Tearing across the sky at 6,000 feet, launching missiles at hostile bogies and pulling off dramatic loop-the-loops just because you can is kind of cool. And Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is going to offer that, more of that, when it comes out sometime in 2018.
The series it's a part of launched way back in 1995, on the original PlayStation, and since then developers (Bandai) Namco have pretty much carved a niche entirely for themselves as the sole suppliers of arcade-accessible high-altitude action. The most recent entry in the franchise however, 2014's PS3-exclusive Ace Combat Infinity, was met with a rather tired critical reception—made all the worse for being a free-to-play affair. Seen it, done it, worn the t-shirt out and now it's only good for the bin.
Namco's F2P experiment may have backfired then, but they're bringing something new to Ace Combat again for the next instalment—PlayStation VR compatibility on PS4, across a series of missions exclusive to what is, basically, a platform unto itself. And having strapped into the cockpit of some form of high-powered jet fighter (IDK, it had wings, it's enough), I can safely tell you, now that I'm back on terra firma and my legs have stopped wobbling: this is a PSVR game to get genuinely excited about.
I've never much cared for flight simulators (not that this is a particularly deep one), but within seconds of taking off from an aircraft carrier, destined for engagement with enemy craft, I was locked in and fully committed. Headphones on, the wind whistling, the surge of the speed was palpable, truly. The build up of ice on the polycarbonate hatch protecting me from the oxygen-sparse chill outside crackled and promptly shattered away when I pushed forward on the throttle, bursting through some very pretty clouds. (There's some new tech there, FYI.) I span. I banked. I tumbled 360 degrees without throwing up. The only sensation bouncing around my headset-bearing bonce was whooosh.
Like, whoooooooosh. Whoooooooooooosh. Damn. There simply aren't enough "o"s.
I know I'm not going to massively care about whatever story the dogfights of Ace Combat 7 are hung upon—at a preview event in Bandai Namco's London office, we're shown a trailer packed with Final Fantasy-like cutscenes, all serious faces and melodramatic voiceovers. And truthfully, outside of the game's VR element, what I play does little for me. It's cool, I suppose, but it's not putting me in the moment, in the action—it feels a long way from the full-arcade-cab experience of After Burner, and that came out way back in 1987, making it ancient history in video game terms. (Although, come on, a lot of us only clocked how cool it was when John Connor played it in Terminator 2).
Related, on Waypoint: An Abridged History of Sega's Awesome Arcade Racers
But with that headset on? It's the first time I've felt like something's really made for VR, like this is its native platform, and it's more than a novelty experience, since Resident Evil 7. (Which, admittedly, isn't, exclusively, but it worked so, so well.) Not all of Ace Combat 7 will be playable in VR, but Namco is promising that a lot of its content will be, which works for me. Maybe there should be a standalone VR game, allowing people like me to get electric with just those bits, and skip all the standard-screen stuff. Perhaps there will be? The game's still a long way out, so I suppose we'll wait and see.
But right now, I'm super impressed. Like, Maverick getting goggle-eyed at Charlie impressed. Like, I wanna take it for a ride on my motorbike impressed. And I cannot wait to whoooooooooooooooosh again.