The PlayStation VR headset was our favourite new hardware of 2016, but as is becoming increasingly obvious there’s worryingly few big-name VR games lined up for 2017. Apart from Sony’s sci-fi shooter Farpoint almost everything else is indie games. Which is just one of the reasons we were so excited to play Bandai Namco’s Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown.
Believe it or not the Ace Combat series is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, but unlike most flight sims the only time it’s ever been released on the PC is via the divisive Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. The 2011 spin-off was clearly aimed at the Call Of Duty crowd rather than existing fans. It wasn’t a bad game, and it sold okay, but Ace Combat 7 is an attempt to show the difference between it and a full-blooded numbered sequel.
You can see what producer Kazutoki Kono thinks that difference means in the e-mail interview below, but basically it boils down to a mix of real-world and sci-fi aircraft and a story set in the series’ long-established fictional universe. As well as presumably removing Assault Horizon’s on-rails elements.
We didn’t get to see any of that though, as the demo we played was of a VR mission. As Kono explains, you can’t play the whole of Ace Combat 7 in VR but it does contain a number of special missions that are designed specifically for PlayStation VR. (The fact that an Xbox One version of the game has been announced has led some to imagine it as tacit confirmation that the Xbox is also getting a VR headset. But since the main campaign does not support VR that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.)
The VR demo was brief, but at least as impressive as the Star Wars: Battlefront one. More so from a technical perspective, because despite throwing our jet fighter around the skies like a cocktail shaker in the hands of Tom Cruise himself we didn’t feel the slightest bit of nausea. And yet we couldn’t detect the game holding back in any way, since it has a faster turn speed than Battlefront and doesn’t restrict the view during tight turns. Whatever VR wizardry Kono and his team are in possession of it works flawlessly.
The mission starts off on the deck of an aircraft carrier, giving you ample time to look out the window and at the cockpit – marvelling at the apparent realism of it all. And then, like a modern day After Burner, you’re catapulted into the sky and sent off to intercept some enemy aircraft, at least one of which is some kind of weird boomerang-shaped craft. As you can see in the interview Kono implies that although you’ll always be flying real aircraft they’ll eventually be given sci-fi weapons, with some of the screenshots seeming to show an F-15 firing a laser gun.
There was none of that in the demo we played though, as we banked and weaved amongst the clouds, trying to get a target lock with our (apparently infinite) missiles. The reason there are so many flight and space simulators for VR is that for the first time it makes the process of tracking enemies easy, as you simply follow them with your head – rather than relying on multiple camera views.
This works perfect in Ace Combat 7, and although we never saw any of the enemies put up much of a fight we were genuinely upset when the experience ended and we had to stop. The potential for VR in general has barely been tapped at all, but it’s experiences like this that prove what a game-changer it can really be. We don’t know what the rest of Ace Combat 7 is going to be like, but we can say that the VR missions alone make this one of our most anticipated games of the year.