It’s pretty obvious that Ace Combat 7 is shaping up to be another Gran Turismo Sport situation; excellent VR support for an excellent game that’s stretched just a little too thin. But, even if the PSVR-exclusive missions only amount to two or three hours, they still promise to be some of the most spectacular moments you can spend inside the headset.
My recent demo for the game opened up as a jet made its way to the runway amidst a heated aerial battle. This was Ace in full-blown Call of Duty mode; pilots were screaming over comms as hell rained down from above, including a massive crash that belonged in a summer blockbuster. It’s very much about the experience and quite rightly; I haven’t been this impressed with the visual fidelity and detail of a PSVR game probably since Resident Evil 7.
Ace Combat 7 is yet more proof that cockpit VR makes for some of the most compelling and immersive content out there at the moment. Your interface is littered with switches and buttons that you’re dying to tinker with (sadly DualShock 4 support doesn’t allow for that) and it’s not hard to believe the chaos that’s occurring around you. Even after three years spent inside VR, I still found myself marveling at the scripted carnage. The audio, meanwhile, is a complete assault on the senses, seeking to overwhelm you with the roar of engines and the rattle of gunfire before you’ve even left the ground.
Once you do take off, you’ll find the series’ tried and true gameplay makes a natural fit in VR. There’s a surprising degree of freedom afforded to you here; if you thought WipEout VR’s twist and turns were a bit much for your stomach then you’ll definitely want to brace yourself for your first corkscrew or nose dive, but there’s nothing else quite like it in VR.
The cat and mouse game of locking onto enemies or shaking your own incoming threats is just as engaging as it ever was. I had callbacks to EA’s excellent X-Wing VR Mission as I scanned the skyline for targets and felt the weight of every sharp turn and last-minute maneuver in the pit of my stomach.
That said, it did give me some understanding of developer Project Ace’s position; how many times could you really reinvent this level in meaningful ways given the limits of PSVR’s processing power? If the developer isn’t able to pull off more enemy numbers or elaborate set pieces then is there really much point in producing a somewhat repetitive campaign? We’ll have to wait and see what kind of variety it can pull off in the remaining missions, but I felt like even five minutes inside the VR mode had shown me pretty much the extent of the experience and I expect seasoned players will tear through it in no time.
Even in this clumsy ballet of death, though, first-rate immersion remains at the game’s heart. Rain droplets splatter onto the screen and begin to rush past you as you soar into the clouds, dense forests stretch out for miles below you and, if you’re lucky enough, a close-quarters kill will have you piercing a cloud of explosive smoke like a shot in a Tom Cruise film. The speed at which you move no doubt helps the visuals appear more convincing than they really are, but it’s hard to care when you’re in the midst of piloting a billion dollar jet. It’s heart-pounding, dream-fulfilling stuff and the core component of what makes this such a promising experience.
I can’t help but wonder how it could be taken further, though. Accessibility is at the heart of this experience, but it would have been great to see PlayStation Move support that allows you to emulate your flight stick with one hand and interact with buttons around you with the other. Imagine pulling a lever for a last minute eject when you’re close to death, for example. There’s a lot of possibilities to make the experience that bit more immersive.
Like anyone else, I’d love to tackle the entirety of Ace Combat 7 in VR — and it’s a shame there isn’t more considering just how long development’s taken — but there is meat on this bone. Brief as it will likely be, this is going to be a blockbuster experience for PSVR and one you’re likely to revisit with friends and family. For now, that will do, but let’s hope there’s more to come in the future.
For more on Ace Combat 7, read our interview with series Producer Kazutoki Kono right here. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown hits PS4, Xbox One and PC on January 18th 2019, though its limited VR mode is exclusive to PSVR.