Ace Combat 7 is a superb sequel to a classic franchise that succeeds because it embraces new technology, but respects its past – and doesn’t try to evolve the series into something it was never meant to be. There are all-new visuals, missions and game modes, but its connection to the past remains fundamental to its success. It’s a proper sequel to the brilliant Ace Combat 5 (a decent port of which is bundled with PS4 pre-orders – and it runs at 4K60 on Pro), with gameplay evolved from AC4 and AC5. However, the fundamental technology has changed: similar to the Tekken and Soulcalibur titles, a proprietary game engine has been ditched for Unreal Engine 4, but thankfully the move pays off handsomely for the most part, with larger environments, lots of destruction and more on-screen entities.
For this new game, the developers have built everything from scratch. All new plane models, new scenery and a lot of new visual features are on display while the move to current-gen hardware enables a wide range of new visual effects, some of which have a direct impact on gameplay. Perhaps the most impressive addition is the introduction of volumetric cloud cover. Such systems have become increasingly common this generation but most games with this feature tend to be ground-based. Ace Combat 7, however, has players diving in an out of cloud cover. These clouds appear as thick volumes which you can fly through. They are impacted by light, such as that from the sun, and ice and rain are taken into consideration.
Fly through a dark cloud and your visibility is reduced significantly, which is key as this feature is also used for gameplay purposes – it’s more difficult to lock-on to or see the enemy through clouds, somewhat implausibly you can cloud-cover to hide from radar detection. This is the first time in series history that cloud cover plays a significant role in mission design and the twist it adds to gameplay is sensational. Along those same lines, Ace Combat 7 introduces weather which can impact your flight performance. In one mission, while flying through tight spaces, strong bursts of wind can throw your plane off course while, later, blasts of lightning can temporarily interrupt your instruments forcing you to fly blind.