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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.

Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash- Applicable lessons for DICE and the Future of Battlefield V

“Let’s start from where we left off.” –Yumi, Peach Beach Splash menu

Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash is an unusual instalment in Senran Kagura series, being a third-person shooter where ranged combat with water weapons replaces the traditional hack-and-slash gameplay of previous titles. The titular Peach Beach Splash (PBS for brevity, not related in any way to the Public Broadcasting Service) is an ancient tradition where female ninjas engage one another using water weapons, and fight for the top spot that guarantees the winners anything their hearts desire. Each of the characters from Hanzō, Gessen, Hebijo and Crimson Squad participate in the tournament for their own reasons, whether it be for their friends’ sake, to ascertain their futures or simply prove their worth. As players progress through the game, they unlock various cards that bolster their characters’ abilities, as well as earn in-game currency that can be used to purchase character customisations. Mechanically, Peach Beach Splash is a reasonably solid title that features highly colourful settings, an unexpectedly engaging story that allows even newcomers like myself to gain a modicum of insight into what the characters are like, respectable shooting mechanics and above all, a progression system that encourages replay. The features available in Peach Beach Splash indicate a game where the core mechanics are well-defined, sufficiently to the extent that other Triple-A developers could stand to adopt a thing or two from Peach Beach Splash. One such title is DICE’s Battlefield V, which has proven to be a disappointment of late for its relative lack of content. While I appreciate that DICE has invested considerable efforts into improving gameplay mechanics, and for having introduced the Tides of War, which encouraged me to return weekly, the lack of maps has been put a dampener on my excitement. Further to this, the customisation system, originally touted as being an integral part of the experience, has been remarkably lacklustre.

Peach Beach Splash offers a customisation system that puts Battlefield to shame once a day and twice on Sundays. Players have access to an impressive collection of clothing options right out of the gate and can customise their characters to some extent even before they start the game, and as in-game currency is earned, more options become available. Moreover, clothing in Peach Beach Splash reacts to water effects properly. By comparison, one could swim through a river in Battlefield V and come out as dry as they’d been sitting by a roaring fire for a few hours. From a Triple-A title powered by one of the most advanced game engines known to mankind, this is disappointing: I expect more realistic visuals. The cosmetics system in Peach Beach Splash is sufficiently versatile such that the combination of choices is nearly limitless, and players can precisely tune their character’s appearance prior to setting foot on the battlefield. Besides a deep cosmetics system, Peach Beach Splash also outdoes Battlefield V in terms of its map count. Battlefield V launched with a measly eight maps, and in December, Panzerstorm was introduced, bringing the total to nine. Peach Beach Splash has a total of eighteen maps, bringing additional variety into the base game. DICE could take a leaf from Peach Beach Splash: maps are the core of the Battlefield experience, and a part of what makes Battlefield so appealing is being able to learn the ins and outs of each map over time. Greater map diversity keeps the game fresh, and Peach Beach Splash already nails this. Between the superior map variety and customisation system, Peach Beach Splash‘s developers have evidently gone the lengths to make sure that, even without a live service model, their title remains serviceable. DICE could certainly stand to look at games elsewhere for inspiration on what Battlefield V requires to be a long-lived, successful title in the long run.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ll open by mentioning that I’ve got no familiarity with any of the characters of Senran Kagura: I started the game with Yumi, a third year of the Gessen Academy who is said to be cool as ice, but underneath a rigid exterior, is someone who cares for her friends to a great extent. Unlike the main games, all of the characters handle the same, and the choice of character is purely a cosmetic one.

  • Swimsuits, water parks and blue skies are classic summer settings: it is therefore a bit of irony that I played through Peach Beach Splash during the Christmas season. Having bought this on the spur of the moment while I was picking up Valkyria Chronicles 4, I felt that this game would offer simple and frivolous fun, far removed from the more demanding nature of titles like Battlefield V. For one, Battlefield V does not provide players with aesthetically pleasing characters to look at.

  • If I had to be truthful, Peach Beach Splash has unresponsive, slow controls unseeming of a shooter – this is offset by an automatic lock-on system. In the end, while a third-person shooter, Peach Beach Splash lacks the mechanics that most demand skillful aiming, and instead, places more emphasis on cooldown management, which requires a different set of skills.

  • The weapon selection in Peach Beach Splash is basic but sufficiently diverse. The assault rifle-type water gun that is good for medium and close ranges, striking a balance between reload speed and damage output. The water pistol handles like a hand cannon, dealing high damage at the expense of firing rate, while dual pistols allow for a higher capacity in exchange for damage output. There’s a slow-firing rocket launcher that does ranged area-of-effect damage, a water-balloon launcher with limited range but area-of-effect impact, a sniper rifle for precision shots at range and a shotgun that excels in close quarters.

  • More outrageous weapons include a Gatling-gun that has a long reload time but is unparalleled in damage output and a portable hose that handles like a flame thrower. Like Battlefield 4, the assault rifle is more than adequate for most missions. A player’s ammunition reserves is shared with their jump packs, which propel players forward or up. It’s a fun way of getting around quickly and brings to mind the jump packs of Titanfall, even if wall-running is not a feature in Peach Beach Splash.

  • For the main campaign, I ended up playing with a variety of characters, and here, square off against one of the machinations that PBS’ hosts bring to bear. The boss fights were quite ludicrous, being a world apart from the deadly-serious bosses that were seen in The Division. While I’m wielding a rocket launcher here, there’s more than one way to beat a boss – provided one doesn’t pick the close quarters weapons like the hose or shotgun, bosses will go down with enough patience.

  • Some of the characters in Senran Kagura have troubled pasts: Murasaki here is a gloomy, pessimistic character who wields a terrifying power causing her to black out and enter a berserker rage when angered or cornered. She’s normally quiet and soft-spoken, and in Peach Beach Splash, wields none of her usual powers.

  • While Peach Beach Splash might have simple mechanics, the voice acting is on-point and brings the characters to life. I was particularly fond of the different stories each of the characters for the different groups had, and this gave a bit more reason to be rooting for each team as they progressed through the tournament.

  • With a boisterous personality, Homura leads the Crimson Squad, who in Peach Beach Splash, is desperate for work following their departure from Hebijō, and since then, have scratched a living off rocks. While this is more serious in the series proper, Peach Beach Splash has them attempt various money-making schemes, such as comedy skits and the like; the PBS tournament represents a chance to become famous and earn some hard currency for Homura and her team.

  • I rather disliked the missions where an accident results in fires being spread around a map: there’s no indicator on the minimap as to where the fires actually are, and finding them can be tricky, if they’re hidden behind other objects. These missions tested my patience more than any other part of Peach Beach Splash, and I elected to roll with the pistol, which has the smallest profile of any weapon and would also allow me to use my jump pack more liberally.

  • The inability to aim means that boss fights are trickier than they would in other games: in The Division, for instance, I have very fine control over where my character is shooting and therefore, I can always flank a named elite, using my skills to distract them if necessary, and then getting a good flank off, allowing me to target their weak points. This simply isn’t viable in Peach Beach Splash, but I suppose that having superior clothing-water interactions does make up for this to an extent.

  • Besides fights against swarms of weak enemies, Peach Beach Splash also gives players a chance to square off against characters from the other schools. Enemy characters are more durable and will project a shield if their health drops below a certain point, and once they are vanquished, can be finished off by means of glory kills: while not quite as visceral as the glory kills of DOOM, it’s still entertaining to take aim and blast their enemies into humiliation. While body shots are technically possible, having played shooters for a nontrivial period of time, I always go for the head.

  • As I progress further into Peach Beach Splash, I developed my own set of favourite characters to fight with. Murakumo is my current favourite – one of the Gessen students, she hides behind a mask the same way Gundam Unicorn‘s Full Frontal does, assuming the veneer of a terrifying warrior. This belies a shy, insecure personality prone to speaking with a squeaky stutter. Her time at Gessen and with Yumi helps her improve, and I roll Murakumo without her mask for most.

  • Most of Peach Beach Splash‘s campaign missions focus on the schools, but once all of the schools and Crimson Squad’s stories are completed, players gain access to additional missions that showcase other characters. These additional missions are a pleasant surprise and also expose the fact that the PBS Tournament is not all that it appears. The campaign is a bit corny, but all the more entertaining for it.

  • Besides the campaign, there’s also a series of side stories, plus the option to mess with the characters in what Peach Beach Splash refers to as the locker room. I’ve begun customising my preferred characters here, and while I don’t think I’ll ever use the locker room’s more unnecessary (for me) functions, it remains an option for the folks who might have use for such faculties. I have no objection to such features, although it appears that not everyone shares this particular perspective.

  • I’ve heard that Kenichiro Takaki, Senran Kagura‘s main producer, left Marvelous for Cygames after Sony imposed restrictions on the content that is permissible within PlayStation games. Feeling that Senran Kagura would be diminished, Takaki decided to work with a company that would not be subject to the same constraints. These restrictions come from the North American branch of Sony, and sets a worrying precedence for future developers in that North American values, particularly those of the United States, could be used to force overseas developers to comply to arbitrary demands.

  • I personally feel that it is definitely not the place of North Americans to influence decisions that affect organisations abroad, least of all from individuals who have no interest in the game – there is such a thing is not playing what one doesn’t like, after all. It is unfortunate that those who would seek to deprive others of their preferred entertainment exist. It is beyond the scope of my understanding as to why some would do this, and also beyond the scope of this discussion.

  • Over the course of Peach Beach Splash, I’ve been slowly upgrading all of my weapon cards: like The Division, I rarely use the card abilities for skills, instead, placing faith in my choice of weapons and a sure aim. As the end of the game draws nearer, I field Yumi again, and invite readers to take a gander at her profile at the Senran Kagura wiki, which has a rather…interesting description of her physical attributes.

  • The final boss of Peach Beach Splash‘s campaign is a massive entertainment system that shoots lasers. My computer-controlled allies were next to useless in this and were promptly melted. It took me a few attempts to beat this monstrosity, whose attacks, while predictable, are powerful and whose biggest asset is a deep health pool that puts even the Black Tusks’ named elites to shame.

  • I ended up winning by retreating to reload and hammering the mobile entertainment system with the water that I had. Eventually, I’d worn down its health enough, got to the bottom of what was keeping the girls on the island and ended the campaign. My skills from The Division far exceeded what was necessary to do well in this game, and having beat the game, there is the matter of whether or not there I may give other Senran Kagura games a spin. The answer to this is that only time will tell.

I imagine that, were the DICE team to take a leaf from Tamsoft and focus on creating a solid experience for players, Battlefield V could yet be salvaged; Peach Beach Splash represents a polished, smooth product designed with the players in mind. A Battlefield title with more elements inspired by Peach Beach Splash would certainly make a splash, and…I think that’s about as far as I can take this year’s April Fool’s joke. In actuality, while I am quite disappointed with the lack of maps in Battlefield V, the mechanics have seen substantial improvement, and I’ve been having fun with the Tides of War, scored an 18-streak and found Rush to be a welcome game mode. It is the case that I wish DICE would focus on creating new maps and exploring new theatres rather than divert efforts towards minor game modes, but the reality is that I’m not terribly worried about the cosmetics system. The new Firestorm mode has also been a welcome addition: I was hesitant about it until trying it out, and overall, Battlefield V isn’t terrible: it is true that I am bored with the lack of maps, but there’s plenty of other games to go through while I wait for the new maps, which are slated to arrive in May. With this in mind, Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash was something I got during the winter holidays as a bit of a joke. The gameplay is a bit wooden, and somewhat uninspired – aiming takes no skill. With this in mind, I was impressed with the movement system, and extent of customisations available to players in Peach Beach Splash. As well, the character stories did give the game additional depth that I was not expecting: Peach Beach Splash is intended to tie the different schools together, and while I’m not too familiar with the Senran Kagura lore, it is clear that each character has their own story and goals. The main games go much more deeply into the world that is Senran Kagura, but having a bit of story in Peach Beach Splash did much to liven up what is ultimately a fanservice game with no aim beyond showcasing a visually-pleasing cast in swimsuits. It’s certainly not a match for something like Battlefield V, but as far as providing some laughs go, Peach Beach Splash does deliver.

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Tiger: Reflections on the Battlefield V Campaign

“Well, commanders don’t have the luxury of saying old shit that comes into their heads like drivers do!” –Peter Müller

Peter Müller is the commander of a Tiger I tank who fought in North Africa, but as Allied forces advance across Europe, German forces are forced into retreat. Müller is assigned with defending Cologne, and as they fight to repel Allied forces, come across soldiers branded as traitors and deserters. when artillery bombards Müller’s position, he is tasked with launching a counterattack. Despite successfully destroying the artillery pieces, Allied aircraft bombard the city. Müller sends Hartmann to scout ahead for a route, but Hartmann disappears in the smoke. When aircraft renew their bombardment and damages their Tiger, Müller himself leaves the tank to fend off the aircraft while his crew repair the tank. Rejoining his crew, Müller then makes his way to another position held by American forces and recovers documents pertinent to the war. As night falls, Müller is given a final assignment: to defend a cathedral from the relentlessly advancing American units. Despite Allied orders to surrender, the crew opt to fight. Over the radio, German command issues a retreat, but while Müller is crossing a bridge, German forces sabotage the bridge and destroy it. With their Tiger I out of commission, Müller decides to surrender and removes his Iron Cross. Schröder, who shot another crew member earlier, turns his MP40 on Müller. Despite the Führer’s order to defend Germany to the death resulting in countless German casualties, both civilian and military alike, the Allies capture Cologne in March 1945. Berlin itself would fall two months later, putting an end to the war. It is rare that a World War Two game would be presented from the Axis perspective, and players have long wondered what such stories would be like: in a single war story, Battlefield V gives rare insight into the thoughts of a German tank commander who once fought with the goal of bringing glory to Germany. But as the war wore on and casualties mounted along with increasing Allied resolve to crush Hitler’s tyranny, Müller begins to wonder if the war is still worth fighting when hope for victory becomes increasingly distant with each passing day.

History is written by the victor: when I was much younger, I always wondered why the “good guys” always won wars. It turned out that the vanquished don’t have much say in things, and intrigue in alternate outcomes of wars have been the source of many stories in the realm of fiction. The Allied forces fought in Europe to keep a maniacal dictator from spreading his influence over Europe and indiscriminately exterminating all those deemed undesirable. This much, the history books explain, but there are also untold stories of soldiers and officers with the Axis forces who were not fanatically devoted to Hitler’s visions. As the Nazi leadership became more untenable, many would begin wondering what they were fighting for, and whether or not what they were fighting for held any value. This is the story players see through Müller, who beholds the destruction and death that Hitler’s decisions had brought on the German people: increasing doubt and concern when leadership fails, and lingering questions as to whether or not alternatives, such as surrendering, are viable. A successful leader is one who can sway the minds of the moderate, who are likely the majority, and when one has a majority, they can realise their vision. When this majority begins faltering, and the leader loses the confidence of their people, they can no longer realise their vision regardless of how fanatical their most loyal supporters remain. By bringing this perspective of World War Two, Battlefield V gives a very brief sample of what a World War Two game written from the Axis perspective would be like: lacking a sense of heroism and accomplishment, players who finish a game about the Axis powers would come away with doubts about the value of conflict. Such a game could be a very sobering and instructive experience, representing a very novel and unique experience compared to other World War Two shooters available.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Ordinarily, I drive a tank with the camera directly behind me, or else from within. The Last Tiger does things very differently than the multiplayer, rather similar to how Battlefield 1‘s Storm of Steel modified the Mark V’s mechanics so that players could take the campaign in a more relaxed manner than in the multiplayer. After a few minutes, the novelty wore off, and I progressed with the mission, which is set in the ruined streets of Cologne: at this point in the war, Nazi forces had been pushed back into Germany by the Allied forces, who were nearing victory.

  • The Tiger I is one of the most iconic German tanks from World War Two, being famous for its legendary firepower and ability to shrug off damage from almost all Allied tanks. Despite its fearsome reputation, however, the Tiger I was also a fickle tank, being quick to break down, and was very expensive to manufacture. While superior to the American M4 Sherman and Soviet T-34 in terms of durability and firepower, Tiger Is were produced in sufficiently small numbers to have had a minimal outcome on the war.

  • By the later days of the war, British engineers had designed new kinetic penetrators that could deal damage to Tiger tanks at range, while American tacticians focused on using anti-tank guns rather than other tanks to deal with Tigers. The Soviets, in their typical manner, deployed the SU-52, whose 152 mm main gun was more than sufficient to turn Tiger tanks into scrap metal. While technology advanced, the once-mighty Tiger would come to represent a German war machine no longer able to keep up with the Allies’ superior resources and resourcefulness.

  • The Tiger II was an upgrade to the Tiger I, featuring sloped armour that gave it additional protection and a 8.8 cm KwK 43 gun: an upgrade over the Tiger I’s Kwk 36, the Kwk 43 had a longer projectile whose increased length and propellant resulted in a higher muzzle velocity that gave it improved penetration at range. The Tiger II, Panther and Jagdpanther are noticeably absent from Battlefield V, as is the Jagdtiger.

  • Driving through the ruined streets of Cologne gives a very desolate feeling, one that I have not felt from a video game since the days when I played Sniper Elite V2. My original interest in Sniper Elite V2 came from the game giving players a chance to fight through the Flaktowers of Berlin, and my journey to land headshots took me through Berlin towards the latter day of the war.

  • Players will face the M4 Sherman during The Last Tiger: this medium tank was the most widely-produced American tank of World War Two and when introduced, it was able to deal with the weaker German tanks without much issue during North African campaigns. American military leadership never felt the need to produce a heavier tank, feeling that the logistics of supplying and maintaining heavier tanks, plus their limitations in traversing over terrain, would make heavy tanks unviable. While Shermans would be upgraded with a 76mm gun (from its original 75 mm gun) or the Ordnance QF 17-pounder, American forces opted to engage the Tiger tanks by means of numerical superiority and logistical support rather than introducing heavier tanks.

  • In The Last Tiger, M4 Shermans can be destroyed in as little as two shots, and players have access to unlimited ammunition, as well as unlimited repairs: I long imagined the lessening repair effectiveness in Battlefield V‘s multiplayer to be a bug, but it turns out that this is by design. Players operating tanks are forced to rely on resupply stations to for ammunition, and while they can self-repair tanks, friendly support players and resupply stations are much more effective. Their vulnerabilities mean that tanks are actually quite ineffective in open maps of conquest, where long lines of sight allow enemies to quickly spot armour and bring them down.

  • By comparison, more linear game modes like rush and frontlines allows tanks to be devastatingly effective. Back in the campaign, despite the sense of desolation, players still feel powerful as they single-handedly engage M4 tanks without much resistance. The Last Tiger is an excellent opportunity to experience how fearsome the Tiger I was – in the multiplayer, Tiger Is can be torn to shreds by a few coordinated assault players and feel distinctly underpowered, but here in the campaign, very little stands in Müller’s way as he pushes forward with his objective.

  • This is probably the feeling one might expect from the Tiger I: the Tiger I brings to mind Maho Nishizumi of Girls und Panzer, who operates a Tiger I numbered 212 in reference to Michael Wittmann, a well-known German tank commander during World War Two. Despite her cold mannerisms, Maho is shown to be compassionate and kind-hearted; Shiho is similarly caring for her daughters despite any outward appearances, and this side of her personality is shown in Girls und Panzer: Motto Love Love Sakusen Desu!, which showcases various characters in everyday situations outside of Panzerfahren. In particular, Shiho has attempted to make amends with Miho in Motto Love Love Sakusen Desu! with a party, but ended up frightening Miho away with how ostentatious things were.

  • Shiho’s beliefs were not quite as well established when Girls und Panzer first aired, and so, were the subject of no small discussion some seven years previously. I watched this one from the sidelines: at this time of year, I was pushing through my undergraduate thesis and did not have time to spare for much else. In retrospect, I am very glad to have done this: when Girls und Panzer‘s final two episodes aired, I enjoyed both, wrote about them and then went on my merry way, leaving the flame war’s participants to their devices. Going through Girls und Panzer and hearing that the second instalment of Das Finale will come out in June has me wondering if DICE will make good on their live service model to add more content into Battlefield V‘s multiplayer in the way of new maps and factions.

  • At this point in time, I’ve almost got eighty hours in Battlefield V, meaning that I’m very close to breaking even (I believe that when I get a dollar per hour out of a game, I’ve gotten my money’s worth). The Tides of War have certainly kept me entertained –  I’ve played more Battlefield V than I did Battlefield 1 during the same period because there’s been a deep progression system and things to do each week, but admittedly, playing on the same maps gets dull fast. At this point in time, I have learned the maps well enough to anticipate where players are, and even campers blending in with the environment prove to be a lesser concern than the lingering question on my mind.

  • Battlefield V is supposed to be introducing the Firestorm Battle Royale game mode very soon, and admittedly, I have no interest in this mode whatsoever. I understand DICE’s wish to capitalise on the market demand for Battle Royale, but the game type never really appealed to me, and it’ll likely just remain unplayed. I would personally like to have more maps, more iconic battles and more factions. Back in the campaign, having pushed through the level and having melted all opposition in my path, the skies begin darkening as nightfall sets in. The mission, while largely set in a tank, has some segments where players will get to play as Müller while on foot.

  • The MP-40 makes a return here, and while on foot, it’s a solid all-around weapon for engaging American soldiers at close quarters. For the first time in a shooter, I was able to understand what the enemy was saying without the need for subtitles: having played Wolfenstein, I became accustomed to hearing enemies converse in German, and here, it was a little jarring. I ultimately did not manage to complete the stealth requirements for the challenges here, and ended up shooting my way through the entire segment of this war story.

  • This past weekend was quite busy: after an intense work week, I spent a Saturday afternoon at a shopping centre updating my wardrobe for spring, which has finally begin to arrive. After enjoying the best burgers, Russet fries and root beers this side of town, I picked up a beautiful new wristwatch in addition to shirts for the warming weather. I’ve had the old watch since I wrote the finale review for Gundam Unicorn – this watch had been with me to France, Cancún, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan; it’s a little worn and the gears aren’t in the best shape, but I was a little sad to decommission it. This new watch is a bit of a fashion statement, deliberately chosen it for its bronze highlights, distinct frame and the fact that it was on sale for five-eighths off, and I hope it’ll have a good run.

  • Yesterday was the spring lunch for my dōjō: I reached ni-dan a year ago, and while my new belt has not arrived yet, I certainly do feel a bit more with teaching and concepts than I did even a year ago. I spent most of the class helping set up the tables and transporting the food, and while the turnout this year was not quite as large as it was in years previously, it was still a good event with dragon dances and old karate films, as well as plenty of food (meat skewers, pot stickers, sweet-and-sour pork, spicy ginger beef, spring rolls, fries, fried noodles, fried rice, fried chicken, you get the picture). After the lunch ended and I had helped clean up, I took off to watch Captain Marvel with a friend who was in town. I found the movie a solid one, and while perhaps not as inspired or hilarious as Thor: RagnarokBlack PantherAvengers: Infinity War or Guardians of the Galaxy, it was a good movie in its own right that sets the stage for the upcoming Avengers: Endgame.

  • With no inclination for stealth, I ended up blasting my way through the American soldiers in the area to reach the documents. There was a similar mission in Sniper Elite V2 that saw me sneak through an empty but guarded building to locate documents relevant to the V2 programme. In Sniper Elite V2, shooting the fuel cap on a Tiger I was enough to destroy the entire tank; while unrealistic by all counts, it was a fun feature that allowed players to go toe-to-toe with armour with naught more than steady aim. I believe I got the title for five dollars, beat it once and then that was it.

  • I realise I’ve spent a great deal of this post going off-topic – the reality is that The Last Tiger is very straightforwards in its gameplay, and there aren’t very many unpleasant surprises in this mission. The Tiger I is capable of blasting all opposition into hunks of metal, and players only need to aim, fire and then take cover to repair as required; beyond this, The Last Tiger is a cinematic experience highlighting desperation in a losing war.

  • The final act of The Last Tiger is set in the burning ruins of Cologne, as Müller and his crew must fend off waves of Allied tanks. Players must contend with the T34 Calliope, which are modified Sherman M4s with a dedicated rocket launcher system so named for its unusual appearance. They can deal some damage to the player at range, so taking them out is a priority whenever they appear. The flaming cityscape screams desolation, and it is quite easy to see how this Tiger I crew, having held out for this long with a steadfast determination, begin losing resolve as their whole world appears to go up in flames.

  • This battle is intense, and despite Müller’s best efforts to stem the Allied advance on his own, the cathedral is overrun. German command orders him to retreat over the bridge, but before he can cross, the bridge is destroyed. This bridge is modelled after Cologne’s Hohenzollern Bridge, which crosses the Rhine River. With this post done, the last of my war stories posts is completed, and the next time I write about Battlefield V will be about the multiplayer, should there be new maps to explore. Insofar, Battlefield V‘s superior weapon mechanics and progression system have been held back by a lack of information: while I’m having fun with the game, it’s a bit problematic to not know what’s coming up next for the title.

  • While Battlefield V has proven to be a fun game, it appears that the franchise is struggling to decide what its next steps will be. The end result is that Battlefield V has not been as smooth as it could have been, although in hindsight, I don’t regret picking up Battlefield V. Having unlocked almost everything of note, it means that should I choose to direct my time elsewhere (say, The Master Chief Collection), I still have gotten reasonable value from Battlefield V. It would be a shame if iconic World War Two weapons, locations and battles never make it into the title (I would’ve liked to run more Strike Witches and Girls und Panzer loadouts), but I probably won’t be losing too much sleep over what could have been, as I reacquaint myself with the likes of Blood Gulch (Halo: Combat Evolved), Lockout (Halo 2) and Reflection (Halo: Reach).

With this post, I’ve finally finished writing about the war stories of Battlefield V: The Last Tiger brings a different style of gameplay with respect to tank operation, and as I came in with some experience from the multiplayer, things were a little unusual. Unlimited ammunition and self-repair capabilities makes Müller’s Tiger I much more survivable than any tank I’ve operated in the multiplayer, and players cannot actively switch between a third-person and first person view. Instead, the game locks players to an over-the-shoulder camera with options for optics. These decisions were made to purely accommodate the story (I can imagine that limited ammo and repairs against large numbers would be considered unfair), and while making it easier to take in the story, also means that the war story cannot be really considered to be a tutorial for the multiplayer. The Last Tiger is also unique among the war stories for being the only story to offer a vehicle skin on full completion, and for being added to Battlefield V separately after launch. It is a shame that despite their modular design, no more war stories will be added; the voice acting and set-piece creation is an intensive process that would divert resources from improving multiplayer and adding new content, and so, I can understand the decision to not add new war stories. With this being said, The Last Tiger was a welcome addition to the game and definitely does keep in line with Battlefield V‘s war stories, that deal with perspectives that are less explored. However, since players are focused on the multiplayer, that’s where DICE’s resources should be going, and moving ahead, I am hoping that DICE makes a massive push with respect to their content; the basic gameplay is now stable, and the Tides of War have steadily added weapons and vehicles. What Battlefield V is missing is new maps, and new factions. Bringing these into the game would transform a minimally-viable game with solid mechanics into a memorable and long-lasting shooter that could (and should) break Battlefield from the mold that bi-yearly releases have wedged the game into. Supporting a single title for longer would create a game with extensive replay value, and especially with the news of Halo: The Master Chief Collection coming to PC, DICE will need to put in an effort to convince me that Battlefield is a comparable shooter to the likes of Halo.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown- At the Halfway Point

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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