I still feel like I’m soaring. Not just literally; Ace Combat 7’s VR support has left me grinning from ear-to-ear. This is nothing short of a revelation; a deadly ballet of barrel rolls and missiles. It’s a successful fusion of cinematic excitement and utterly arresting immersion, the likes of which VR has rarely seen. It made my heart pound and my jaw drop with dizzying regularity.
And then it ended.
And that’s the elephant in the room. For all its high-flying spectacle, Ace Combat 7 is criminally short on VR content. Just three missions await you, and experienced players will beat each in 10 minutes or less. Series newcomers (such as myself) will probably take longer; multiple deaths on the tough-but-firm normal mode stretched it out to about two hours. To offer this captivating a taste of aerial combat, realized with such polish, and then to take it away just as you’re getting settled is nothing short of cruel.
But it is what it is and, more importantly, what remains is unforgettably good. From immersion through to control, Ace Combat 7 is top gun (sorry). The cockpit, for starters, is detailed down to every switch and button with an impressive degree of perceived authenticity. Landscapes stretch out for miles around you and, although they’re obviously a little blurry up close, they’re surprisingly convincing when zooming past at 100 mph. Fly into clouds and the weather will start to beat down on your windshield. In one dramatic opening, an airfield becomes a battle zone and debris is rained down upon you with alarming force. Don’t let its length fool you; this is a blockbuster VR experience.
You have to use the Expert control scheme instead of the more accessible option. For some, it will undoubtedly cause nausea, but it otherwise feels like the most natural way to go. It virtually fuzes your right thumb to the pilot’s flight stick. Combat is initially daunting but, once mastered, an effortless thrill.
A flight simulator this is not; the controls may have their intricacies but ultimately Ace Combat 7 is all about the grandiose. It’s in the moments you skim past an enemy fighter and wince at the proximity or the last-second kills that have you piercing through a fiery explosion. It comes just as you untangle from a hopscotch of missile dodges only to find yourself pulling up before you crash into the ocean. In these instances I couldn’t help but cheer and woot like a cowboy, occasionally leaping out of my seat (bad idea) and becoming the very person I’ve rolled my eyes at thousands of times in films. It really is that powerful.
The movie magic is woven into the inevitable games of cat and mouse too. As the skies become peppered with enemies you’ll start throwing your head back and forth in desperate search of new targets and threats. It’s that head movement that really adds a dimension not previously seen in other Ace games. One slight hiccup is the developer’s decision to fade the world out when you approach the glass; I often wrestled with this as I searched for targets above my head with no real indication of how close I was to the outside.
Though missions are short they do at least feel varied and pretty representative of what you’ll find in the wider campaign. There’s a more gentle introduction mission before a level with plenty of ground units and then a spectacular finale involving all-out warfare. It’s only the middle mission that puts a foot wrong, with timed-objectives that feel far too strict, as if to artificially pad the length with difficulty. You can be a star pilot but it’s really enemy position and luck that will win you the day.
Once you’re done you can return to those missions in a new plane with a new cockpit, and there’s a free flight mode as well as appreciated if novel air show display to see too. I suspect the real longevity here will simply be in showing other people, though. The game has real potential to be an essential VR showcase for those with iron stomachs.
A conundrum, then. Ace Combat 7’s VR support makes for one of the most convincing, bombastic games you’ll see in a headset. It’s a powerhouse display of roaring engines and teeth-grinding tension that’s never anything less than relentlessly enjoyable. And yet it’s painfully short, over before you can even pinch yourself to see if you’re dreaming. But, to hell with it, it’s left me with a heightened pulse rate, sweaty palms and the biggest grin VR has yet put on my face. If I can’t praise that, then what’s the point? Now let’s start the campaign for more of it.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is available now for $59.99. The PS4 version has an exclusive PSVR mode. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.