Ace Combat 7 VR Brings Dogfighting To Life [PSX 2016 Hands-On]

My greatest concern regarding Ace Combat 7 is that I’ll get way too into it when it comes out. After a short time with the PlayStation VR demo, I was craning my neck around in the hopes of getting a better look at the bogeys I had been sent to knock out of the sky, putting myself in real danger of falling out of the crappy hotel chair I had long since forgotten about. After playing EVE Valkyrie, I think virtual reality seems to be the ideal format for dogfighting games. I’m happy to report that Ace Combat 7 does little to disabuse that notion.

Okay, here’s an actual, no-bullshit concern: the demo I played was literally four minutes long. A good four minutes, mind you! But there’s no way my experience with the game could have been representative of the full game experience, even moreso than most trade show demos. Unless there’s something deeply wrong with the way the game is structured, the demo I saw was little more than a proof of concept.

My three minutes with Ace Combat 7 was spent as follows: about thirty seconds of setup, thirty more seconds of feeling queasy, and then three minutes of some delightful Top Gun-style action. I’m fairly sensitive to discomfort in virtual reality, so I’m happy to report that I became acclimated fairly quickly, with no eye strain or nausea beyond the initial burst. PlayStation VR is easily the most comfortable of the available headsets — so this doesn’t come as a surprise — but it’s still nice to get confirmation.

Ace Combat 7 also works outside PlayStation VR, but I prefer virtual reality for dogfighting games, so I’ll likely keep the headset strapped to my gourd the whole time. I didn’t get the chance to try the game on a standard TV, but the game controls just fine on a DualShock 4 — the only change is the way you move the camera. But that additional immersion really makes a difference for me, and if you own a PlayStation VR, I’m willing to bet you feel the same way.

I thought it was fairly amusing how the game did its best to avoid attaching its central conflict to any particular force. You’re flying a very very near-future jet for an international peacekeeping force, shooting down UAVs in the hopes of regaining “air supremacy.” The voice acting is crummy, and I doubt the game’s story will thrill anyone. Best case scenario, you’ll get some cheap glee from the shlock.

The game looks fine. What do you want from me? It’s a VR game, it’s on the cheapest available headset. It’s slightly pixellated, but the lighting is fine, but the textures are rough, but not so rough that they’re actively painful to look at. I still think virtual reality games should lean towards stylization — make up for resolution with art direction — but Ace Combat’s realistic visuals don’t make it the ugliest game in the world. It’s fine.

I will take any chance I can get to dogfight in video games. I partially bought Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare on the strength of some space dogfighting, the first Oculus game I really loved was EVE Valkyrie, and I’ve spent most of my time in Star Wars Battlefront flying X-Wings and TIE Fighters. Put me in a plane and have me shoot down other planes, that’s all I want from video games– and life! Ace Combat 7 promises that exact concept, and you can play it in VR. The incredibly short demo worries me, but the quality of the demo itself assuages those worries. Consider this a very tentative recommendation — the dogfighting is very good, but don’t get too excited until we know more for certain.