beating Mihaly was exhilarating, and I flew off into the sunrise once the mission was completed.

  • We’ve come to it at last: a coalition of Erusean moderates and Oseans cooperate at the space elevator to destroy radical forces and lure the Arsenal Bird out with the aim of destroying it. Fighting over brilliant blue skies, the first part of mission nineteen is an annihilation assignment – players simply need to shoot down as much stuff as they can within the allocated time limit. I ended up returning to the F-15E Strike Eagle; with its larger missile capacity and handling characteristics, it would be well-suited for taking on the large numbers of enemy aircraft and UAVs.

  • Of late, things have been remarkably busy, both at work and outside of work. Yesterday, I took the morning to help judge at the Calgary Youth Science Fair (CYSF): unlike last year, where I was assigned projects from the physical sciences and therefore did not have as strong of a background, I was given biological science related projects this time around, meaning I could engage with the participants to a greater extent. The projects I saw were of a satisfactory standard, save one group that started mere weeks ago; it’s always a thrill to see what young minds are up to these days.

  • Earlier today, after hitting the gym, I attended a volunteer orientation for Otafest. Having been an attendee once, after going to Japan a few years back, it suddenly felt a little hollow to merely be attending, so this time around, I applied to be a volunteer. The convention will be in May on the Victoria Day long weekend, and there’s a bit of time between then and now. My main interest in returning as a volunteer was that I wanted to see things from the other side of the fence: much as how I participated in the CYSF when I was in middle school and then got to judge it, I wished to see the efforts that go into making the local anime convention possible.

  • For the first time ever on PC, I fire the Tactical Laser System (TLS) on the F-15E. Firing a single continuous beam, the TLS was first introduced with the ADFX 01 and 02, then integrated into the Falken. The TLS hits its target instantaneously and deals massive damage, making it the ultimate special weapon that aircraft can carry. At least, this was the TLS in older Ace Combat titles: by Ace Combat 7, a simpler system was developed and could be mounted on conventional aircraft. This TLS feels weaker than the version found on the Falken, but seeing as I would be fighting the Arsenal Bird, which has its own laser weapons, I’d figured that it’d be prudent to bring my own laser to the fight.

  • In the end, I had no trouble shooting down enough aircraft to meet the mission requirements, and evaded the Helios missiles that the Arsenal Bird had hammered the area with. With the skies largely clear, the moment had come at last to utilise the TLS against the Arsenal Bird: despite being weaker than previous iterations, I ultimately found that the TLS proved adequate even without the improved power upgrade part. I entered the mission with the beam expander that increased the hit area.

  • Against the Arsenal Bird, the coalition forces initially cannot do anything to it: the microwave-powered dome provides the airborne carrier with an impenetrable energy shield, and after surface and air forces hammer the Arsenal Bird, the shield absorbs all damage. There’s little point in continuing the assault on the Arsenal Bird at this point, and focus should go towards whittling down the number of MQ-101s in the air.

  • While Trigger and the other pilots fight to stay alive long enough to work out a plan, Cosette and Avril work from elsewhere to disrupt the power supply, which one of Sol Squadron’s pilots explains, is powered from a transmitter in the space elevator. I particularly enjoyed the voice acting here: while Cosette and Avril aren’t seen on screen, their actions are audibly heard. By this point, the MQ-101s are trivial to fight, and once the shields drop, the coalition forces will turn their attention towards keeping the UAVs off Trigger’s back.

  • The time has come to put the F-15E’s tactical laser to use for real: Trigger must destroy the sub-propellers and the main propellers to slow the Arsenal Bird down. The sustained damage from the tactical laser makes this much easier: the propellers can sustain quite a bit of damage, and the Arsenal Bird has an impressive array of weaponry against players. Besides its missile barrage, the Arsenal Bird has a tactical laser of its own, and pulse laser CIWS that can bring down Trigger on short order. Concentrating on the propellers and then breaking off for another run will make more sense than pushing aggressively forward.

  • The Arsenal Bird’s propellers will self-repair, and Trigger is given new targets to hit: after destroying the docking clamps, the final step is to hit the Arsenal Bird’s power supply. Here, I engage the Arsenal Bird’s docking clamps with my laser, while it attempts to fire its laser on me. Moments like these are unscripted and fun: with the freedom to tackle the problem that is the Arsenal Bird however I pleased, I felt like I was shaping my own fate, in contrast with Assault Horizon, which had me on rails during the final fight and therefore, did not give me the same feeling that I’d improved as a pilot through the game’s progression.

  • Hitting the small microwave-powered dome took more skill than any objective previously, but I eventually got a lucky shot off with the tactical laser and brought down the Arsenal Bird. Ace Combat 7 is all about the thrills, and each subsequent mission towards the end made players feel the rush of achievement from pulling off increasingly wacky stunts. In my mind, the story in Ace Combat 7 is average in concept, but superb in execution: in conjunction with exceptional gameplay and visuals, Ace Combat 7 simply works.

  • On a quiet Friday evening two weeks ago, I finally reached the final mission of Ace Combat 7: the sun was setting, and I decided that, since Battlefield V had no active assignments, I might as well finish Ace Combat 7. I had enough of the in-game currency to buy the F-22A, the most advanced aircraft available on the American Tree. Players can also pick up the YF-23 as an alternate American aircraft, or the Su-57 on the Russian tree. Having invested all of my currency into the American tree, I ended up going with the F-22A, and in the knowledge that I was going up against the most advanced drones Ace Combat 7 would throw at me, I figured the time had come to into the cockpit of an F-22A.

  • With the best firepower, defense, acceleration and manoeuvrability of any of the aircraft I’d flown previously, the F-22A is a veritable monster of the skies. I flew the basic version armed with the Quick Maneuver Air-to-Air Missile, but didn’t fire a single one during the final mission’s first phase: while the ADF-11 UAVs are manoeuvrable and can dodge missiles with ease, the F-22A was able to keep up with them. I had no difficulty getting behind them and getting a few good hits off. The ADF-11s are equipped with tactical lasers of their own, as well as smaller drones, but despite being formidable foes, I downed both.

  • As the skies darken, one of the ADF-11s shot down detaches its cockpit unit and flies into a tunnel beneath the space elevator, intent on transmitting its combat data. No options are left to the player, who must fly into the tunnel in pursuit. When I was in middle school, the public library had a strategy guide for Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, and reading through it, I became interested in playing the series: during my time as an undergraduate student some years later, I found the soundtrack on YouTube and subsequently watched some playthroughs when I admittedly should have been studying for organic chemistry and data structures.

  • While a few interesting air combat games surfaced for iOS, none of them had the same magic as Ace Combat, and so, when Assault Horizon was released to PC, I picked it up, feeling that it would be the closest I would get to flying in Strangereal. Ace Combat Infinity was a PS4-only title, and so, when Ace Combat 7 was announced in 2015, my interest was piqued. Four years later, I was able experience this, and my verdict is that it was well worth the wait: the finished product is engaging, polished and fun.

  • No Ace Combat game can truly be considered one without a tunnel flight: Unsung War had players fly through a tunnel to destroy a computer core for SOLG, and the final mission then involved destroying the SOLG itself on New Year’s Eve. Unsung War was filled with symbolism, and a final mission on December 31 was meant to symbolise the wrapping up of loose ends, and preparing for the future. Dates don’t seem to figure quite so heavily in Ace Combat 7: the final mission is set on November 1, 2019.

  • The first part of the tunnel flight isn’t actually too demanding, and using yaw alone, with some pitch, is enough to safely navigate the tunnel leading into the space elevator’s core. The UAV will use its electronics to close the gates leading into the core, and players must quickly decide on which gate is the right one to fly through. Count will follow Trigger into the tunnel, and appears to sustain damage from the UAV despite Trigger being in pursuit of the UAV.

  • With the QAAMs, destroying the ADF-11 becomes too easy: I simply waited for it to fly to just left of the central column here and then wasted it in under five seconds, then blasted the terminals lining the core. The tight confines is supposed to make for a thrilling battle, but the QAAMs are a little too effective and ended what would’ve been an otherwise harrowing dogfight. Destroying the wall-mounted targets brought to mind how Poe Dameron’s flying inside Starkiller Base’s Thermal Oscillator.

  • I don’t mind admitting that it took me a few tries to fly into the space elevator’s windbreak – even with an aircraft as capable as the F-22A, I crashed more than a few times trying to break out of the circling pattern in an attempt to get into the windbreak. However, I managed it in the end, and dodging a few elevator pods, I flew to the top of the tunnel, bringing the mission and game to an end.

  • I am so thoroughly impressed with Ace Combat 7 that I have absolutely no regrets about buying the game at full price: while games will hold their value if I can get a dollar CAD per hour, Ace Combat 7 was so well done that I feel I got more than my money’s worth even at full price. I deeply enjoyed the game – like DOOM and what the Halo: Master Chief Collection will be, classic gameplay with a fresh coat of paint is exactly what is welcomed in gaming of this day and age. While new titles have a great deal of features, sometimes, returning to the roots and freshening everything up can produce unparalleled experiences. With Ace Combat 7‘s campaign in the books, I am turning my attention to Valkyria Chronicles 4 next, and once I have more information on The Master Chief Collection, I can make a decision on whether or not I’ll be buying anything else for the next little while.

Representing a triumphant return of Ace Combat to consoles, and the first time a true Ace Combat title has been available for PC, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is a solid title that brings back the gameplay that made the original titles so captivating, while at once, modernising the game with current-generation visuals and sound. Ace Combat 7 looks and feels great, capitalising on modern game engines to add additional depth to the flight system. The use of clouds and icing as cover, that doubles as an obstruction, is innovative and clever, adding new ways to approach missions. Flying itself is very smooth and precise: even though I was running with a keyboard-only setup, I had no trouble completing even the trickiest of manoeuvres. Enemies were well-designed, requiring skill rather than uncommon patience, to best. A solid upgrade system pushes players to consider their upgrades and purchases, while simultaneously encouraging replay for folks who wish to unlock everything. The soundtrack, while perhaps not as inspired as Ace Combat 5‘s, is nonetheless an experience that captures the different moods of the missions, and the sound engineering is solid; aircraft feel powerful to fly. The English voice acting is also on-point: earlier titles had corny-sounding dialogue throughout, but in Ace Combat 7, the dialogue feels much more natural (even if it does sound somewhat cheesy in a few spots). Overall, Ace Combat 7 is a proper instalment in the Ace Combat series – it was worth the four year wait since the game’s announcement in 2015 to finally be able to fly the skies of Strangereal, and looking ahead, the additional content for Ace Combat 7 is looking quite tempting. I anticipate that I will be picking up the DLCs once they release and I have a concrete idea of what they will encompass, but for the time being, I will be going through the campaign again to earn enough currency to unlock the Strike Wyvern.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown- Review and reflection at the ¾ mark

“Stick with Trigger and you’ll make it.” ―Tabloid

Impressed with Trigger’s performance, the General Staff Office reopen the case on his involvement with Harling’s death, and Trigger is transferred into the Long Range Strategic Strike Group. Taking on the call-sign Strider 1 and adapting the sin lines on his aircraft into claw marks, Trigger’s first operation is to engage the Erusean fleet. He then participates in the defense of Stonehenge, allowing the Osean forces to reactivate one of there derelict rail guns at the Stonehenge installation and destroy the Arsenal Bird Liberty. With the Erusean military growing desperate, Strider Squadron is sent to destroy Erusean ICBM silos, before taking on a night mission to capture a Erusean air base and free prisoners of war. Osean forces prepare to capture Farbanti, the Erusean capital. After aiding ground forces in the operation, Sol Squadron and Mihaly appear. As Trigger dogfights with Mihaly and Sol Squadron, his aircraft’s electronic systems malfunction, and Mihaly orders his forces to withdraw, citing the dangers of flying in unknown conditions. It turns out that the Eruseans destroyed the Osean communications satellites in retaliation for the destruction of their own satellites, creating a debris field in orbit that have since damaged other satellites, causing surface communications to become unreliable. While ground forces successfully capture Farbanti, the loss of communications forces the Oseans to regroup and consider their next action. Pushing through Ace Combat 7‘s third quarter, the intensity and urgency of each mission has increased, creating momentum that compels players to keep going to see what happens next. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with Ace Combat 7 thus far, but the later missions are in a league of their own, allowing players to test their skills as they unlock more aircraft and upgrade components.

Ace Combat 7 has succeeded in putting the “ace” back in Ace Combat; previous titles similarly had rookie pilots ascend to fame as their exploits become the stuff of legends. In Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, Blaze of Razgriz began as a green pilot assigned to Sand Island, but becomes increasingly well-known after participating in various operations. This feeling was largely absent in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. While William Bishop was a capable pilot in his own right, players never feel as though Bishop has advanced through the ranks to become a legend because he already entered the story as a capable pilot. Instead, his doubts and fears are a part of the narrative; while not the worst thing to experience, Assault Horizon’s story was also far removed from the more introspective and engaging approach older Ace Combat games had. However, in Ace Combat 7, the design elements from earlier titles make a triumphant return, and for me, nothing was comparable to watching Trigger become a fearsome legend that struck fear into those who saw the Three Strikes. I’ve long known that Mister-X, Mihaly, was a pilot of legendary skill, so to hear other pilots speak of Trigger as though he were a saviour (for allies) or dæmon (for enemies) was a clear sign that Trigger was fast advancing as a pilot. From taking down experimental drones to fighting Sol Squadron and Mihaly to a standstill on his own, players feel very much a part of the Ace Combat universe, immersing them into the game and making every successful mission a rewarding experience that encourages players to continue onto later levels with a sense of excitement.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While the F/A-18F is on an alternative branch to unlocking the F-22, I figured that its payload of anti-ship missiles (the AGM-84 Harpoon) would make the aircraft a potent choice against the ships encountered in the tenth mission. As the mission begins, the new AWACS operator, Longcaster, remarks that he’s going to be eating lunch while operating. The pilots have their hands full and an irate Count wonders why Longcaster’s mind is on sandwiches while they’re in the middle of battle.

  • The eleventh mission is an annihilation mission, and the name of the game will be to destroy as much stuff as possible before the timer drops to zero. There are two platforms in the mission area, and they are covered with targets. Some missions in Ace Combat 7 are total and utter chaos, making them immensely fun to go through. Attacking ground targets without Assault Horizon‘s air strike mode means that one must determine their own angle of attack to maximise damage dealt per run.

  • The worth of having the LASM as a special weapon mean that most frigates and destroyers can be wiped in one shot. These missiles are exceptionally effective against ships, but lack splash damage, making them less effective in other functions. Their flight path is also limited, so the ships protected between concrete walls are much harder to hit with the LASMs – I typically used them against ships that were in open water, and instead, used a combination of guns and missiles to engage the ships that were protected.

  • Being a direct upgrade to the F/A-18, the F/A-18F Super Hornet has a longer flight range, improved handling and better electronics. The Canadian government is struggling to replace its aging inventory of Hornets, and the Super Hornet has been one aircraft up for consideration, going up against the F-35. While the F-35 is considerably more expensive than a Super Hornet, its performance is superior overall. This subject has been the point of contention, and at this point in time, we ended up picking up F/A-18s from Australia as an interim solution, although personally, I’m not sure if this was the best decision.

  • The platforms have a central support structure within that is designated as a core, and these will cause entire platforms to crumble once they sustain enough damage. I suspect that experienced players with a mastery over their aircraft will be able to hit these targets with relative ease, although for me, I ended up taking more than a few passes to hit the cores and destroy the entire platform.

  • A large platform off the coast has a small segment that players can fly into, and with the right skills, one can make short work of the cores here to bring the platform down. I’ve found that my scores for Annihilation missions are weaker than standard missions, but on the whole, Ace Combat 7‘s scoring system has been much more consistent than Assault Horizon‘s. I know that there are coveted S-ranks to gun for, but scoring A-ranks on missions I’m seeing for the first time isn’t too shabby.

  • Being able to fight at Stonehenge and defend the facility is the ultimate form of fanservice in Ace Combat 7: Stonehenge was a railgun system that first appeared in Ace Combat 4 and returned in Infinity. With Unreal Engine 4 driving things, Stonehenge looks as good as it ever has, and it is a thrill to finally fly here for the first time on PC. I felt that, since I would be in a mission involving railguns, I wanted a railgun of my own. I thus equipped the F/A-18F’s Electromagnetic Launcher (EML), a highly powerful single-shot weapon that accelerates heavy slugs at hypersonic velocities towards their targets for massive damage.

  • This twelfth mission involves fending off ground and air targets from Stonehenge while Osean technicians work towards restoring the eighth railgun’s functionality. There are three sites to defend from ground assault, and occasionally, bombers will appear. The mission can seem daunting, but fortunately, it can be thought of as a highly visceral tower defense mission – bombers are the first priority, and when the AWACs announces bombers are approaching, one should drop whatever they’re doing and take them out first.

  • When there are no bombers in the skies, ground targets should be dealt with. There are three groups, each attacking a support site; each group consists of tanks, armoured personnel carriers, anti-air guns and surface-to-air missile launchers. Tanks should be destroyed first (there are both standard and AD Tanks that deal massive damage to ground facilities), followed by APCs. Anti-air weapons can be engaged last. In this manner, players can effectively take down forces engaging Stonehenge. Once all targets are eliminated, rocket artillery and helicopters carrying soldiers will appear.

  • I ended up taking on the helicopters, leaving the other aircraft to deal with the rocket artillery. The radio chatter in Ace Combat should not be ignored, as it offers insights on which areas are sustaining more damage and when enemies are incoming. As players clear the ground and skies, the Osean crews prepare Stonehenge for firing, but encounter issues with using a decades-old weapon. When it was first constructed, Stonehenge was an incredibly sophisticated weapon – chatter on the ground shows that disrepair has fallen upon the weapon. As the weapon reaches full charge, the Arsenal Bird appears.

  • Using the EML is typically reserved for hitting slow-moving or distant targets for massive damage: the EML can one-shot almost anything, and bombers go down with ease. However, I ended up saving my slugs for the Arsenal Bird’s propellers. Ignoring the MQ-101 drones in the air, I made a beeline for the Arsenal Bird, lowered my airspeed and positioned myself behind it to fire. Using what is essentially a miniature Stonehedge bolted onto my aircraft, I blasted at the propellers to slow this leviathan down.

  • On the ground, the crew operating the automated targetting systems for Stonehenge have been destroyed, forcing the ground crews to aim manually using range tables. Major Deanna McOnie is in charge of this operation, and while a calm, collected leader throughout, traces of desperation can be heard in her voice. Despite the lack of faces during gameplay, the voice acting in Ace Combat 7 is solid, and for me, marks the first time in a Strangereal Ace Combat game where the English dialogue sounds appropriate, without being too corny in nature.

  • Once both propellers are destroyed (made easy by the EML’s sheer damage per shot), the Arsenal Bird will slow down, and the mission comes to an end. Even after the Arsenal Bird deploys its active protection system, an energy shield that can repel conventional weaponry with ease, the shot from Stonehenge cuts through the shield and tears the Arsenal Bird in half. The burning remains land in the desert below, and the Eruseans are suddenly down a powerful air-denial weapon.

  • Mission thirteen has Strider Squadron attacking Erusean ICBM sites to prevent them from using these as a response to the loss of an Arsenal Bird. Players must switch out their special weapons for a laser targetting pod that designates ground targets for bunker-buster bombs. After a target is painted with a laser, players must keep their aircraft on their intended target until the bomb strikes. There are five real silos, but a large number of fake ones. The first silo is always guaranteed to be real.

  • It is worth locating a silo and softening its defenses up before attempting to laser a target for the bombs: silos are often placed in unwieldy locations, and placing too much faith in the HUD can result in a bomb missing its mark. By flying over a suspected silo, one can ascertain where it is located, and then designate the target with enough certainty that a bomb will strike it. If one misses, there is a bit of a reloading time while players must wait for the allied bomber to prepare its next bomb.

  • Using a targetting pod to designate targets is Ace Combat 7‘s answer to Assault Horizon‘s Launch mission, which allowed players to fly a B-1B Lancer or B2 Spirit through a radar-covered valley before using air strike mode to pound ground targets to pieces. While players cannot pilot bombers, using a targetting pod gives players plenty of freedom, showing that even without the scripted cinematics of Assault HorizonAce Combat 7‘s traditional gameplay mechanics are superior in terms of player choice and correspondingly, enjoyment.

  • Having only played the mission once so far, I’m not too sure if the ICBM sites are fixed, or if the genuine ones will rotate around at random to truly test player skills. An experienced pilot will likely determine an optimal flight path that will allow them to hit each site in the minimum time, so that knowing which sites house real ICBMs is irrelevant. Once all of the silos are destroyed, players are given a new challenge: intercept the ICBMs launched from a dam below before they accelerate enough to move out of firing range.

  • Successful destruction of an ICBM thankfully only requires good missile hits, unlike the Trinity bomb of Assault Horizon‘s final mission, and results in a spectacular detonation that fills the screen with light. The further I push through Ace Combat 7, the more obvious it is that many of the mechanics in Assault Horizon were unnecessary: the old mechanics seen in Fires of Liberation and earlier have evidently worked, so going back to these roots results in an improved experience. One thing I would very much like to see is properly remastered versions of Shattered Skies and The Unsung War for PC in the Unreal Engine.

  • Whereas Assault Horizon utilised the night mission setting for a bomber mission, Ace Combat 7 has players flying through a narrow valley while avoiding searchlights en route to a Erusean base. In Assault Horizon, I would not have had the confidence to perform such manoeuvres, but the controls in Ace Combat 7 have been flawless. I’ve been playing with a keyboard-only setup, using WASD for acceleration and yaw, arrow keys for pitching and rolling, and then the spacebar for firing missiles. The only thing I can’t effectively do is turn the camera, but I do have enough precision to do most everything else in game.

  • The canyon players must fly through for mission fourteen narrows, and to add a further challenge, players cannot exceed a height of six hundred metres lest they be picked up by enemy radars. It’s another test of patience for players, but those who can make it through the canyon can be assured that they now have a sufficiently strong command over the controls for the remaining challenges left in Ace Combat 7.

  • By the fourteenth mission, I’ve unlocked the F-15E Strike Eagle. An upgrade to the F-15C, the F-15E is superior all around and comes with six-target air-to-air missiles (6AAM), which excel for hitting scores of slower air targets. Highly manoeuvrable targets will evade these multi-target missiles, but for slower targets, they’re fairly effective. The F-15E also comes with self-forging munitions for anti-ground capabilities, as well as the legendary tactical laser system. For now, I’ve not chosen to unlock the other special weapons on the F-15E.

  • After coming out of the valley, I clear out air and ground forces while Osean ground teams move to capture the base. The Erusean base stands no chance, and when the operation is complete, Erusean forces are taken as prisoners of war, although the Oseans seem to be in high spirits and declare to their POWs that they’ve even brought in pizza. While some game journalists count this as clichéd, remarks like these do much to enhance the humour of the game, reminding players that Ace Combat is at the end of the day, a game meant for entertainment.

  • Gaming journalists tend to take themselves too seriously in this day and age, and it suddenly strikes me that we’re nearing on the five-year mark since a rather major incident involving alleged favouritism in a “game” for being an important contribution to gaming (despite said “game”‘s exceptionally poor production values and messages). The resulting fallout sparked flame wars on social media sites, and also diminished the relevance of gaming journalism, a field that is shrinking from the advent of YouTube channels that allow prospective players to see gameplay in greater detail.

  • While I still find value in gaming articles that deal with release dates, mechanics and other developer insights, I’m increasingly finding myself taking to YouTube to assess how a game plays before making a decision. This is how I came to pick up Ace Combat 7 with conviction after its launch, and I’ve been loving every second of it. I’m strongly considering purchasing The Division 2, as well: the game looks to have taken all feedback from The Division to produce a superior game overall. My only constraint is time: I would very much like to finish Valkyria Chronicles 4 first. Back in Ace Combat, after strafing the base repeatedly, I complete the fourteenth mission in good time, and fly over the base in a victory lap.

  • The fifteenth mission is set over the Erusean capital of Farbanti, a sprawling city with a portion of its central financial district underwater from the Ulysses 1994XF04 impact. The first part of the mission is an annihilation mission, but despite the plethora of ground targets to attack suggesting a multi-role aircraft would be suited for the task ahead, I felt that equipping the F-15C and its pulse lasers for the first time would be more effective, as the pulse lasers would allow me to deal with air and ground targets alike.

  • It turns out that even in their base form, the pulse lasers are incredibly effective: only a few shots are needed to destroy aircraft, and even from a distance of five kilometers, shots from the pulse laser can still reach an enemy aircraft. I upgraded my lasers with an increased hit-box size, allowing them to hit targets with greater certainty, and was superbly impressed with how they made short work of enemy aircraft outside of missile range.

  • One thing that I did need to be mindful of was that there’s actually more after players have reached the scoring requirements for the annihilation mission. I’ve expended much of my ammunition destroying ground targets, and flying to the return line in some missions can take some time. My solution was that at check points, I would simply restart at the checkpoint, allowing me to fully replenish all stores and return my damage to zero.

  • Ace Combat games have come a very long way in visuals: even Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation looks dated compared to Ace Combat 7. Urban settings have been greatly improved; rather than flat texture maps denoting low rises seen in earlier titles, smaller 3D assets are present to give even individual cargo containers and storage sheds three dimensions, adding much to the game from a graphics perspective.

  • Once players hit the time limit, Sol Squadron and Mihaly appear. While the goal is supposedly to shoot down Mihaly, this strictly isn’t possible, and players should instead focusing on whittling down Sol Squadron. The pulse lasers make short work of anyone who isn’t Mihaly, and the wisdom of having returned to the ever-reliable F-15C becomes clear here. The mission ends when Sol Squadron sustains enough damage; as players turn their attention to the remaining bogey, their HUD suddenly flickers.

  • I will be returning in early April to conclude my thoughts on Ace Combat 7, where I will explore thematic elements and my final thoughts on the first true Ace Combat title for PC. Patient readers will have noticed that after a few anime posts this month, I’ve slowed down and reverted to writing about games. Things have been busy on my end, and admittedly, I’ve been watching much less anime than I have in previous seasons. With this in mind, I am actively watching Endro! and have every intention to write about what turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

At the three-quarters mark, I’ve unlocked both the F-15C and F-15E models: the F-15C is the ultimate air superiority aircraft whose performance makes it well suited for air engagements, while the F-15E has better all around performance and can be outfitted to be effective against ground targets, an upgraded F-15C is no slouch in performance. Possessing pulse lasers, the F-15C is a solid contender in aerial battles, with the lasers’ range and damage making them a powerful choice against enemy planes. Against Sol Squadron in Farbanti, I engaged my opponents with confidence. Besides improved aircraft, I also greatly enjoyed the alternative perspectives that Ace Combat 7‘s third quarter has to offer. Fighting to defend the Stonehenge superweapon from Erusean forces, players find themselves at the opposite side of the fence; Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies had players mounting an assault on Stonehenge to prevent occupying Erusean forces from using the weapon. Stonehenge was originally constructed to intercept Ulysses 1994XF04, an asteroid measuring 1600 kilometres across. While the weapon managed to reduce casualties, it was not a silver bullet. The weapon has become an iconic part of the Ace Combat lore, and seeing the complex in Unreal Engine 4 was a breath of fresh air. It was an honour to finally fly over the superweapon that is a major piece of the Strangereal universe, and this time, rather than attacking its rail guns, players must defend it long enough so that the decades-old complex could be used to down an Arsenal Bird. With one Arsenal Bird down, and Farbanti captured, Ace Combat 7 is shifting into high gear for its final quarter.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown- At the Halfway Point

“Don’t pretend like you deserve any better! Continue with the operation!” –AWACS Bandog

After successfully defending the 444th’s airbase from attack, Trigger is deployed to act as a decoy for Osean forces that are mounting an offensive on Erusean facilities. After drones arrive, Spare Squadron is forced to retreat, and one of the pilots are shot down by the drones. The 444th are subsequently deployed to deal with Erusean radar stations. When nearby allied fighters require assistance amidst a thunderstorm, Spare Squadron is sent to help. They are able to shoot down a number of drones, but an Su-30M appears and destroys several aircraft. Trigger is ordered to engage this unknown pilot and buys enough time for the others to escape. The Su-30M and its escorts eventually retreat as the weather worsens. With the drones becoming increasingly problematic, Spare Squadron is assigned to attack an Erusean oil refinery and storage site. Some tankers manage to escape into a sandstorm, but on Bandog’s orders, Trigger manages to eliminate them before they can deliver their cargo. In a later operation, Trigger is assigned to destroy additional Erusean radar sites, although a flight of F/A-18s ambush Spare Squadron. Bandog tags these as hostile, and despite fire from the Helios missiles, Spare Squadron eliminates the hostile aircraft. Full Band is also shot down in a friendly fire incident. The 444th’s actions in combat have earned them a full pardon, and Osean moves to merge the 444th with their regular forces. Colonel D. McKinsey is reassigned, and Spare Squadron escorts his craft over Erusean airspace. After destroying multiple surface-to-air missile sites, an unidentified drone appears. Trigger engages the drone and after a fierce battle, manages to shoot it down. Ace Combat 7‘s halfway point sees Trigger engage in a variety of missions in different environments, and over the course of these levels, players begin accumulating the in-game currency needed to upgrade their aircraft.

Ace Combat 7 utilises the Aircraft Tree system that was first seen in Ace Combat: Infinity. Earlier Ace Combat titles required that players score a certain number of points and complete missions, or else accomplish specific tasks, to unlock aircraft. However, from Infinity onwards, aircraft and upgrade parts could also be unlocked using a tree-like schema. This system was entirely absent in Assault Horizon, which gave players a pre-set selection of aircraft to use during a mission, and as such, Ace Combat 7‘s progression system can be seen as a vast improvement over its predecessor. With the ability to fine-tune aircraft, older aircraft can be made to perform much more reliably in increasingly complex missions, and players can pick the specific parts that accommodate their play-styles. The tree also forces players to choose their aircraft and parts carefully: on the first play-through, players will not be able to unlock everything outright, and instead, it is a wiser decision to invest in one branch of the Aircraft Tree until they hit the end. Besides allowing for a degree of customisation not seen in earlier Ace Combat titles, the Aircraft Tree also encourages replay: completing missions at different difficulties, gunning for the S-ranks and playing multiplayer matches will yield in-game currency that can be used to buy parts. Over time, players will be able to complete the tree by playing the game. The Aircraft Tree speaks to the replay value of Ace Combat 7 with its design, and I’m presently working my way through the American line of aircraft with the goal of unlocking the F-22 Raptor for its performance and cool factor.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The sixth mission reminds me a great deal of settings in Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy, an iOS game I played more than six years ago. Of course, being a full-fledged game with desktop hardware powering it means that Ace Combat 7 is superior in every way except in the department of pricing: I got Air Supremacy for a mere five dollars. Having said this, the Sky Gamblers series of games were very impressive for their time and platform, rivalling a PlayStation 2 in terms of visual fidelity.

  • For this annihilation mission, I ended up going with the MiG-21 and its machine-gun pods again. The point of an annihilation mission, a direct translation of the Japanese 殲滅 (senmetsujyutping cim1 mit6), is to destroy a quota of targets such that one can reach a certain score under a time limit. These missions are probably old hat for anyone who’s played an Ace Combat game previously, but for new players, it can be a little tricky to decide which targets to prioritise – Assault Horizon had Air Strike Mode which gave players a much easier time of engaging ground targets, and in Ace Combat 7, it’s up to the players and their judgement to decide how to approach the mission.

  • Having the Eight Target Air-to-Ground Missile (8AGM) would make annihilation missions trivally easy, but at this point in the game, I only have the MiG-21 and its machine gun pods. The challenge that one is thus faced with is the prioritisation of targets: strafing ground targets from a bad angle means the need to circle around and then attack again, consuming precious time. If one has powerful anti-ground munitions, this becomes much easier, but things are still doable in their absence: slowing down and concentrating fire on targets will allow one to take out several ground targets in one run.

  • Destruction is more impressive in Ace Combat 7 than it ever was in Assault Horizon: being able to destroy bridges connecting the plateaus of two mesas together is one example of the sort of stunts one can pull off in a true Ace Combat game, and the feeling of accomplishment from taking on ground targets without Air Strike Mode is more pronounced. After a set amount of time has elapsed, drones will appear in this mission, and they fill the sky with missiles. Careless players will be destroyed in seconds, and I found that keeping an eye on the radar was the best way to determine how to evade a missile.

  • There’s a return line in the sixth mission: these are intended for players to resupply should they run low on munitions, and while Bandog will tell players this isn’t for them, players will be able to utilise it should their stores run dry. Using it does not affect the story, but can cost precious time. I ended up finishing the mission without making use of it: the lower score requirement on easy difficulty means that things are a bit more lenient. Once I become more versed with the levels and their objectives, I am going to return the game on normal difficulty to unlock the Wyvern.

  • The seventh mission is set in Yinshi Valley, a beautiful valley resembling Hunan’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Zhangjiajie resembles karst formations, but the area is not composed of limestone: instead, the quartz-sandstone formations were formed from countless years of physical erosion. It stands to reason that Yinshi Valley has a similar history. The narrow formations make flight here tricky; it takes patience to get through the rock pillars and target the ground forces. Ace Combat missions are rarely straightforwards, and midway through the mission, drones appear.

  • One of my favourite aspect about the Spare Squadron missions is the banter that goes on between Bandog and the 444th’s convicts. Bandog comes across as someone who takes himself too seriously and enjoys his job a little too much; the exchanges between him and the sharp-tongued Count are hilarious and give the missions a light-hearted feel. It’s a far cry from the all-serious dialogue of Assault Horizon, and adds humour into the game, humanising the characters as effectively as heartfelt speeches could.

  • After learning that the seventh mission was going to involve some of the most serious anti-air combat I’d seen, I decided to field the F-14D, which was the most powerful aircraft I had at the time for anti-air combat. Its main advantage is a larger missile payload, which would allow me to handle the drones and surprise of this mission more effectively than guns alone.

  • As the mission progresses, lightning strikes become more frequent and intense. If the player is hit by lightning, their HUD malfunctions and targetting goes offline for a few moments. Manoeuvrability is also reduced, leaving players at risk of crashing into the rocks. Whether one gets hit by lightning or not is a matter of chance, and while players do not incur damage from being hit, the attendant immobilisation can cause certain death amidst the rock pillars.

  • I don’t claim to be an expert in all things Ace Combat, but I have no qualms with sharing my experiences in the game. This is far removed from the antics that some, such as Tango-Victor-Tango’s “Imca”, claim to have had extensive “practise” doing, such as “only [taking] damage in the campaign twice, and [flying] though the wires of suspension bridges for fun”. While they claim “the secret is that [they] play way more video games then[sic] westerners do and have more practice”, I find that anyone who speaks in this manner is probably being untruthful about their station: the last time I saw someone with such a lofty attitude, they were attempting to convince others that they were an instrumental member of the World of Tanks staff.

  • After most of the drones are eliminated, I fly above the clouds and turn to face a new opponent that has remained hitherto unseen. The atmospherics here are spectacular, and definitely show just how far Ace Combat has come from its beginnings – even Infinity and Assault Horizon seem drab in comparison compared to Ace Combat 7, where lighting effects and volumetric clouds add considerable depth to the look and feel of the game.

  • Mihaly A. Shilage is the enemy ace of Ace Combat 7, being the counterpart to Assault Horizon‘s Markov. Up until now, he’s terrorised the player by being an unseen threat who downs several named characters, and his skills are legendary. When players finally have a chance to confront him, he’s a very skilled pilot who can evade and surprise players. However, Mihaly’s moves are still within the realm of what players can keep up with, and other pilots comment on Trigger’s skill in being able to hold off Mihaly long enough for allied forces to escape. After sustaining enough damage, Mihaly will order a retreat, ending the mission.

  • The eighth mission is another annihilation mission in its first segment: the goal is to destroy as much stuff as possible before the timer runs to zero. I ended up picking the MiG-21 because it was equipped with rocket pods: a combination of large clusters of stationary targets and insufficient funds to buy aircraft equipped with the 8AGM, coupled with my familiarity with rocket pods, meant that this aircraft was satisfactory for the job at hand.

  • Being able to fly around and destroy highly explosive, combustible materials is the sort of thing that every kid imagines doing. Strafing ground targets and making stuff go boom made the first part of this mission superbly fun. In reality, doing this to a refinery and port of this size would create an ecological disaster rivalling the Gulf War’s effects, where retreating Iraqi forces lit Kuwait’s oil fields on fire to deny other parties from accessing the resources.

  • Of course, since it’s a video game, we don’t have quite the ramifications, and so, players can torch oil processing plants, storage sites, tankers and refining units without any guilt. I’ve noticed that the overpressure waves in Ace Combat 7 are much more distinct than those of Assault Horizon: the latter actually has a more realistic overpressure wave, being a subtle lens of air formed by the explosion that is just barely visible.

  • The second half to the mission is a little less entertaining, involving flying around in a sandstorm to locate tanker trucks. It took me a few attempts to get this right, and I found myself flying into the ground more often than I liked while hunting down the tanker trucks. The disruptive effects of the sandstorm made it difficult to track down everything, and UAVs later arrive to make things more tricky. Besides affecting visibility and steering, the sandstorm also makes for uninteresting screenshots.

  • Mission nine takes players high into the mountains as Trigger continues to engage ground radar installations ahead of Osea’s counterattack. Bandog will advise players on how to avoid setting off the missiles, but for some reason or another, I interpreted this as the game prohibiting players from using missiles, lest the operation failed. While English is technically not my first language (that honour belongs to Cantonese), I have native fluency in English, so for something like this to happen is actually quite atypical. I would rate my Cantonese as intermediate: while I have native fluency when speaking, I can’t read or write anywhere nearly as effectively.

  • I ended up using only my guns to destroy the radar stations and their surrounding defenses anyways, and in retrospect, using my missiles would have made the mission considerably easier. Still, I got the job done, and it was fairly entertaining to roast ground targets with naught more than the F-15C’s M61 Vulcan. The F-15C is my latest purchase at this point: in reality, the F-15C is a single-seat, twin-engine air superiority fighter with an excellent combat record and despite its age, is a formidable fighter.

  • During the mission, anti-air missiles will lock onto and track players if they gain too much altitude. Flying lower to the ground or into the clouds will mitigate the risk, but inside the clouds, players run into a different set of challenges. Missiles take longer to lock on, and staying in cloud cover for prolonged periods will cause ice to build up. I equipped a de-icer to help with this as a part of my upgrade setup, allowing me to fly through clouds for longer. No longer a cosmetic entity, clouds offer a tactical means of escaping multiple missiles without expending countermeasures.

  • After the radar stations are destroyed, “friendly” F/A-18s appear. They turn out to be hostile, using a spoofed IFF signals to masquerade as allied fighters. The Identification, Friend or Foe system identifies friendly aircraft by emitting a signal that aircraft listen for. A friendly aircraft will recognise that signal and send a response back to the emitter. These systems can only positively identify friendly aircraft – enemy aircraft or friendly aircraft with an inactive or malfunctioning transponder will not be distinguishable. This confusion is rectified when Bandog manually tags the aircraft, allowing Spare Squadron to finally engage them.

  • The F/A-18 is a solid multi-role aircraft, and fighting against them was a thrilling experience. As if this was not enough, one of the Arsenal Birds begins slamming the area with Helios missiles. These long-range ballistic missiles have a powerful airburst effect and emit an unearthly blue light upon detonation. Bandog will advise players the impact zone, and should players be hit, they will sustain massive damage. The Helios was first seen during the second mission, being carried by a land vehicle, and at that point, unsuspecting players may be surprised by an unexpected weapon.

  • In Ace Combat 7, the consequences of death are more unforgiving than Assault Horizon, which, in retrospect, was too easy in that players had regenerating health and checkpoints were more common. Ace Combat 7, on the other hand, has a few checkpoints, and damage is cumulative, forcing players with fly with more caution and skill. This added challenge makes Ace Combat 7 a superbly engaging game, although upgrade parts allow players to reduce ground damage or else automatically repair some damage.

  • Here, I fly near a Helios explosion: surprises like these are what make each mission in Ace Combat 7 entertaining: like a classic Ace Combat title, Skies Unknown does not need to change the gameplay or perspective away from one character, and as such, has much more focus. In conjunction with the aircraft tree, Ace Combat 7 has a very high replay value, and I can see myself going through missions again in the future to unlock everything. Assault Horizon did not have this feeling, and while some missions are worth replaying, the game as a whole lacks the same replay value.

  • The biggest surprise in mission nine is when Bandog deliberately tags Full Band as hostile, causing one of Count’s missiles to shoot him down in a friendly fire incident. While Bandog passes it off as an accident, dialogue suggests that Full Band knew something that might have been compromising, foreshadowing a future mission.

  • Overall, I was very pleased with the F-15C, and its performance as a fighter in Ace Combat 7 makes it a worthy plane of using into later missions for its power in the skies. Its missile payload also gives it versatility, and it can deal with ground targets without too much trouble: when players defend Colonel McKinsey, his aircraft is targetted by surface-to-air missiles launched from unknown positions. Smoke trails allow players to easily find the launch sites and destroy the launchers.

  • If McKinsey’s aircraft is destroyed, the tenth mission will fail, so it is imperative to eliminate as many SAM sites and aircraft as possible. During the whole of the mission, McKinsey expresses open displeasure at Spare Squadron, but this is idle chatter, and focusing on the mission at hand will allow McKinsey’s aircraft to reach its destination without too much trouble. During this escort mission, enemy fighters will also appear, but in small enough numbers so that they’re not a serious problem to deal with.

  • Even though I’m halfway into Ace Combat 7, the satisfaction of being able to destroy enemies without Dogfight Mode is immense. Ace Combat 7 has been an excellent game well worth the price of admissions, bringing the PlayStation 2 experience over into a modern title. It appears that this trend is returning in games: games of old with solid gameplay are fondly remembered, and save their dated graphics, can handle comparably, or even better than modern titles. Returning Ace Combat to their fundamentals, while introducing improved visuals and handling has resulted in an excellent title, and this concept is now being applied to Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which is coming to PC on Steam.

  • An unknown drone appears as the final enemy, and Trigger is tasked with dealing with it while McKinsey’s aircraft returns into Osean territory. This drone is far more sophisticated than anything players will have faced before, but there is only a single drone to deal with. Because it is a machine and therefore immune to high G-forces, it can turn very sharply and surprise players. I ended up making distance and then hammering it with the F-15C’s Short-Range Aerial Suppression Missiles (SASM), airburst missiles that can deal some damage to an enemy even if it’s not a direct hit.

  • The drone is eventually downed, and the tenth mission comes to an end. I am aiming to wrap up Ace Combat 7 by April so I can get a start on Valkyria Chronicles 4, and with news of The Master Chief Collection coming to PC (this will include fully remastered versions of Halo: ReachHalo: Combat EvolvedHalo 2Halo 3Halo 3: ODST and Halo 4), I have every intent of getting the full Halo experience. The Halo games are legendary, and I had almost given up the hope of continuing the Halo experience on PC after finishing Halo 2: Vista and becoming a legend in my own right in the multiplayer. However, with this dream now a reality, I foresee myself playing more Halo and less of everything else, even Battlefield, so it is prudent to at least finish the titles that I have remaining.

While Ace Combat 7 is limited in what it can do with its gameplay owing to its genre, the game has been surprisingly refreshing and varied. While the objectives invariably end up being very similar (defend something, destroy a certain amount of stuff under a time limit, etc), the varied settings of Ace Combat 7 keep things fresh. From deserts, to rocky valleys resembling those of China, and more temperate surroundings, the missions are each unique and distinct in their own right – the locations players have passed through in earlier Ace Combat games are brought to life in the Unreal 4 Engine. The gameplay may be repetitive, but the combination of beautiful settings and surprisingly entertaining characters, plus the fact that some missions have a surprise (such as the chance to fight Mihaly one-on-one in mission seven, or the appearance of the Helios missiles in mission nine), allows the game to remain fresh. I’m looking very much forwards to continuing: having seen some of the upcoming missions, I know the second half of Ace Combat 7 is going to be spectacular. In the meantime, with the accrued in-game currency I’ve currently got, I’m able to begin improving my planes in a slow but steady manner: the American tree offers some solid upgrades to acceleration, manoeuvrability and missile power that has certainly made many missions more straightforward – as entertaining as the MiG-21’s basic loadout is, newer aircraft have proven more effective for missions involving a great deal of air combat.