The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown × Top Gun: Maverick, Reflections on A Remarkable Collaboration and Some Thoughts on The Last Day of The Year

“Why are the wings coming out, Mav?” –Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Top Gun: Maverick

Back in June, Project Aces did a collaboration with Top Gun: Maverick that added the iconic aircraft from the film into Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. This expansion provides the F-14A Tomcat, the custom variant that Maverick and Rooster steal from the enemy airbase, the F/A-18E single seater and another custom variant that Maverick flies during the training exercise. In addition, this aircraft pack also comes with the Su-57 fifth-generation fighter and the Darkstar prototype. On top of this, players also gain aircraft cosmetics based on themes from Maverick. While the cost of this expansion is a little pricey when one considers the amount of content one receives in the package, being able to relive iconic moments from Maverick and replicate them in the context of Skies Unknown is worth the price of admissions, and ultimately, I ended up picking it up during the Steam Winter Sale. Upon installing this add-on content and trying the new aircraft out, it soon becomes clear that these aircraft each possess unique attributes that make them a phenomenal way of extending one’s Skies Unknown experience. The Darkstar’s biggest attribute is its speed. Together with its pulse lasers, one is basically flying a starfighter capable of moving faster than any aircraft in the game. The fifth generation fighters are a variant of the base Su-57, but now equip a wider range of special missiles. The Top Gun exclusive F-14A and F/A-18E fighters have been tuned up, allowing them to go toe-to-toe with the ADF-11F Raven in a dogfight, and provide the sort of manoeuvrability for reproducing the canyon run that is beyond the capabilities of most planes. In trying out the aircraft accompanying the Maverick set, familiar missions in Skies Unknown suddenly offer players with a new experience as the different aircraft and their capabilities alter the way one approaches a mission. This gives incentive to revisit old missions and see how the new aircraft handle; during my return to several of Skies Unknown‘s tougher missions using the Maverick aircraft, it became clear that the cost of entry was worthwhile. While the aircraft themselves outwardly are simple reskins (the only all-new aircraft is Darkstar), in terms of handling, the new aircraft are smoother and more responsive than most of the other planes available, giving players confidence to fly and perform the same manoeuvres that Maverick, Rooster, Phoenix, Payback and Hangman perform during the events of Maverick.

Top Gun: Maverick stands as one of the greatest films of the 2020s so far, and it is rare for a sequel to outshine its predecessor, but Maverick has managed to do so. The film completely captures the thrill of flight while simultaneously remaining respectful to the original movie, and some of the scenes have very quickly become iconic to the point where the fertile mind, with an active imagination, would yearn to re-enact them. When Top Gun originally released in 1986, it inspired some viewers to become naval pilots. Today, the advancement of computer hardware and graphics means that for most folks, it is now possible to experience the same suspense and exhilaration that Maverick and his pilots find while flying their mission in Maverick. There is no better game than Ace Combat for such an experience: while it’s an arcade combat simulator and therefore provides distinct mechanics to ensure players have a fun time in the game, the same rush of being able to get behind the stick of a multi-million dollar flying machine and doing some work with it is conveyed. It was therefore unsurprising that a collaborative project would be made, in which Ace Combat and Top Gun crossed over to provide a means of giving players a tangible way of reliving their favourite moments from the film, or seeing how the film’s most recognisable aircraft might handle in the Strangereal universe during the course of the Lighthouse War. Overall, this experience was equivalent to picking up model aircraft and running around in a field with some mates re-enacting the same; as a child, I used to run around on the school playground, pretending it was the “Facility” map from GoldenEye 007, and I imagine that after Top Gun, excited children would’ve done the same in playing pretend dogfights with their toy aircraft. Ace Combat has simply allowed players to do the same in a different manner, and the Maverick package allows one to evoke memories of a simpler time and re-live their favourite film moments, making it a worthwhile purchase.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In practise, the Darkstar hypersonic stealth fighter is the single fastest aircraft available in the game to players: with the right parts, Darkstar can even outrun missiles. The trade-off is that handling and manoeuvrability become limited at high speeds, so using the aircraft becomes an exercise in skill as pilots must constantly keep an eye on their airspeed and constantly adjust to ensure they can engage foes that are much slower than themselves. When a balance is struck, the Darkstar becomes a force to contend with: it is capable of reaching enemy targets very quickly, and then decelerate swiftly in order to engage them.

  • Besides an integral pulse laser mounted in its nose, Darkstar also carries missiles in an internal bay. Depending on its configuration, Darkstar carries short-range aerial suppression missiles, small-diameter bombs or pulse lasers, making it suitable for both anti-air and anti-ground operations. For me, the pulse lasers remain a favourite, and the fact that Darkstar carries six hundred and fifty shots, the same as the Su-57, makes this a straight upgrade to the capable Su-57. The down side about the pulse lasers in Skies Unknown is the fact that clouds will diffuse the beams and render them ineffectual.

  • However, with Darkstar’s handling characteristics, one could easily switch back to missiles and come around for another attack run. During my first run with Darkstar, I utilised its extreme speed to make short work of the forces amassed at Artiglio Port. It suddenly hits me that the last time I wrote about Ace Combat at the end of the year, it would’ve been two years earlier. Back then, I’d just picked up the Year One Pass, which gave access to the extended missions and the ADX series of aircraft, which I’d been longing to fly on PC ever since I played Ace Combat: Assault Horizon.

  • Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War had ignited a desire to fly the Falken, and one of the things about The Unsung War had been the fact that the game had players shooting down the SOLG on New Year’s Eve. The atmospherics surrounding this particular mission had been especially well done, and the decision to time the final level on New Year’s Eve had always evoked a sense of curiosity in me. In discussions with a friend, we’d reach the conclusion that destroying the SOLG and stopping the Belkan plot to instigate open war between two superpowers on New Year’s Eve had been symbolic.

  • By wrapping up all of the conflict before a new year, The Unsung War sought to convey the importance of wrapping things up decisively so that there was no chance for any lingering feelings of regret or resentment to carry forwards. This entailed destroying the Grey Men’s ace-in-the-hole before it could reach Oured, and in doing so, Razgriz makes it clear that whenever we’re on the cusp of a new beginning, it’s important to let go of past grudges. The Grey Men came to represent these grudges, and destroying their instruments of terror became a show of how people can actively make a choice not to let the past impact their present or future.

  • Later games don’t quite have the same symbolism, and for this reason, The Unsung War remains my favourite Ace Combat game. Skies Unknown comes in at a close second because later additions would add enough content to the game to make it feel like a comprehensive experience that brings Strangereal to the PC. Things like the Maverick aircraft set give players new ways of experiencing the game. While the idea of downloadable content and expansions may prima facie appear to be a money-grab, and it is true that when poorly done, DLC can significantly degrade player experience, good DLC allows one to get more mileage out of their games.

  • Good DLC never restricts a player in what they can intrinsically do: a base game must allow a player to unlock everything and experience things wholly. A game that offers a solid experience on its own will incentivise players to pick up additional content, whether it be new missions, equipment or even cosmetics. On the other hand, if a game requires DLC in order for a player to have a fair or complete experience, then it has failed because it is forcing players to drop additional money for something that should have been part of the original game.

  • In Skies Unknown, players can have a comprehensive experience without picking up the Alicorn missions or any of the bonus aircraft, but buying the additional content allows one to extend their enjoyment of the game further, making them fair for players. For me, because I enjoyed Skies Unknown and desired a challenge, buying the Season Pass to gain the Alicorn missions and the ADX aircraft was a simple enough decision. Similarly, since I found myself thoroughly enjoying Top Gun: Maverick, picking up the Maverick set to further my time in Skies Unknown was something I had no qualms doing.

  • With 2022 drawing to a close, yesterday, I ended up going on one final adventure before the year ended. Five years earlier, I’d gone out into the mountains during the cold of winter to capitalise on the Canada 150 complimentary park pass, and of the days I’d chosen, I ended up going amidst a snowstorm. Although the food had been great, the drive had been especially difficult: the roads were covered in snow, and a blizzard had enveloped the highway, reducing visibility to near zero. Five years have passed since that excursion, and this year, to take advantage of the remaining break time I had, I decided to schedule a similar trip.

  • This time around, I also walked over to the Vermillion Lakes. At this time of year, the lakes have frozen over completely, and this means that the mirror-smooth reflections of the mountains and sky were absent. However, during the morning, we still had gorgeous skies, and the temperature was a comfortable -6°C. This allowed for a more casual walk along the Vermillion Lakes trail. I imagine that to get the coveted combination of a lake that has not yet frozen over, and fresh snowfall, I’d need to come in during late October or early November. Having said this, there is a joy about visiting during the heart of winter: ice covering the lake was dotted with footprints, suggesting that adventurous individuals had wandered about.

  • As the morning drew to a close, we headed back into town and stopped by lunch at Tooloulou’s, a Cajun restaurant with dishes inspired by the Rockies. This establishment has developed a bit of a reputation as serving flavourful comfort food; the wait times were estimated at three quarters of an hour, so I went for a quick walk to the Cascade Mountain Viewpoint across the river. After a table opened up, I sat down to their soft-shell crab po’boy sandwich with a potato salad, and after one bite, it became apparent as to why Tooloulou’s is a popular dining spot: the soft shell crab was an explosion of flavour and seasoned well, while the creaminess in the source balanced the flavours out.

  • After lunch, the last two items on the itinerary was a drive up the Trans Canada highway; I’d been looking to check out Castle Mountain and Morant’s Curve during the winter, and neither spots disappointed. I still remember a time when I had no love for winter, but in recent years, I’ve come to appreciate the aesthetic of a hushed landscape enveloped in snow and cloud. There’s a stillness about the winter landscape that conveys tranquility, and I now feel that winter is not a time of death, but rather, a time of repose.

  • When I arrived at Castle Mountain, there had been a brief break in the clouds, allowing the mountain to peek through the clouds and catch the last rays of the sun. After a half hour’s drive further north, I reached Morant’s Curve. By this time, the clouds rolled back in, and snow had begun to fall, creating a peaceful landscape. A small crowd had gathered to watch the train, but for me, I determined it would be better to return home before the sun had set fully. The drive back home was unremarkable; the highway was extremely crowded, but the flow was also smooth, making it a far better drive than the one I’d experienced five years earlier.

  • Besides Darkstar, the Maverick set also comes with Maverick’s custom F/A-18E Super Hornet. Shortly after Maverick came out, I attempted the Cape Rainy Assault canyon run with the standard F/A-18F. This had been a fun experience in and of itself, but being able to rock Maverick’s F/A-18E custom made the canyon run feel like a night version of the run that was seen in Top Gun: Maverick. Such a run was done purely for the sake of creating a captivating cinematic experience: in real life, the sort of mission in Maverick would be best carried out by the GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), a 14-tonne precision guided bomb that is delivered by the B-2 Spirit.

  • The assignment seen in Maverick would see a single B-2 Spirit fly in under the cover of darkness and drop the MOP: while the enemies are stated as using GPS jamming, the guidance system in the MOP is capable of operating even in the absence of a GPS signal. The only drawback about the MOP is that it lacks a void fuze and therefore, will only detonate once it’s stopped moving. The existence of dedicated weapons in reality is meant to allow the armed forces to carry out very specific assignments, and as a result, the idea of sending in human pilots for a low-altitude assignment is unlikely to be anyone’s first option.

  • Of course, in the realm of fiction, using human pilots to carry out dangerous assignments is done purely for entertainment value: watching Tom Cruise banking sharply and exhaling with each turn is significantly more exciting than watching a pair of stoic B-2 Spirit pilots lasing their target and dropping a single MOP from an altitude of fifteen kilometres. However, this would preclude a thrilling movie. Similarly, if Ace Combat were realistic, missions would likely end as soon as one shot down two aircraft, since it is not feasible for an aircraft to carry a hundred plus missiles.

  • Skies Unknown‘s equivalent of the canyon run requires players to remain below six hundred metres and avoid searchlights: there isn’t any sort of timeline to the canyon flight, and novice pilots can take their time in flying through the canyon. This hasn’t stopped talented Ace Combat players from accelerating through the canyon at breakneck speeds, navigating with a combination of skill and finesse while staying below 150 metres the entire way. Regardless of one’s skill level, however, the canyon run is most definitely one of Skies Unknown‘s most iconic missions.

  • Once players get clear of the canyon, the mission is simply to altogether flatten the enemy forces at the airfield. On my original run of this mission, I used an F-15E with six air-to-air missiles. However, while using Maverick’s F/A-18E here, I am running with the GBU-24 Paveway III guided penetrator bombs that were seen in the film: these explosives ordinarily require a laser signal in order to accurately hit their targets, but in Ace Combat 7, their implementation is such that as long as I lock onto a ground target, they will automatically steer themselves towards that target.

  • Still, being able to fly a film-faithful version of the F/A-18E was fantastic, and I can think of a few more places in Skies Unknown where the F/A-18E could be useful. Playing through Ace Combat 7 again, I am reminded of how much fun this game is: Skies Unknown marked the first time an Ace Combat game set in Strangereal was available on PC, and at the time of its release in 2019, it had already spent four years in development. I myself had been excited to play Ace Combat 7 ever since finishing the 2013 spin-off, Assault Horizon.

  • The successor to Skies Unknown will be the eighth formal entry in the Ace Combat series, and while development began back in 2021, I imagine that to ensure that the title delivers the best possible experiences for players, it will release somewhere in 2025. Ace Combat 8, as it is informally called, is using Unreal Engine 5, but beyond this, not much more is known. Back in Skies Unknown, I’ve switched over to the penultimate mission, where I’m flying the Fifth-Generation fighter. This is the actual name of the aircraft in-game, a deliberate callback to the fact that in Maverick, the Su-57s the unnamed hostile nation operates is never identified.

  • The original Su-57 in Skies Unknown occupies the same tier as the YF-23 and F-22 Raptor, being the second-best group of aircraft available to players in the base game prior to unlocking the Strike Wyvern. Capable of carrying either a guided penetration bomb or four multi-target anti-air missiles, the Su-57 is a capable fighter. However, its true strengths lay with the fact that it could equip a pair of pulse laser pods, and of all the aircraft in Skies Unknown with pulse lasers, the Su-57 had the highest capacity, carrying 650 rounds.

  • The Maverick variant of the Su-57 has weapons suited for anti-air engagements at the expense of being unable to carry any anti-ground munitions, and trades mobility for stealth For my flight, I opted to go with the four multi-target anti-air missiles, since I knew I would be fighting a mission that was primarily focused on anti-air combat. Ever since playing through Project Wingman, I’ve come to appreciate the utility of the multi-target missiles: while they’re not as manoeuvrable as the quick-manoeuvre anti-air missiles, at range, they do allow one to pick off entire squadrons in a single salvo.

  • Against the UAVs and manned fighters in a map where the number of foes means one’s threat indicator is going off non-stop, the fifth generation fighter is a beast. The slight differences between the Su-57 and the “fifth-generation fighter” are not substantial, and in the hands of a capable pilot, this plane is more than enough to get the job done. As memory serves, I ran an F-15E armed with the tactical laser for this mission when I played through the game for the first time, primarily because I’d wanted to fire the tactical laser on PC for the first time.

  • To no one’s surprise, the Su-57’s superior traits mean that it is the better plane for this mission, and prior to Maverick, I would suggest that the Su-57 and its pulse lasers would be well-suited for this mission. I did find that the multi-target missiles were a satisfactory substitute, and high in the skies above the Lighthouse orbital elevator, I slaughtered both the enemy fighters and Arsenal Bird with relative ease. Despite it being over three years since I’ve played Ace Combat, I found myself getting back into the swing of things surprisingly well, and I do remember how during my first run of this mission, I was having trouble hitting the docking clamps and antennae on the Arsenal Bird.

  • Having the additional missiles on the fifth-generation fighter did help with this last part, and I was able to defeat the Arsenal Bird without too much difficulty, even though I’d taken a considerable amount of damage in the process. Primarily for survivability reasons, I run with the automatic fire extinguisher whenever I play Skies Unknown: this little gadget will gradually decrease the damage back to fifty percent over time, if one’s damage should exceed fifty percent.

  • In order to test the F-14A that Maverick and Rooster ends up stealing, I chose to do so within the final mission. This mission was really where the old adage, “it’s not the plane, it’s the pilot” was put to the test: the ADF-11F Raven is a seventh generation fighter with capabilities far outstripping those of even the fifth-generation fighters, and this means that theoretically, the F-14A should be even more outmatched than it had been in the movie. However, despite the disparity, the Maverick version of the F-14A is again, given some customisations such that it is a bit more manoeuvrable.

  • Whether it was a result of experience, or the F-14A’s intrinsic capabilities, I was able to shoot down both Ravens within the space of three minutes, and deal with the UAV unit that jettisoned from the Raven’s wreckages. For this mission, I ran with the high-powered anti-air missiles, which hit harder than ordinary missiles but also have a greater difficulty in tracking targets. The F-14A was able to get behind the Ravens without too much trouble, and I found that using the guns actually worked well here: ever since Project Wingman, I’ve taken to using guns to deal with boss-type units that have either unlimited flares or a supernatural ability to evade missiles.

  • Defeating both Ravens with the F-14A was the surest show that the adage, “it’s not the plane, it’s the pilot” holds true, and in the context of Skies Unknown, that a fifty-three year old fighter can do anything at all against a hypothetical seventh generation fighter shows how UAVs aren’t quite ready to replace human pilots yet. Of course, this definitely doesn’t hold true in reality: highly manoeuvrable UAVs would be able to pull off turns that would cause g-LOC in human pilots in a dogfight, and advanced UAVs will likely be smaller than manned fighters, so a real engagement would probably see UAVs firing accurate long-range missiles that could down an F-14 long before the pilot had time to react.

  • Again, realism isn’t the object of entertainment, and it does give players thrills to be able to pull something like beating a Raven with a Tomcat.  For the final part of Skies Unknown‘s last mission, I was able to carry out the tunnel flight and escape without too much difficulty, and with this, it becomes clear that the Maverick set represents a highly enjoyable addition to Skies Unknown. Over the past two years, besides the ADX series and Maverick, three other aircraft sets were released. These aircraft sets are similar to the ADX series in that they’re for existing fans of the franchise, adding aircraft from earlier games into Skies Unknown.

  • At the time of writing, anyone east of London, England has already welcomed 2023. However, most of the readers here hail from North America, and that means there’s still a few hours left before it’s our turn to do the big countdown. Having spent most of today doing housework and getting this post wrapped up, it’s time for me to unwind and enjoy a New Year’s Eve dinner with family. For my final remarks for this last post of 2022, I’d like to thank all readers for having stuck around for excellent conversations over the past year, and look forwards to seeing familiar faces return in 2023. Here’s to a Happy New Year for everyone!

This discussion on the Ace Combat crossover with Top Gun: Maverick is the last post of 2022, and now that we’re at the eve of a new year, it is striking as to how quickly the year has passed. Over the course of this year, a great deal has happened: according to site metrics, I’ve written a grand total of 138 posts, for a total of six hundred and fifty-six thousand words. A hundred and forty-five unique viewers have collectively totalled two hundred and eight thousand views over this time. Despite my uncertainty with keeping this blog running with everything that’s happening, I believe I’ve managed to do a fair job of things (although I will let readers be the judge of this). Beyond this blog, which I assure readers does not constitute the majority of my life, this past year has also been quite remarkable: I’ve learnt new things about iOS and Android development through my work, saw my first-ever move and became a homeowner. Following the move, I’ve taken advantage of the change in scenery to explore the new neighbourhood, its amenities and the community further. Thanks to a gradual return to normalcy, I’ve also had the chance to have new culinary experiences and hit the open roads with my time off. To put things lightly, 2022 has been a very eventful year, and looking back at my resolutions from the beginning of 2022, it does appear that I’ve managed to meet them in a satisfactory manner. In customary fashion, with 2023 only a few hours away for this side of the world, I will need some new resolutions for the New Year. For 2023, I resolve to make a conscious effort to always bring my best forward for the people around me and continue stepping out of my comfort zone: while this isn’t a goal with a quantitative measure of success, I’ve found that resolution-keeping works best for me if I maintain consistency, and that means, so long as I can do something with frequency and do so well, I’ve met my aims.

Top Gun: Maverick – A Reflection and Review, Flying into the Danger Zone With A New Generation

“Fight’s on. Let’s turn and burn.” – Pete “Maverick” Mitchell

Three decades after the events of Top Gun, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has become a test pilot, and after a test flight ends with the destruction of the Darkstar hypersonic aircraft, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky sends Maverick over to train TOPGUN graduates for an upcoming assignment to destroy an illegal uranium enrichment facility in an unnamed country. After meeting his students and defeating them in dogfighting exercises, including Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Maverick reunites with Penny Benjamin and reveals that Rooster’s mother had asked him to keep an eye on him and guide him away from being a pilot. Torn between allowing Rooster to fly and respecting his mother’s wishes, Maverick decides to speak with Iceman, who’s afflicted with terminal throat cancer. Iceman suggests that Maverick must let go of the past. When Iceman dies from his illness, and after a training accident, Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson relieves Maverick of his role and resets the mission parameters, making the initial flight to the target longer. However, Maverick seizes an F/A-18 and demonstrates the flight is possible against orders. Cyclone determines that the assignment must be completed, and with the time constraints, decides to entrust Maverick with flying a part of the mission. Although the strike is successful, Maverick is shot down, forcing Rooster to save him, and in the process, Rooster himself is shot down, as well. The pair end up stealing an F-14 and destroy the pair of Su-57s intercepting them, but run out of ammunition and flares. At the last moment, pilot Jake “Hangman” Seresin saves the pair, and they return safely to their carrier. Later, Rooster helps Maverick work on his P-51 and, while looking at a photo of their mission’s success, watches as Penny and Maverick take a sunset flight in the latter’s P-51. Releasing over three decades after 1986’s Top Gun, Top Gun: Maverick (Maverick from here on out for brevity) is a phenomenal sequel that has earned its praises and accolades in full – in a rare occurrence, Maverick is an instance where the sequel surpasses the original. Maverick is a superior emotional and visual experience over its predecessor, fully capturing Maverick’s character growth as he learns to promote teamwork and entrust the future to youth. This sentiment is shared by professional critics and movie-goers alike; besides a tepid romance between Maverick and Penny, the remainder of the film hits consistent home runs, with a gripping story, solid thematic elements and authentic aviation sequences making the movie a masterpiece to behold.

Over the course of its runtime, Maverick is a film about the dynamic between older and younger generations. On one end, Maverick speaks to putting one’s faith in the next generation, and allowing younger minds to step into roles of responsibility. At the same time, Maverick also indicates that youth should not be so hasty in dismissing experience – it is to general surprise when Maverick schools the TOPGUN graduates in exercises, surprising even the cocky Hangman and defeating him in a dogfight. Even Natasha “Phoenix” Trace makes the remark, wondering who’s going to be teaching the best of the best. While youth often believe that they’re ready to handle anything and are eager to jump straight in, an experienced professional will hang back, assess a problem and then draw upon their prior knowledge to decide how to best approach a problem. Although the TOPGUN pilots have more vigour and faster reflexes than Maverick, Maverick makes up for this in being able to anticipate his student’s actions and plan accordingly. By impressing the TOPGUN graduates, Maverick shows them that learning is an ongoing process, and learning never really stops. On the flipside, because of his promise to Rooster’s mother, Maverick is afraid to let Rooster fly to his full potential, and even interfered in his application process. It is only upon hearing Iceman’s advice, “let go”, that Maverick is able to see Rooster as a full-fledged pilot and select him for the mission. In reality, veterans often can have a tough time entrusting tasks to youth: it’s natural to feel protective of the people one is asked to look after, but there comes a point where it’s important to let youth test their own strength, and have faith in their ability to get things done. Maverick demonstrates this best when Rooster, on an unexpectedly impulsive act, flies back and saves Maverick from being blasted by a Mi-28 Havoc. After he’s shot down, when Maverick demands to know why Rooster flew back, Rooster retorts that Maverick had taught him to “don’t think, just do”. In this moment, Maverick is completely taken aback, but recovers – evidently, Rooster is competent and capable. Maverick thus suggests that young and old minds, contrary to what internet articles suggest, can get along – young people should be open to learning something from old minds, and old minds should have more faith in young people, trusting them to get things done in a mix of old and new ways.

Maverick is also a visceral show of what leadership looks like. While Maverick himself has had a history of insubordination, which had prevented him from advancing to flag rank, viewers are shown that this insubordination occurs because, since Goose’s death, Maverick has become more mindful of the people around him. This is made clear to viewers right out of the gates during the Darkstar test: when Maverick learns the Darkstar program is about to be scrubbed, he decides to go on a test flight anyways and comments on how, if he doesn’t defy orders to stand down, the program will go under and take the team with it. Maverick is willing to put himself on the line to ensure everyone else is safe. A good leader is someone who puts others ahead of themselves, and while from a command perspective, Maverick is appropriately-named, those who work with him are willing to do so precisely because Maverick is not a glory-seeker; he just wants to make sure everyone succeeds. This is seen again when he designs the mission parameters for the canyon attack – Maverick’s insistent on the fact that the flight be short so that the attacking aircraft have the most opportunity to evade the enemy defenses and return home. Maverick’s experiences with Goose ended up shaping him into a leader, and while this makes him appear very unreasonable, to the point where Cyclone is all too happy to dismiss Maverick after an incident during training, Maverick has one other trait that makes him a valuable leader: he is able to walk the walk, on top of talking the talk. Maverick’s test run impresses all of the TOPGUN graduates, and even Cyclone begrudgingly admits that the mission, as Maverick defined it, is technically possible. A good leader always leads by example, and can do the things they expect of their subordinates, and by showing the TOPGUN graduates that this mission is achievable, the mood suddenly changes, as a formerly impossible mission suddenly becomes a challenge that the candidates are curious to see if they can overcome. Throughout Maverick, Maverick shows that Iceman was right; the other admirals and leadership may not see Maverick as an asset, but Maverick’s traits actually make him invaluable, and it is these leadership qualities that ultimately make the mission successful. In this way, Maverick is a highly inspiring film, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that leaders are people who can do the things they expect of their subordinates, put their subordinates first, and are able to inspire subordinates to better themselves.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In the 2000s, the top film experiences were the Lord of the Rings and Dark Knight trilogies. Avengers: Infinity War and EndgameFirst Man, Dunkirk and Interstellar were my top picks for the 2010s. Here in the 2020s, things start off strong with Top Gun: Maverick, and ahead of the film’s release, I watched the original Top Gun so I’d be familiar with things. The original film is a fair experience, but things do feel a little less cohesive. In spite of this, the film was still enjoyable, and the music was especially good. Maverick, on the other hand, is on a whole different level.

  • The film actually opens similarly to 2018’s First Man, which had Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) piloting an X-15 and struggling to get it back into the atmosphere during a test flight. From there, the remainder of the film was a powerful portrayal of Armstrong’s journey to being the first man on the moon. Maverick starts with Maverick (Tom Cruise) testing the experimental “Darkstar”, a hypersonic ramjet aircraft intended to reach speeds of up to Mach 10. Although Lockheed Martin representatives vehemently deny Darkstar is based on any real aircraft, it does resemble the SR-72 prototype.

  • Maverick features numerous callbacks to the original Top Gun: as Maverick reaches the stipulated speed of Mach 10, he whispers to himself, “Talk to me, Goose”: in Top Gun, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) had been Maverick’s WSO, but died during an accident when their F-14 suffered a flameout. Both Maverick and Goose had ejected, but Goose broke his neck on the canopy, and since then, Maverick regretted not being able to save his friend. Despite being cleared of wrongdoing by a military court, Maverick continues to be haunted by this failure.

  • As Darkstar reaches Mach 10, Admiral Cain arrives with the aim of shutting the programme down, disappointed by its failure and anticipating that unmanned drones would soon replace human pilots. This concept is not explored in greater depth in Maverick, but Ace Combat 7 delves into the topic in great detail and suggests that drones or no, human pilots continue to be relevant since they can make decisions automaton cannot. On the topic of Ace Combat 7, the Top Gun: Maverick DLC set was released to accompany the film, and I’ve been eying it precisely because it lets me to fly the Darkstar aircraft, along with Maverick’s custom F/A-18.

  • When Maverick pushes Darkstar past its operational boundaries, its airframe disintegrates. Viewers have been very critical of this scene: ejecting conventionally at Mach 10 would liquify the human body, and Tango-Victor-Tango’s John “Fighteer” Aldrich claims that, because this one scene isn’t survivable, the entire movie was undeserving of its praises. In the story, the Darkstar aircraft was likely equipped with an ejection capsule, similarly to the F-111 Aardvark; it’s always amusing to see people like Fighteer taking themselves so seriously, when they lack the ability to reason through things and properly walk others through their thoughts.

  • For someone who still moderates Tango-Victor-Tango to this day, while I appreciate Fighteer’s devotion to a meaningless pursuit (conversation at Tango-Victor-Tango has intellectual value the same way Spontaneous Generation is a valid scientific theory), it is a little surprising to see someone with a complete lack of literary knowledge take such an interest in fiction. I have previously argued that works of fiction like Maverick don’t need to be realistic, but rather, internally consistent: so long as the rules of the fictional world are not broken, and so long as a work can convey its message, it will be successful.

  • The only aspect of Maverick that didn’t work quite as well was the romance between Maverick and Penny: in the original film, Maverick’s attempts to impress instructor Charlotte Blackwood was a part of the story’s way of fleshing out Maverick’s character, but here in Maverick, Penny feels like she came out of the blue. Had the film omitted this piece, I feel that its themes and messages would not have been diminished in any way.

  • On the other hand, the rocky relationship Maverick has with Goose’s son, Rooster, is a central part of the film. On their first day, tensions already run high – Rooster holds Maverick accountable for Goose’s death, and Maverick wishes that Rooster would’ve chosen any other profession besides following his father’s footsteps, a wish his mother had made. The other pilots are shocked to see Maverick as their instructor, having watched him get thrown out of Penny’s bar the previous evening after he made a gaffe and wasn’t able to pay the tab, per house rules.

  • Owing to these initial impressions, the TOPGUN graduates are pretty confident that they can hold their own against Maverick, and during the first day of exercises, Payback suggests upping the stakes after hearing Maverick’s exercise conditions: the graduates must work together to shoot him down before he decides to shoot back. Two hundred pushups is a lot, and the young aviators are confident that they’ll have no trouble besting Maverick.

  • This scene was set the The Who’s iconic song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Like its predecessor, Maverick has excellent music, but unlike Top Gun, the film uses existing music – Top Gun had several pieces written specifically for the film, including Kenny Loggins’ iconic “Danger Zone” and “Playing With the Boys” and the Oscar-winning “Take My Breath Away”. My favourite piece on the original soundtrack, however, is Cheap Trick’s “Mighty Wings” because its iconic opening riff inspired the theme to Ken’s stage in Street Fighter II.

  • Were I in the TOPGUN graduate’s shoes, I’d be nervous to hear Maverick casually accept the terms of the wager: he quickly disappears off the radars and flies between the two F/A-18s from underneath, timed perfectly to “Won’t Get Fooled Again”‘s iconic YEAH moment. Maverick is all business, but the movie has moments of levity to remind viewers that while the TOPGUN graduates are all skilled aviators, and their assignment is deadly serious, they’re still human at the end of the day. It’s a clever way to lighten the film up in the early stages.

  • Maverick uses the F/A-18E Super Hornet, a twin-engine multi-role fighter that entered service in 1999, replacing the F-14 Tomcat, which featured in Top Gun. The Super Hornet was chosen in the film, over the F-35 Lightning, on the grounds that the newer aircraft and their high-tech suite of electronics wouldn’t be suited for the mission, but in reality, the F-35 is a single-seater, and this wouldn’t allow the film to have been filmed with real pilots. Further to this, the F-35 was designed to launch its ordnance from high altitudes at a distance, so using them would’ve simply meant hanging back and launching missiles, rather than going in for a high-octane low-altitude run.

  • Rooster’s “Not this time, old man!” is one of my favourite lines in the film: having just prevented Maverick from getting behind Payback and Fanboy, Rooster attempts to engage Maverick, but ends up being “shot down” in the exercise. Moments like these are a great way of showing why it isn’t a good idea to underestimate anyone: while Maverick’s reflexes and physicality aren’t what they were thirty years ago, he makes up for this by knowing his aircraft and knowing how other pilots react in certain situations, allowing him to act accordingly.

  • There are a large number of TOPGUN candidates in the beginning, but seeing which characters got more speaking roles hinted at who would be selected to participate in the mission. Among the characters is Phoenix (Monica Barbaro). I was very pleased with how her role was handled in the film – she’s presented as a confident and skilled pilot in the skies, and she’s also got a good sense of humour, even when under stress. Phoenix’s WSO is Bob (Lewis Pullman), a quiet fellow whose call-sign’s meaning is left open to interpretation, and whose name might be a clever callback to the Bob Hoover story.

  • As the story goes, after being shot down behind enemy lines, Hoover was taken as a prisoner of war, escaped during a prison riot and then managed to find a pistol. After reaching a German airfield, he held a mechanic at gunpoint and forced him to start up a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, then proceeded to fly it over to the Netherlands. This actually lines up with how the end of Maverick goes, so a part of me wonders if Bob was named after Bob Hoover. Here, watching the other TOPGUN graduates taking a selfie while Rooster is doing the pushups was an amusing sign of the times; smartphones didn’t exist back in 1986.

  • More amusing was what happened after Maverick bests all of the arrogant and brash airmen, prompting Bernie “Hondo” Coleman to remark that “it was all fun and games in that selfie”. A chief warrant officer who worked with Maverick on Darkstar, Hondo joins Maverick in the TOPGUN programme. The whole point of the dogfighting drills here is to test how pilots and WSOs work together as a team under pressure, and also to prepare them for the sort of flying they might be up against when in the air over hostile territory.

  • When it’s Phoenix and Bob’s turn to go up against Maverick, they’re paired with Hangman (Glen Powell). Hangman is easily the cockiest of the bunch, being the only pilot with a kill to his name, and his first act is to ditch Phoenix and Bob, leaving them to be shot down. Hangman’s remarks to Bob and Phoenix are mildly disrespectful, speaking to his character and reminding viewers of a younger Maverick. Again, speaking to Maverick’s experience, he comments on how “leaving your wingman” is something he’d not seen in some time.

  • While Hangman proves a formidable pilot capable of some skillful manoeuvres, without a wingman to help him spot, Hangman is surprised by Maverick, who ends up shooting him down. The importance of this moment is to show that individual skill only takes one so far – having been around the block for some time, I can speak to this. As a developer, my skills lie in mobile platforms, and while I am capable of doing a few things with backend and web client code, I count on other members of the team to ensure those aspects are working smoothly.

  • Once the initial exercises are done, the story in Maverick steps up when Rooster goes up against Maverick a second time. Maverick’s up to his old tricks, and decides to fly inverted, daring Rooster kick the party off. In the original Top Gun, Maverick and Goose had done this to an enemy combatant, taking their photo with a Polaroid camera before flying off. The scene really serves to show the sort of animosity between Maverick and Rooster: it turns out that Maverick had intervened and delayed Rooster’s application to the naval academy.

  • The resentment in the moment causes the normally-cautious Rooster to begin flying much more recklessly, and the pair are locked in a spiral down to the hard deck. The hard deck refers to a preset altitude in which aircraft during training are not permitted to go below, otherwise, it counts as an impact with the ground. This element had been a point of discussion during Top Gun, when Maverick had dipped below the hard deck to get the kill on Jester – strictly speaking, if Jester was below the hard deck, this would be counted as a ground collision, and the exercise would end. Thus, there was no need for Maverick to continue pursuing.

  • The tense exchange between Rooster and Maverick suggests that both are having trouble dealing with their respective pasts; Rooster is more open about things, whereas Maverick attempts to talk Rooster down from things even as he himself struggles to deal with what had happened to Goose. Conversations like these give a bit of insight into the characters and, when they’re set during a tense moment, such as a dogfight, it allows a film to show, rather than tell: the way Rooster and Maverick fly and move both reflect on their internal turmoil, with the small difference being that at this point, Maverick is experienced enough to identify things are going bad and is willing to pull out before anything can happen: he breaks from the dive moments before Rooster does. In the end, Rooster is unable to outmanoeuvre Maverick and is shot down yet again.

  • Maverick (and Top Gun) remain highly dramatised accounts of what being a naval aviator is like, but as a work of fiction, one must allow for the presence of creative liberties to be taken in order to facilitate the plot. I’ve previously discussed this before; as long as a work is internally consistent, then even if there are overt elements of fantasy one knows to be impossible in reality, they can still accept it because it remains within the bounds of what the writer has defined. However, even when a work is internally consistent, there remain some people who adamantly insist on analysing it for flaws.

  • As it turns out, if a work of fiction fails to engage with an individual at the emotional level, one will instinctively attempt to rationalise why. It takes a degree of emotional intelligence to do this, and where one cannot readily explain why they are unable to relate to a work, they will fall back on picking at the small details. This would explain why Fighteer immediately picks apart the Darkstar scene as “unrealistic”, and why Reckoner of Behind the Nihon Review griped about K-On! The Movie: the respective films simply don’t appeal to them, but because it takes maturity to do introspection, neither Reckoner or Fighteer are able to articulate why a work didn’t click with them personally. Their displeasure thus manifests as gripes about trivial details that have no bearing on the story.

  • I have stated before that it’s perfectly normal not to like something, and this stance hasn’t changed. However, when people use realism as the reason for why, I now know that they’re probably having difficulty in expressing themselves. I concede this isn’t easy to do: for instance, Stella no Mahou didn’t work for me, and it took a few days for me to determine that the payoff at the end of the journey wasn’t consistent with what I’d previously experienced. At a personal level, the anime didn’t succeed, but I simultaneously note that some folks might like it anyways. Back in Maverick, Maverick spends a bit of time with Penny, and while I will hold the story could have worked without the romance piece, Maverick courting Penny does have a nontrivial impact on him by showing him there is a world outside of his career.

  • The Su-57s in Maverick are referred to as “fifth-generation fighters” exclusively. The ambiguity of the foreign power with the illegal uranium facility in Maverick was a brilliant way of avoiding any political controversy, and shows that writers can indeed keep politics out of their work without impacting its quality. Here, the enemy nation is irrelevant: what matters is the presence of an assignment that drives Maverick and Rooster’s growth. While some people insist that all fiction is political by definition, I disagree. At their core, works of fiction are about individuals within a given system, and depending on the story, politics may or may not be relevant.

  • One of Maverick‘s most moving moments was the return of Val Kilmer as Iceman; now an aging admiral with terminal cancer, Iceman is unable to speak, but still retains a very healthy amount of respect for Maverick. The pair had been rivals in Top Gun, but developed professional and mutual respect for one another following their first combat sortie together. Having seen what Maverick can be like at his best, Iceman had kept Maverick around, knowing he could do the things that needed to be done. Maverick treats Kilmer and Iceman respectfully: Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015 and has found it difficult to speak since then, and this was woven into the film to create a very poignant meeting.

  • The fact that Maverick seeks out Iceman for advice shows how he’s changed: no longer cocky and self-assured, Maverick occasionally acknowledges that he needs help from others, and similarly, when his conversation with Iceman ends, and Iceman asks, “who’s the better pilot” in jest, Maverick simply smiles and embraces his old friend. Maverick is best known for its aviation sequences, but interpersonal moments act simultaneously as callbacks to the original film, as well as giving Maverick a way to acknowledge the older actors and their contributions.

  • Despite knowing the stakes, the training exercises aren’t going well: the mission entails flying through a narrow canyon to evade enemy surface-to-air missiles, popping up and delivering a pair of precision strikes with laser-guided munitions, and then escaping before enemy Su-57s can engage them. During one drill, Payback passes out from g-LOC and nearly crashes, while Phoenix and Bob both are forced to bail following a bird strike. No matter how many times the pilots try, they seem unable to fly the stipulated route in under two minutes and fifteen seconds.

  • The turning point in Maverick comes when Rooster confronts Maverick over the latter’s decision to impede his application into the naval aviation programme. Maverick had done so to honour his word to Rooster’s mother, but now finds himself at a crossroad; if he sidelines Rooster on this assignment, Rooster will resent him for the remainder of his days, but if he chooses to select Rooster as one of the pilots and Rooster is killed, then he’ll have to live with the guilt of having seen both his best friend and his son’s deaths.

  • According to interviews, when Val Kilmer was shown the sections of Maverick he appears in, he was moved by how things were done, and director Kosinski, upon seeing Kilmer’s reaction, felt that they’d gotten right such a critical moment in the film. After Iceman dies from his illness, Cyclone removes Maverick as the instructor and changes mission parameters in light of the incidents during training. If Maverick were to be entirely faithful to reality, this would be the end of Maverick’s time in the film: an instructor dismissed from an assignment won’t be returning.

  • However, assuming that viewers accept Maverick as a work of fiction, they’d be treated to one of the most thrilling moments in cinema this side of the 2020s: after Cyclone explains the updated mission parameters, the TOPGUN graduates suddenly hear a transmission from Maverick, who’s taken a Super Hornet and is now flying the course. When the range controller informs Maverick he’s not scheduled for a run, Maverick’s reply, “I’m going in anyways”, earns him a “nice” from Phoenix. As Maverick pushes his F/A-18E to the limits, the students, along with Cyclone and Warlock, suddenly find themselves cheering Maverick on internally.

  • I’ve heard that Maverick’s breathing during the whole sequence is actually deliberate, a means of forcing air into the lungs and stave off hypoxia. From a cinematography point of view, these moments really emphasise how taxing flying is on the body. To put things in perspective, we feel our heads spin when a commercial aircraft banks more than ten degrees, and in science fiction works, technologies like G-force dampeners are supposed to nullify the extreme forces that occur as a result of the demanding manoeuvres pilots engage in.

  • As Maverick nears the simulated target, the entire room waits with bated breath, hoping that Maverick will successfully hit the target. For this exercise, Maverick is using the laser module on his F/A-18E to designate the target, making a successful bulls-eye strike all the more impressive. For the actual run, the aircraft will fly in pairs: a front aircraft will drop the bombs, and a supporting aircraft will provide the laser. When the training bombs, characterised by their blue colouration, strike their target, the entire candidate group is impressed.

  • Warlock’s silent fist pump says it all, and in the aftermath, Maverick’s demonstration the mission could be done changes the tenour of the film. Of course, Maverick’s actions are not without consequence; his career’s been dotted with reckless acts of insubordination, and this latest stunt earns him yet another reprimand from Cyclone, who comments on how Maverick’s choices have left him in a difficult position. On one hand, following protocol means discharging Maverick dishonourably, but on the other, Maverick’s actions here show that the mission is doable.

  • In the end, because the consequences of allowing a rogue nation to achieve nuclear capabilities far outweighs the need to discipline Maverick, Cyclone’s decision ends up being a relatively simple one. He assigns Maverick to fly the lead aircraft and asks him to pick his pilots. Rooster, Phoenix, Bob, Payback and Fanboy are selected for the mission. With the mission now set, the fun and games in Maverick ends as the film becomes deadly serious. For the viewers’ benefit, the mission outline is given to viewers again: the supporting fleet will launch Tomahawk cruise missiles at the enemy airfield to cripple their aircraft, and Maverick’s team will fly in and destroy the target before the patrolling Su-57s can intercept them.

  • Maverick and Rooster share one more personal conversation before taking off from the carrier: Maverick promises they can chat after everyone comes back in one piece. Throughout Maverick, Maverick had emphasised the importance of coming back alive, and this mindset had stemmed from his own experiences. While this meant making the mission requirements seemingly unreasonably demanding, it’s Maverick’s way of expressing how he values life following Goose’s death. With these personal thoughts set aside, it’s time to get all of the aircraft in the air.

  • Upon seeing the mission for myself, I was immediately reminded of Ace Combat 7‘s Cape Rainy mission, which required players to fly through an extremely narrow canyon to evade enemy radar, while at the same time, avoiding searchlights placed throughout the canyon. Viewers familiar with Ace Combat immediately saw the similarities, and after watching Maverick, immediately went about recreating the film’s most iconic moments in-game. Project Aces saw these similarities and released the Top Gun: Maverick expansion for Ace Combat 7, adding six new aircraft, ten Maverick-themed emblems and twelve call-signs.

  • The DLC ordinarily retails for 26 CAD, but past sales have seen prices drop as low as 13 CAD. At this price point, I feel that it would be worthwhile, and I am now waiting for the Steam Winter Sale before I add the Maverick set to my library; during the Winter Sale, purchases also give players event cards, and since I do enjoy jazzing up my Steam profile, I feel that I can wait a few more weeks before I fly Darkstar or Maverick’s custom F/A-18E for myself. Having said this, I am quite excited to do so: Darkstar equips pulse lasers and can reach a maximum speed of 5000 kilometres per hour.

  • Mach 4 is only 40 percent of what Darkstar in Maverick is capable of reaching, but even this renders the aircraft brazenly overpowered: the AIM-9 Sidewinder has a maximum speed of Mach 2.5, so in theory, if an enemy aircraft fires on Ace Combact 7‘s Darkstar, evading the missile would simply be a matter of opening the throttle and accelerating. In fact, this is how SR-71 Blackbird pilots were taught to deal with missiles: after surface batteries detected the aircraft, it’d be too far away to hit by the time the missiles were ready.

  • Back in Maverick, the Tomahawk missiles impact the airfield, and this causes the patrolling fifth-generation fighters to immediately divert and head back to defend the uranium site. Although Maverick and Phoenix are on track, Rooster begins falling behind after spotting the surface-to-air batteries. The unnamed enemies in Maverick use S-125 Neva/Pechora missiles, which are Soviet-era weapons that were designed to hit smaller, more mobile targets. I imagine that the missiles seen in Maverick are the V600 variant, which have a fifteen kilometre range and carries a sixty kilogram warhead. V600s have a maximum speed of Mach 3.5, so F/A-18E/Fs are not outrunning them.

  • Maverick’s experience allows him to reassure his fellow pilots: when the fifth-generation fighters begin diverting, Maverick remarks they’re headed to defend the uranium plant, and the S-125 batteries remain on guard. After taking a moment to gather his thoughts, Rooster opens his aircraft’s throttle, allowing him to make up lost time. According to the air speed indicator, Rooster begins reaching 800 knots. This corresponds to roughly 1400 kilometres per hour, an impressive speed considering how narrow the valley is.

  • The computer imagery used to brief the pilots had made the canyon seem narrower, and the mountains look steeper, than they did in reality. This doesn’t mean that the flight was a walk in the park, but for me, seeing the actual terrain itself helped to put things in perspective. While Rooster, Payback and Fanboy follow from the rear, Maverick, Phoenix and Bob prepare for the first strike. They pop up over the ridge, invert their aircraft and bring their planes into a dive. Having dug around, there’s more to this manoeuvre than the cool factor; it’s done to maintain positive loading and prevent the airframe from failing, as well as allowing the pilot to maintain consciousness.

  • Here, the GBU-24 Paveway IIIs can be seen on Maverick’s pylons: these laser-guided munitions carry a two ton warhead and require a beam from a designator to lock onto their target. In reality, the Paveway III is indeed accurate enough to be guided down a ventilation shaft so long as the laser is not lost. Military tacticians comment on how a single B2 Spirit carrying the BLU-109/B bunker buster would’ve completed the mission more readily, and while this is true (I would’ve probably recommended a Tomahawk strike), it is akin to wondering why the Eagles didn’t just carry Frodo and Sam to Mordor.

  • Common sense causes fiction to break down, and while this is important in reality (I favour simple solutions over complex ones), it also takes the fun out of a story and diminishes its ability to convey a specific message. Taking a more convoluted route allows for characters to grow, and this is one area where Maverick did unexpectedly impress in. Being the most soft-spoken and low-key of the TOPGUN graduates means that Bob has my respect: although he’s a skilled WSO, he lacks the same bravado and swagger as the other pilots, preferring to do his work in the background. By having Maverick select him as a part of the strike team, Maverick acknowledges that the quiet folks can walk the walk even if they choose not to talk the talk.

  • The more subtle lessons about teamwork, trust and humility are present in Maverick, even if they can occasionally be buried by the more bombastic, thrilling moments, and having now taken the time to give thought to both Maverick and the Yuru Camp△ Movie, I can see why there might be a case where the two films might be compared against one another, especially since both were quite successful. Both movies deal with people coming together to achieve something against the odds, persevering and overcoming both external and internal challenges.

  • Such themes are hardly unique to either Maverick or the Yuru Camp△ Movie, but the films do share quite a bit in common despite being in totally different genres. This has led Hinataka, a writer for the blog Netorabo, to claim that when compared side-by-side, the latter is a movie that “surpasses” the former as being the best film of 2022 without any additional explanation or context. Since Hirakata never elaborates, I conclude that this remark was probably an off-hand comment; Hirakata is free to enjoy movies however he wishes.

  • Film opinions can and will vary from individual to individual, but things become trickier when Centcom08 repeated this statement at Wikipedia. To the casual reader, it would set the expectation that the Yuru Camp△ Movie is a technically superior film or possesses a message that’s more cohesive and meaningful than what Maverick presents. In reality, neither film is better than the other; the Yuru Camp△ Movie excels in presenting an incremental tale of perseverance and making the most of the hand one is dealt, while Maverick is a story of trust, teamwork and learning to let go of the past.

  • Between this and the radically different premises (Maverick never goes camping with Rooster, Phoenix, Bob, Payback and Fanboy, and Rin, Nadeshiko, Chiaki, Aoi and Ena aren’t about to take on fifth generation fighters), I don’t feel that such a statement should be taken as anything more than a personal opinion. While a valid opinion, it should be common sense that this is by no means the end-all. While I am tempted to sign up for a Wikipedia account and strike that particular line from their Yuru Camp△ Movie article with due haste, I am aware that users like Centcom08 spend every waking moment monitoring the page – any changes I make will be reverted within minutes. I have better things to do than drop to Centcom08’s level, but I will remark that the Wikipedia article on the Yuru Camp△ Movie is unreliable and filled with factual errors.

  • Back in Maverick, after Bob provides the laser that allows Maverick to hit his target, Rooster follows up so he can drop his Paveway IIIs down the hatch. When Fanboy reports that his laser is malfunctioning, Rooster decides to drop the bombs blind. As luck would have it, both bombs find their mark, and seconds later, the entire uranium enrichment facility collapses. The moment this happens, the enemy forces are now aware of their presence, and all of the S-125 sites come to life, filling the air with missiles. In the chaos, it’s all the pilots can do to evade the missiles, dropping flares in a bid to throw them off.

  • When Rooster runs out of flares, Maverick sacrifices himself to keep Rooster alive. In the process, one of the V-600 missiles hits him. The moment brought to mind the likes of the 2001 film Behind Enemy Lines (starring Owen Wilson) as Chris Burnett, although flares and missiles behave a little more plausibly here in Maverick: the missiles in Behind Enemy Lines switch between heat-seekers and radar guided modes at times, allowing them to turn around and ignore flares, and they appear to fire buckshot, whereas real missiles carry an explosive warhead.

  • However, viewers generally agree that despite the lack of realism in Behind Enemy Lines, the scene where Burnett and his pilot, Jeremy Stackhouse, evade the surface-to-air missile does capture the intensity and terror that accompanies air combat. Since Behind Enemy Lines captured this well, it can be said to be authentic, even if it isn’t realistic. I have found that a lot of folks who demand realism in their fiction oftentimes are conflating lack of realism with a story they can’t relate to or connect with at an emotional level.

  • Despite being a solid story from a narrative perspective, Maverick cannot be said to be realistic by any stretch. After Maverick is shot down, he survives and finds himself face to face with a Mi-28 Havoc. He manages to somehow evade 30 mm rounds from its Shipunov 2A42 autocannon and survives long enough for Rooster to show up and shoot it down. In the process, Rooster himself is shot down, and he manages to eject. In another situation, the odds of survival would be quite slim, but viewers must set this aside and accept that, if Maverick were realistic, the film would’ve probably ended an hour earlier.

  • It is necessary that some aspects of a story be contrived such that one can be granted a satisfyingly experience. Here, Maverick manages to catch up to Rooster, and after their initial shock wears off, Maverick devises a plan for getting them back home. The lighting and tone surrounding the moment is evocative of how Behind Enemy Lines had felt after Burnett and Stackhouse were shot down, but in that film, the story had been about how Burnett evades capture in the Balkans, and here, both Rooster and Maverick are only shot down late in the game. Maverick’s plan is as bold as it is daring: see if there’s any airworthy planes left at the airfield their forces just took out and use one of them to get back into the skies.

  • At this point in the film, the reasonable viewer accepts that this is the only route Maverick and Rooster have for getting back home, and spots that, given how an earlier briefing had mentioned that F-14s might be present, opens the floor up to an exciting possibility: seeing Maverick and Rooster fly an F-14 as a clever, well-written homage to the original Top Gun. Indeed, this is exactly what Maverick has in mind, and after sneaking up to a hangar unseen, he and Rooster get one of the F-14s online. For Maverick, it’s the return of an old friend, but for Rooster, who’s accustomed to the F/A-18 and its glass cockpit, the F-14 feels ancient.

  • This scene in Maverick was reminiscent of the Yuru Camp△ Movie‘s finale, which had similarly seen the return of an old piece of hardware from the originals; when Rin’s motorcycle develops a fault, her father suggests that she fall back on her original ride, the Yamaha Vino, and it ends up playing a big role in the film’s climax. Having seen Maverick first, it was nice to see echoes of Top Gun in Yuru Camp△ Movie, although here, I note that an appreciation of the similarities between the two movies despite their drastically different premises is about the extent of my wish to compare the two films.

  • In typical Maverick fashion, both aviators are airborne after a harrowing takeoff: Maverick has used the F-14’s variable sweep wings to generate more lift and accommodate for a very short takeoff, surprising Rooster. To emphasise this, the F-14’s front landing gear is knocked off, but for the present, Maverick and Rooster are aloft, to the surprise of the command staff back on the carrier. Of course, it just wouldn’t be a Top Gun movie without dogfighting in a live environment, and now that they’re in the skies, the patrolling fifth-generation fighters intercept the pair.

  • Any experts or fans of military aviation will immediately recognise the Su-57, a Russian multi-role fighter that began development back in 2010 and entered service in 2020. Although widely considered to be inferior to the American fifth-generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor, the Su-57 is still leaps and bounds ahead of the F-14 owing to superior avionics. In an engagement, what would likely happen would be that the Su-57 would simply fire a missile from outside visual range and score a kill before the F-14 could even flinch. Moreover, even though the Su-57 lacks the same the same thrust vectoring that the F-22 possesses, it still has an impressive turn rate and would easily overcome the F-14 in a dogfight.

  • The idea of an F-14 going toe-to-toe against an Su-57 is the sort of exercise that military fans love thinking about (experts are more concerned about how their hardware stacks up against hardware that’s presently in service, versus against older hardware), and in fact, reminds me of the thought experiments I did regarding hypothetical matchups like pitting a single M1A2 against twenty Tiger Is, or a head-to-head battle against the Panzer VIII Maus. For the most part, comparing technology from different periods is akin to comparing video cards more than two generations apart: the newer technology comes out on top every time.

  • When the Su-57s show up, Maverick reasons that at least for the moment, the pilots don’t really know what’s going on and attempt to hand signal to them. While pilots do know hand signals so that they can continue to communicate in the event of a radio loss, or during an exercise, it is possible that the Su-57 pilots operate on a different set of standards, ones that Maverick and Goose are unfamiliar with. Some folks with a background in aviation translate the pilots’ signals as requesting them to “divert to heading 3-3-0”, suggesting that they’re to defend the facility from further attack.

  • Thus, when Maverick signals he’s not understanding the message, the other Su-57 prepares to engage the F-14, which they now interpret as being under hostile control. The setup here is a bit of writing that allows Maverick to shoot down one of the Su-57s and take it out of the fight: in a prolonged dogfight, the F-14’s odds are extremely slim, even with a good pilot at the stick, but since the F-14’s M61 Vulcan is simply an older version of the M61A2 that newer generation aircraft carry, it’s not inconvincible for an F-14 to disable an Su-57 with a well-placed shot, the same way a Tiger I could score a mobility kill against an M1A2 that was standing still.

  • Much as Top Gun had previously done, the hostile pilots wear helmets with tinted visors. Protagonists wear clear visors simply so we can see their expressions: in reality, all helmets have tinted visors, but this is another instance of how being realistic would diminish the film’s impact, similarly to how portraying the combat performance differences between an F-14 and an Su-57 would prevent the film from telling its story. Once Maverick and Rooster realise their ruse isn’t going to work, Rooster persuades Maverick to give this fight everything he’s got.

  • Spurred on, Maverick uses the element of surprise to disable one of the Su-57’s engines, and immediately breaks off. In a moment of pure savagery, Maverick manoeuvres his F-14 so that the damaged Su-57 shields him from the other fighter’s missiles, and this results in the first of the Su-57s being taken out of the fight. With the second pilot dead-set on taking the rogue F-14 out, it’s an all-out fight. The entire scene is set to some of the tensest music I’ve heard throughout the whole of Maverick: with Hans Zimmer listed as a composer, there is no surprise that the incidental cues in the film are well-suited for the moments they accompany.

  • While motion blur means that it’s difficult for me to get good screenshots in a live-action movie, some of the stills for this post turned out quite well. This is the biggest challenge I face whenever writing about live-action; in anime, this isn’t a problem since everything is smooth. I don’t mind admitting I had a bit of difficulty in writing this post; cutting down the screenshots to a manageable number was probably the biggest challenge, and originally, while I have had the pool of screenshots and an idea of the post’s contest ready since late October, it’s taken some effort to distill everything into a post that isn’t the size of a graduate thesis.

  • One of the most thrilling moments during this dogfight happens when the Su-57 suddenly executes what appears to be a flat corkscrew. Immediately, viewers are reminded that Maverick and Rooster are dealing with a highly skilled pilot who isn’t just depending on his aircraft’s technology to get by. Maverick spots this and decides that it’s time to go for a lower altitude, claiming that the terrain will confuse their adversary’s targetting system. Assuming that the Su-57s in Maverick is carrying the R-77, this holds some truth: the R-77 is a radar-guided missile, but some versions are outfitted with infrared seekers that use radar to acquire an initial lock. By flying closer to the ground, the Su-57’s radar system is prevented from quickly acquiring its target.

  • Maverick ends up getting behind the Su-57 and uses his guns to damage its engine, causing it to crash. Only in a film could such an old aircraft stand any chance against a current-generation fighter, but it is a thrilling show of skill. In fact, the mindset of going up against a fifth generation fighter with an F-14 is equivalent to watching Graham Aker fighting the Exia to a standstill with a Flag, or seeing Char Aznable giving Amuro Ray’s RX-78 II trouble. The idea of skill being able to overcome technological disparity is a staple in fiction, offering a satisfying experience.

  • Rooster cheers after seeing the second Su-57 crash into the canyon’s ledges. Moments later, he’s able to get the radio on. Having Rooster act as Maverick’s WSO is a direct callback to the original Top Gun and shows how Maverick and Rooster have both overcome their pasts to be able to work together as a team, much as how Maverick and Goose originally had. For Maverick, Rooster has become a full-fledged pilot in his own right, while Rooster now sees why his father was able to work well with Maverick. However, even after getting in touch with the carrier, the fight’s not over yet.

  • A third Su-57 appears on their nose, and with their F-14 out of missiles, guns and countermeasures, it’s all Maverick can do to keep the fighter off them. During the dogfight, the F-14 takes a few hits. The portrayal of aircraft guns in Maverick is one of the few gripes I do have about the portrayal of things: the M61 Vulcan fires with a distinct buzzing noise rather than the rat-tat-tat of a machine gun, while the Su-57 is armed with the 30 mm GSh-30-1, which is a slower-firing autocannon that can destroy enemy aircraft in as few as three shots. The fifth generation fighters appear to fire the same guns as the F-14, and moreover, despite taking three hits, the F-14 continues to fly.

  • This is yet another moment created to maximise dramatic effect, and it is actually quite rare for movies to correctly depict aircraft guns, so I will clarify that the guns have no bearing on my overall enjoyment of the movie. Realising that there’s no other way, Maverick orders Rooster to eject, but the ejection handles are damaged and fail to fire. Having come so far, Maverick is filled with regret at not being able to protect Rooster. However, moments after the Su-57 fires one of its missiles, it’s blown out of the sky. Hangman has come to the rescue, and while he was chosen to be a reserve pilot, he ends up being given permission to sortie and cover Maverick and Rooster.

  • Although Hangman is portrayed as being arrogant and self-assured, at the end of the day, all of the TOPGUN graduates are on the same side and work towards the same goal. The rivalries between the candidates is secondary to the fact that everyone is fighting on the same team, and this is a piece of Top Gun I’ve always loved seeing: a healthy rivalry encourages growth, but when the chips are down, everyone has one another’s backs. On the topic of Hangman, Glen Powell had previously appeared as a trader in Dark Knight, and he will be starring in Devotion, which portrays naval aviators in the Korean War.

  • I’m suddenly finding myself excited to watch Devotion: the Korean War isn’t portrayed all that often in film, but it’s also a critical part of the Cold War. The film opened a week ago in North America, and I might just go catch a screening if time allows (I do have a fair amount of vacation time banked up). Failing this, I imagine that Devotion will be available for streaming in the new year. Back in Maverick, after ensuring Maverick and Rooster are okay, Hangman breaks off and heads back to the carrier for a landing. Since Maverick had broken the nose landing gear while taking off earlier, his landing will be a little trickier.

  • As a bit of a clever callback to Maverick’s tendency to buzz the tower after a successful flight, he ends up doing exactly this, causing Cyclone and Warlock to duck for cover. Previously, doing this has landed Maverick in hot water, but here in Maverick, the successful operation means that this is probably the last thing on Cyclone’s mind: all that matters is that their hit was successful, and everyone’s come back in one piece. I’ve heard that carrier landings are one of the hardest parts of being a naval aviator, and things only become more tricky if the carrier is bobbing up and down in rough waters.

  • Tom Clancy’s Threat Vector captures the details that are involved in touching down on a carrier, and through reading the novel, I became aware of the fact that aviators will prefer to increase power when touching down. This is because if the aircraft misses any of the arresting wires on deck (I think this is called a “bolter”), it has enough power to climb back into the air and try again. Of course, this beats coming in too low. Since Maverick’s experienced, and since the oceans seem quite calm, the technical aspects of a carrier landing aren’t shown; Maverick and Rooster’s return to the carrier has the same feel as returning home after a difficult drive.

  • Overall, I found myself immensely satisfied with Top Gun: Maverick, as it tells a solid, self-contained story, is respectful to its predecessor and is accessible to both old and new viewers alike. The story isn’t something that demands familiarity with the original Top Gun, but folks who’ve seen the original film will immediately appreciate all of the references made to the original movie. Moreover, despite being a film about the navy, Maverick manages to elegantly handle the matter of politics: for this movie, the biggest enemy is actually within oneself (fear and doubt), with the hostile nation and pilots acting merely as the driving force for Maverick and Rooster to overcome their inner dæmons.

  • While Maverick has been criticised for glorifying the American armed forces and acting as propaganda promoting the military’s actions, I’ve always felt that war films are simply just a highly visceral way of portraying a given theme, the same way that first person shooters are simply a game of resourcefulness and being observant. The healthy mind is able to make a distinction between fiction and reality, and here, I would argue that the themes of Maverick are actually not too different than the themes from 2015’s Creed, which saw Adonis Creed enter the ring and fight to create his own legacy with help from Rocky, who had similarly been reluctant to train Creed initially.

  • The ending of Maverick does prompt the question of whether or not Top Gun will continue in any way: Miles Teller has expressed interest in a follow-up film, and given the quality of Maverick, I am curious to see what such a film would entail. On the flipside, Maverick is successful mainly because it tells a self-contained story that respectfully wraps up elements from the original Top Gun, and a continuation is not strictly necessary simply because Maverick closes things off on such a decisive note.

  • Observant readers may have noticed that in my screenshots, letterboxes appear in some stills, but are absent in others. This is because the action scenes were filmed in IMAX, which allow more to be shown. For dialogue scenes, the aspect ratio is a standard 21:9. The hybrid approach allows a film’s most critical moments to completely immerse viewers, and admittedly, this can make for some inconsistencies in a screen-shot heavy review: when I wrote about Dark Knight Rises back during the summer, I elected to go purely with the IMAX stills.

  • However, this had also been because that particular post was an unconventional discussion. For Top Gun: Maverick, a more ordinary review, I utilise a mixture of stills so I have a chance to cover all of the thoughts on my mind. I admit that my talks can be on the long side, but this is primarily a consequence of a given work providing a lot to consider. For readers in a rush, reading the paragraphs will give a complete insight into what I make of something; the figure captions are meant to provide various thoughts, trivia and asides.

  • With this in mind, I’m not about to change the way I blog: I believe that celebrating fiction and what one enjoys is best achieved by being thorough. While lengthier posts can be discouraging to readers, I contend that this is a matter of UX. This is why my posts are structured the way they are. Everything important, I provide up top, and then I use the screenshots and figure captions to talk about details that are not relevant to the more important topics. The conclusion at the end then sums up my personal thoughts and allows me to speculate on what future directions look like, or otherwise address elements that aren’t quite as important to readers.

  • It goes without saying that Maverick was a superbly enjoyable film for me, and having now written about the film in full, I am filled with an inclination to go back and revisit both Project Wingman and Ace Combat 7. I am glad to have taken the time to lay down what made the movie so entertaining for me, and while Maverick does seem far removed from my typical predisposition for slice-of-life anime, it is always fun to branch out and explore different forms of media every so often.

  • Since Maverick opened with Maverick working on his vintage P-51, I’ll conclude this post with a screenshot of him taking it out for a flight with Penny. This just about brings this talk on Top Gun: Maverick to a close. This is going to be my last post of November; I was originally planning on writing about Itsuka Ano Umi de, but production issues shook things up somewhat. Entering December, readers can expect more posts on Yama no Susume: Next Summit, a few special topics posts, and my thoughts on Itsuka Ano Umi de once the fourth episode airs. Before any of that, however, I do have a talk on Battlefield 2042‘s third season lined up. The game’s come a very long way since last year, and the latest additions make the game feel like a proper Battlefield title.

There is a reason why Top Gun: Maverick is 2022’s top movie – the themes are inspiring, the flight sequences are phenomenal, and elements from the original Top Gun make a return. Unsurprisingly, it is 2022’s highest grossing film, and the film is nearly universally acclaimed. However, when Netorabo’s Hinataka suggests that the Yuru Camp△ Movie surpasses even Maverick in terms of enjoyment in their review of the former, eyebrows are raised – Hinataka doesn’t explain what specifically about the Yuru Camp△ Movie makes it the superior film. Both films, despite their radically different premises, actually share quite a bit in common. The Yuru Camp△ Movie and Top Gun: Maverick both are set some time after their original, deal with an ongoing assignment that requires Maverick, Chiaki and their respective teams to pull through and get things done in creative ways, and similarly see the return of an iconic piece from their original works (in the Yuru Camp△ Movie, Rin’s Yamaha Vino makes a comeback, and in Top Gun: Maverick, Maverick and Rooster steal an F-14). However, whereas the Yuru Camp△ Movie is a highly cathartic experience which gently reminds viewers of what it means to be an adult, Top Gun: Maverick is meant to be a thrilling and inspiring adventure that shows viewers what leadership and trust look like. The two films are quite different in this regard, and where the Yuru Camp△ Movie is meant to portray its story in a relatable context, Top Gun: Maverick uses a much more dramatic story to convey its themes in order to fire up viewers. As a result, Top Gun: Maverick is endlessly quotable, and scenes from the film are endlessly rewatchable. The Yuru Camp△ Movie reminds me of the fact that I’m probably conducting myself in a reasonable manner, but Top Gun: Maverick shows me one vivid example of what leadership looks like. In conjunction with the fact that I’m rewatching moments like Maverick flying the course in the two minutes and fifteen seconds, or managing to take on a pair of Su-57s in an F-14, on a daily basis, and making bad jokes about real life situations with lines from Top Gun: Maverick, it is clear that the two movies cannot be compared side-by-side as Hinataka does. Consequently, in response to Hinataka’s comment, I would counter that Top Gun: Maverick isn’t “surpassed” by the Yuru Camp△ Movie in any way, and in fact, I would suggest to readers that both movies are worth watching on the basis of their own distinct merits.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown- Flying Up So High With The Superplanes and Remarks on Balancing Power with Experience

“It’s not the plane, it’s the pilot” –Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, Top Gun: Maverick

As players became increasingly proficient in Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, they would slowly progress towards unlocking the Erusean-made X-02 Wyvern and Gründer Industries’ ADF-01 Falken, two of the most powerful aircraft in the game. The unlock requirements for both aircraft are steep: the Wyvern is earned by buying at least one of every other aircraft in the game, while the Falken is unlocked by destroying five special hangars hidden throughout the campaign missions, and then on top of this, earning enough currency to buy the aircraft. The efforts in doing so, however, were quickly apparent; the Wyvern and Falken are both incredibly manoeuverable, allowing players to accelerate and decelerate with ease, turn on a dime and maintain a bead on other foes thanks to its impressive handling. These planes excel in very specific roles: the Wyvern equips advanced long-range AA missiles that can lock onto four targets at once at long ranges and is capable of destroying entire squadrons at once, while the Falken’s iconic tactical laser torched anything it touched on short order. Being the most capable aircraft in The Unsung War, I’ve longed to fly both the Wyvern and Falken. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown‘s Season Pass offers instant access to these aircraft on top of three additional campaign missions: representing a chance to realise a dream I’ve had since I was in middle school, I picked up the content and immediately found myself with Skies Unknown‘s most powerful aircraft. At that point, I’d already completed the campaign once, so I was already familiar with the mechanics, and upon hopping into the game, it became clear as to why these superplanes were included into the game. Besides being a nostalgic callback to earlier titles, the superplanes live up to their reputation as the most advanced aircraft available to players. However, while The Unsung War required players to earn access to these veritable game-changers, Skies Unknown had made these planes available to anyone with a credit card. At first glance, this diminished the thrill of having the superplanes, since next to no effort needed to be spent in-game to earn them, but looking back, Skies Unknown perfectly balances their aircraft out so that players aren’t given an overwhelming advantage merely because they could buy the DLC.

While the Falken, Morgen and Raven are exceptional aircraft with excellent handling traits, far above those of the other aircraft available in Skies Unknown, their base weapon performance remains unaffected. One must still master dogfighting and aerial manoeuvres to enter a position where they can shoot down their targets. The planes still share the same limitations as other aircraft in that one can only carry a single special weapon with them at a time, and weapons still require a certain amount of knowledge to use effectively. The Raven has unlimited pulse lasers as its gun, but pulse lasers are blocked by moisture, leaving one without a good close-quarters tool if their foes should fly into a cloud. Bringing a tactical laser into a mission with large numbers of ground targets, or wasting a multi-purpose burst missile on an F-16 is unsound. It becomes clear that, while the superplanes are a cut above the other planes available to players in Skies Unknown, their efficacy is determined by one’s ability to operate the plane and understand what its weapons are configured to do. In practise, an inexperienced player will not perform well with a superplane in a given mission, whereas a skillful player will always find ways of making a less-than-optimal aircraft successful. This parallels reality, where having the most top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art tools do not make a difference to anywhere nearly the same extent as having the experience and know-how of how to approach a problem. For instance, the average Macbook is likely used as a note-taking machine that doubles as a great way of watching Netflix, but in the hands of an iOS developer, that same Macbook can be used to debug and compile apps that have a tangible real-world impact. This is why the line from Top Gun: Maverick, is so applicable: as important as it is to have excellent tools, this alone doesn’t mean anything unless one also knows how to utilise their toolset fully. In tuning the superplanes so that they reward skilled players but otherwise don’t offer novice players an overwhelming advantage, Skies Unknown has done a fantastic job of incorporating real-world lessons into its mechanics. Having the Falken, Raven or Morgen isn’t going to make this game any easier, but for players who’ve beaten Skies Unknown and are yearning to fly their favourite superplanes from earlier titles, the Morgen, Raven and Falken are a superb way of seeing iconic planes brought out into the present.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The last time I wrote about Ace Combat 7, it was almost three years ago: 2020 had just arrived, and I’d been looking to the new decade with optimism. At the time, the startup I was with was amidst a push to complete a version two of our app, and while the seed money had run out, investors had expressed that, contingent on us producing an app that had a very clear business case, they would be willing to commit to Series A funding. At that point in time, I’d been a few endpoints short of a working app, and I vividly remember struggling with the Facebook API, as well as integrating the Stripe workflow through their SDK.

  • It wasn’t until February that I had a complete app: the founder had been extremely pleased with the completed app and investors had been quite confident this app would be a strong foundation for scaling the business up. However, right at this time, the global health crisis had finally hit. At the beginning of the new year, I had heard of a virulent new coronavirus strain that was wrecking havoc halfway across the world, but once it arrived here, everything suddenly shut down. I certainly had no idea this would happen when I played through and wrote my thoughts on Skies Unknown‘s DLC at the time.

  • Since then, I’d not returned to Ace Combat, but recently, after watching Top Gun: Maverick, I suddenly found myself with a desire to fly awesome aircraft around again. I’d beaten Project Wingman earlier this year, and it hit me that both games, because of their unique approaches towards the air combat experience, had their own merits. In Ace Combat, limited special weapons and more forgiving missiles means players are made to be mindful of their choice of aircraft, as well as how they approach a mission given its parameters. Project Wingman lets players run with up to three special weapon types, but on the flipside, has less mission variety.

  • After beating Skies Unknown, I quickly replayed the campaign a second time so I could earn the funds needed to unlock the X-02 Strike Wyvern. This was Mihaly’s aircraft during the campaign, and until the first DLC was launched, this was the only superplane available to players. The road to the Strike Wyvern is similar to how one unlocked the Wyvern in The Unsung War, and when unlocked, the Strike Wyvern provides players with a then-unsurpassed platform. For me, I immediately chose to unlock the electromagnetic launcher for the Strike Wyvern.

  • With its variable-geometry design, the Strike Wyvern proved to be a highly versatile aircraft best suited for anti-air missions. It is capable of running with a long-range anti-ship missiles or multiple lock-on missiles, giving it some options. Having now played The Unsung War, I found that the option to pick a special weapon meant being able to wield a plane in a greater range of mission types. For my revisit of Skies Unknown, I ran the Strike Wyvern with the electromagnetic launcher: this is the ultimate skill weapon and is devastating against individual targets when a shot connects.

  • Having not played Ace Combact for some time, I decided to ease back into things by flying the first mission, where I’d utilise the electromagnetic launcher against the slow-flying bombers. While the electromagnetic launchers aren’t as flashy as the Cordium railguns of Project Wingman, they are still fun to use, and here, I land a kill against a bomber. I’d forgotten how blue the skies of Ace Combat 7 were on this first mission: one of the great joys about any flight game is that it allows one to soar into the skies without needing to book a plane ticket.

  • Next, I decided to run with the ADFX-01 Morgan. The first of the superplanes developed by Gründer Industries, the Morgan was designed purely for firepower and foregoes stealth. In-universe, lore states that Belka originally intended to use the Morgan, but Osean forces ended up capturing a prototype. The Oseans never did develop their own equivalent, and in subsequent years, Gründer Industries would build the ADF-01 Falken from data acquired during the Morgan’s development. Designed to carry an unwieldy tactical laser, the Morgan’s manoeuverability is reduced to minimise strain on the airframe, although the Morgan can also be outfitted with the powerful multi-purpose burst missiles.

  • However, the Morgan’s most powerful weapon lies in its Integrated Electronic Warfare System (IEWS): when activated, this simultaneously provides ECM and electronics support to both the Morgan and nearby allies. It becomes difficult for enemies to lock onto the Morgan or nearby allied aircraft, and similarly, one’s missiles can lock on much more quickly. While equipping the IEWS precludes the addition of more specialised weapons, the tradeoff means that one’s basic weapons are augmented to a considerable extent.

  • The IEWS represents another tool that enhances a skilled player’s ability further: special weapons in Ace Combat are meant to make specific tasks, like hitting multiple ground targets, or neutralising an enemy squadron from afar before they can get into dogfighting range, easier, so forgoing these weapons in favour of making the basic missiles and gun work better represents a commitment to the basics. This double-edged sword is reminiscent of how, after missiles were introduced, pilots lost their ability to dogfight and found themselves at a disadvantage when aircraft stopped carrying an integral auto-cannon.

  • By 1968, aircraft loses were mounting, and the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor programme was established to produce pilots that could operate with all aspects of their aircraft, including dogfighting. The programme, better known as TOPGUN, yielded dramatic results; the kill-to-loss ratio improved drastically on subsequent sorties. As a bit of trivia, it turns out that TOPGUN students are fined five dollars every time they reference the Top Gun film: the actual TOP GUN programme is about leadership and professionalism, and the film is fiction, so making light of the programme can be seen as an insult of sorts.

  • When I picked up the season pass back in December 2019, I immediately set about flying the Falken, using it in the first of the DLC missions. The Falken is my favourite of the superplanes: with excellent all-around statistics, its The Unsung War incarnation had a tactical laser so powerful even a momentary, glancing hit against a foe would destroy them. Here in Skies Unknown, the tactical laser on the Falken has been dialed back compared to its original appearance for balance reasons. However, the Falken’s laser is still more powerful than the lasers that the other aircraft could equip.

  • Bringing the Falken to defend the 444th Air Base was plainly overkill: when I originally played this mission, I believe I was flying a MiG-21 outfitted with the gun pods. At the time, I’d just started Skies Unknown and didn’t have access to parts for bolstering my aircraft’s performance, so I reasoned that having additional gun pods would help me keep up with the enemy bombers. The mission had, admittedly, given quite a bit of trouble, although in the end, I was able to pull things off. Returning with the Falken made the mission trivially easy: with the parts for extending the tactical laser’s hitbox and duration, I was able to destroy bomber groups before they could even see the base.

  • While it’s easy to attribute the mission’s reduced difficulty to the fact that the Falken is considerably more powerful than the MiG-21, the fact is that I’ve also got more experience in using the aircraft of Ace Combat by this point in time. This is where the choice of page quote comes from: what one can achieve ultimately boils down to their skill and experience. This definitely holds true in reality, and my example about the MacBook Pro is one I have personal experience with: when I entered my first year as a university student, some of my old high school classmates were quite smug about how they were running the best MacBook Pro of the time in their courses, letting them take notes faster and use social media more efficiently than their peers who didn’t have the latest and greatest tech.

  • I stuck to my old-fashioned approach of taking notes by hand, and by my fourth year, during a research symposium, I borrowed one of my lab’s MacBook Pros to do a demo. Said classmates had seen my presentation and had been gobsmacked that it was possible to create and run a full renal system visualisation on the same machines they’d been running. I remarked that this was made possible by the fact that the game engine running my model had been built by exceptionally skilled people, and that with an active imagination and creativity, one will find their machines can always pleasantly surprise them. Since four years had passed, my classmates had matured, and were amazed that technology could accomplish impressive things.

  • While I take considerable pride in achieving my goals with whatever tools are available to me, I won’t say no to a hardware upgrade, either: being able to do my job more effectively is something I always welcome, and I will note that good hardware is the difference between night and day. I primarily do my work on a company 2019 model MacBook Pro nowadays, but for my own side projects, I work off a 2017 iMac. The aging hardware is quite noticeable now: Xcode is considerably slower to compile apps and run the iOS simulator. However, because these side projects are for my own edification more than anything, I don’t see a particular need to upgrade my iMac just yet.

  • The last of the superplanes that came with the season pass is the ADF-11F Raven, an evolution of the ADF series. Originally an unmanned aircraft, the DLC gives players a manned version they can pilot, and despite its bulky airframe, it shares similar handling traits to the Falken. For my test-run of this aircraft, I decided to fly the mission to defend Stonehenge and decided to equip the tactical laser. Having said this, the Raven’s best weapon is the UCAV, autonomous drones armed with pulse lasers that function similarly to DRAGOONS, Bits and Funnels.

  • To ensure things are balanced, the Raven can only send out two UCAV’s at once. Were one able to send out eight UCAVs at the same time, the Raven would become as overpowered as a Gundam, and there’d be no challenge at all to the game. Similarly, were Ace Combat to allow the same approach as Project Wingman, in allowing players to carry additional special weapons into the skies, the balance would be gone. While Project Wingman‘s approach increases combat versatility dramatically and make the ordinary aircraft capable of adapting to different scenarios, the end result of this is that the game’s ultimate aircraft, the PW Mk.I, becomes obscenely powerful.

  • I am looking to write about my experiences with Project Wingman‘s best aircraft in a separate post, since it completely alters the way one plays the game. Having said this, it would be interesting to see if the upcoming Ace Combat title will expand aircraft customisation options and potentially allow players to carry a second special weapon type at the expense of bringing performance-improving parts. In such a scenario, there could be a set of special weapons all aircraft could equip (such as the Mark 81 or Mark 82 unguided bombs, 70 mm rocket pods and missile variants, such as high-velocity missiles that sacrifice explosive payload, or high-impact missiles that sacrifice speed). One could then select these additional weapons in place of upgrade parts to increase their firepower.

  • I do not imagine that the next Ace Combat title will allow this, since Ace Combat games have traditionally emphasised the idea that certain planes are more suited for some roles than others, and this encouraged players to mix up their planes in a mission to achieve the goals more effectively. For me, the Stonehenge defensive mission with the Raven proved quite manageable: on my original run, I flew an F/A-18C and found success by prioritising targets on the ground. Having now returned to Skies Unknown and replaying some missions, I am reminded of how much fun I had when going through this game three years ago.

  • I am therefore curious to see what the next Ace Combat title entails; at present, there is no information on what story this game will tell, but excitement is high because of Unreal Engine 5, which has proven exceptional in tech demos. In the meantime, having found newfound engagement with Ace Combat 7, I will be looking to pick up the Top Gun DLC when there’s a sale: I thoroughly enjoyed Top Gun: Maverick, and the opportunity to fly the Darkstar hypersonic aircraft, Pete Mitchell’s custom F/A18E and equip the Rooster and Hangman emblems would be quite entertaining. This might perhaps incentivise me to revisit the entire Skies Unknown campaign again. Until then, all eyes are on the Modern Warfare II campaign. While the game is going to cost 90 CAD, the trailers for it have been very promising, and if the play-throughs I see of it instill sufficient excitement, I anticipate picking up Modern Warfare II shortly after launch and making my way through the campaign early November.

In practise, being the earliest of the ADFX prototypes, the Morgan is the weaker of the superplanes. Its tactical laser has a six-second recharge, but on the flipside, it is able to carry the obscenely powerful multi-purpose burst missile, which I’d previously used to destroy the Alicorn’s weapons and structures in the DLC missions. The Raven’s special weapons and performance make it an immensely powerful dogfighter, and its drones are able to make short work of the targets its assigned to. Moreover, it was one of the few planes that had the pulse lasers as its gun. In situations where there isn’t much cloud cover, the Raven can decimate aircraft without expending its missiles. On the other hand, the Falken is probably the most versatile of the superplanes; it has the most effective tactical laser of any aircraft (signified by the fact that the beam is blue, rather than pink), and it is capable of carrying the fuel-air bomb, whose large blast radius makes it suited for missions with an anti-ground focus. Finally, the Strike Wyvern, Skies Unknown‘s upgraded version of the Wyvern, lives up to its role as a plane for aces: beyond a weaker anti-ground rating, it shares similar performance statistics as the Falken, and its most powerful weapon, the electromagnetic launcher, demands utmost precision because it fires projectiles at hypersonic velocities. Unlike the tactical laser, which can be directed to focus on a target after it’s begun firing, the electromagnetic launcher only fires individual rounds, so one must be certain of their aim before pulling the trigger. In the hands of a capable pilot, any one of these superplanes will deal a significant amount of damage: each represents a novel way of experience Skies Unknown to the point where it is a worthwhile exercise to revisit the campaign with these new aircraft and see how far one has come, both in terms of their skill and the tools available to them, once they’ve completed the campaign. Of course, having finally returned to Skies Unknown after two years, and with the recent release of the Top Gun: Maverick accompaniment DLC, I am now intrigued to fly the Darkstar, a superplane that is capable reaching a top speed twice that of the Raven, along with Pete Mitchell’s custom F/A-18 and the fifth-generation fighters seen in this film. Top Gun: Maverick was a superbly gripping film that, in my eyes, surpasses even the original to deliver an unparalleled movie-going experience, and in doing so, revitalised my enjoyment of the Ace Combat and Project Wingman games.

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.