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It's been a dozen years since the last numbered entry in the Ace Combat series, and fans have been eager to take to the skies again. Was it worth the wait? Reiner is a longtime fan of the series, and he shares some of Ace Combat 7's highs and lows – including a look at a PlayStation VR mission.
Take a look at our latest NGT to watch ace-pilot Reiner scrape mountaintops, evade fire under cloud cover, and blast a bunch of opposing planes into clouds of debris. We also take a look at some of the unlockables and loadouts before strapping on the VR goggles. Will his lunch stay down? There's only one way to find out! (Fine. He doesn't barf.)
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on January 18, with a PC release coming February 1.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is an adrenaline-filled thrill ride that soars high with excellently crafted dogfights, responsive controls, and payloads large enough to crack the planet in half. As your fighter rips through a narrow canyon in pursuit of a bogey with a death wish, Ace Combat 7 delivers top-tier intensity. In these moments, the music swells, your wingmen scream for immediate success, and if your rocket hits the mark, you feel like Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star. The battles often culminate in exciting and nerve-wracking ways, but not without some turbulence.
Developer Project Aces taps into the latest military technology to introduce new planes and more potent adversarial forces for the series, but the overall game design resembles an old warbird that feels like it’s going to shake apart before it reaches the runway. The missions, their pacing, and the rewards they bring leave much to be desired. The game is designed to be a throwback to the glory days of the series, drawing heavily from the gameplay direction of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War. While honing in on what made combat great in that title, missions have a lot of downtime, and objectives like scoring challenges feel like filler activities in between the meaningful dogfights.
When you are engaged with rival ace pilots, different weather conditions often up the challenge; you may need to dart into the clouds of a raging storm to trail an adversary. This affects visibility conditions, and your plane gets batted around by strong winds – maybe even struck by lightning. When this happens, the electrical surge scrambles the HUD, making targeting and tracking enemies more difficult. It’s a little annoying to lose targeting, as it seems like it comes down to the random chance of a lightning blast, but it ups the chaos and makes you panic – it’s effective. Weather and low altitudes are also used to give missions a layer of complexity. For instance, you sometimes must fly at dangerously low altitudes to avoid radar detection – the series’ version of stealth, which functions well and delivers plenty of excitement in slower moments of specific missions.
The dogfighting mechanics are Wright-brothers-old in terms of gameplay design, but are still reliable, dynamic, and all about outsmarting your foe. After highlighting an enemy, the dance of positioning begins, with a large green arrow telling you which way to fly. To an onlooker, this may look ineffective at times, as your plane appears to be looping aimlessly, but the goal is to line up behind your adversary as close as possible for a quick rocket blast that can’t be evaded with flares. This process is as challenging as it is thrilling. As you spin through the air, you and your adversary exchange lock-on warnings before one of you eventually lands a shot. The skill-sapping targeting from Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is nowhere to be found in this installment; it’s old-school Ace Combat design against the series’ hardest foes and it's glorious.
Yes, you square off against a new group of rival aces, but the biggest threat comes from drones, which can turn on a dime and are not affected by g-forces. These new threats are tied to a complicated story that once again sees the Osean Federation locked in war with the Kingdom of Erusea. The Ace Combat series has told great stories in the past, but this is not one of them. It begins as a fascinating tale about a mechanic struggling to find her place in her family’s shadow, but quickly becomes a preposterous journey of prisoners being forced to fly fighter jets to save the world. It plays out like a Fast and the Furious story that is trying to be touching and serious, but it just doesn’t mesh. I ended up laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, but yes, it does make for some silly fun.
Over the course of the 20 story-based missions, you earn credits to purchase aircraft, weapons, and upgrades, but you can’t freely pick what you want. You need to purchase items along paths that make up a sprawling, spiderweb-like store. If you see a plane you want, you may have to buy some stuff you don’t desire just to reach it. This design keeps the balance in check, as souped-up craft are at the ends of the paths, but it creates the problem of the using the same vehicle for numerous missions in a row, as you likely can’t afford other planes that will make a difference when you need them. The series was better off when it handed out planes as rewards for progress and kills.Click here to watch embedded video
You can earn additional money by venturing into multiplayer, which includes an eight-player battle royal mode (no, not "royale," but it is everyone against everyone). Taking on other players is a test of skill, but almost every one of my matches ended with no one being downed. The player that dealt the most damage ended up winning. Part of the problem is a five-minute time limit, but it mostly comes down to the evasion and dogfighting tactics being damn good and players knowing how to survive. The homing capabilities of missiles definitely could use a boost here, as the matches end up going nowhere. You see a couple of enemies go down in team death match, which allows for multiple planes to engage a singular target, but battle royal has been hilariously uneventful for me.
For fans of this long-running series, Skies Unknown doesn’t live up to its name. This is the Ace Combat we’ve known and loved for decades, and it’s great to have it back. The dogfighting is rightfully the highlight and will give your reflexes a good workout.The VR Vomit Comet
The PlayStation 4 version comes with an exclusive PlayStation VR mode that makes no concessions in how the game is played. Rotation speeds are virtually the same, meaning you’re going to feel it. Using head movement to help track enemy vessels is pretty damn cool, and the sensation of movement is wild – especially when spinning or flying close to the ground. The entire game cannot be played in VR, and the headset is only used for a unique mini campaign, which is fun in its own right. The VR aspect isn’t a selling point, but if you do have the headset already, it is worth checking out for the sensation of hitting extreme Gs. Just make sure you have a barf bag nearby.
Summary: This is the Ace Combat we’ve known and loved for decades, and it’s great to have it back.
Concept: A thrilling continuation of a series that hasn’t had a mainline installment in 12 years. Dogfighting is once again the main attraction, but the story and missions often miss the mark
Graphics: The aircraft are highly detailed, and the settings that have sci-fi inspirations look great. Trees and buildings occasionally pop in, but dense clouds and weather conditions often hide it
Sound: The soundtrack is all over the place, bouncing between choirs belting out doomsday tones and guitars playing upbeat melodies. The odd arrangement works well, and is joined by constant chatter of wingmen and roaring missiles
Playability: Even on the advanced settings, the controls are arcade-like and designed to keep the action simple to manage. Each plane and weapon brings something different to the battlefield
Entertainment: The game makes you work for each kill, and as a result you feel like you’ve achieved something notable with almost every ace you down
It really does feel like we're in the season of returning characters. With Resident Evil 2 coming out soon, the game is obviously a remake, so we're playing as Leon and Claire again. There's a nice familiarity to taking control of Leon Kennedy again, as we've done in Resident Evil 2, 4, and 6. Claire herself was in the relatively recent Revelations 2. We're going back to Sora again in Kingdom Hearts III, Dante again in Devil May Cry 5, Yoshi in Yoshi's Crafted World, etc.
While these games often have some variation, I was thinking about whether or not I prefer new or old characters in games. Reading Suriel's interview with Ed Boon, the Mortal Kombat director talked a bit about the mixture of old and new characters in Mortal Kombat 11 and having to keep a balance, edging toward the returning characters versus new ones. It got me thinking about how much I liked the new characters in Mortal Kombat X, though I didn't grow up with the series, which might be the root of my thinking on it.
So I was curious what everyone else thought: do you prefer playing new characters or do you prefer your old favorites come back? It doesn't necessarily have to be fighting games. Does Ethan Winters in Resident Evil 7 matter to you or could that have been Chris Redfield and felt as good or better?
It's kind of a cop-out answer, but for me it's a case-by-case basis. The open-minded part of me says, sure, I'm open to an entirely new roster as long as all the new characters replicate the feelings I had growing attached to the existing ones through my childhood, which is obviously an impossible ask. So I know I'm never going to be completely fair to any new roster or characters in an established series.
What about you? Let us know below in the comments.
Even if you don't recognize Rieko Kodama's name, there's a good chance you've played a game she's either worked on, directed, or produced. Dubbed "The First Lady of RPGs" by magazine Nintendo Power due to her pioneering work in the 1980s, Kodama is famous for making her name and work none in a male-dominated industry. You might best know her for games like Phantasy Star IV, 7th Dragon, and Skies of Arcadia, but she has also contributed to titles like Sonic the Hedgehog and Altered Beast, as well.
Kodama will be recognized with the Pioneer Award at the Game Developer's Conference in March taking place in San Francisco.
"After decades spent developing some of SEGA's most indelible classics, Kodama-san could easily rest on her laurels, but instead has dedicated herself to creating games that transcend gender and generations to give us countless hours of joy," GDC's general manager Katie Stern wrote in a statement given to Gamasutra. "This award is a 'thank you' to Kodama-san and all creators who work so hard to achieve greatness."
Kodama currently still works at Sega as a producer and is behind the Sega Ages titles and has repeatedly busted barriers in her career. The ceremony will take place March 20 at 6:30 p.m. PST as part of the Game Developer's Choice awards.
Today we got to see large chunk of Mortal Kombat 11, including a look at seven of its characters, as well as number of gameplay changes that are moving the game in a new direction based on both the community’s reaction to previous Netherrealm games and how the developer itself hopes to change the way players think about the series’ flashy, gore-filled fights.
I had the chance to chat with Netherrealm creative director Ed Boon about all the changes taking place. We talked about how variations will work for both the average and competitive players, Netherrealm's overall philosophy when it comes to iterating on an established franchise, and where 11’s focus is when it comes to its roster.
Game Informer: I’m a big fan of the custom variations in Mortal Kombat 11. My concern about it was that with Injustice 2's gear, it was very customizable, but the competitive crowd didn’t take to it.
Ed Boon: Yeah. And we knew that. From before we even announced it, we knew that the competitive guys? They want regulation. They want, "These are your tools to work with, and there’s no changing them." So we knew this was more of a feature that the mass market would certainly love. But the competitive guys, they want a regulation pool table, a regulation basketball court.
Do you want the competitive crowd to tinker around and create their own variations?
I don’t think it really works for the competitive thing, because the whole point is to be getting better and better. So you don’t want someone who’s like, “Oh, I’ve been working on building my character for six months,” and the guy who just bought the game yesterday, putting them together is not "regulation, so to speak." But online, when you’re playing people in our matchups, we take that into account. We do want players to say, “Hey, my Scorpion’s a little bit better now, let me go online and use them and continue level up.”
In the demo there were three variations to choose from. Are there always going to be three base variations that people can choose from?
Yeah. The game will come with the “regulation” version of the character, and you can add to one and build it. We’re kind of still thinking about whether we want to make those three fixed. We can let you copy and paste and then build from there, but I’m personally leaning towards having some base ones, certainly for competitive and tournaments.
Do you think that between those three variations, those will be a character’s entire moveset, or will there be custom-only moves?
No, I don’t think from the base three variations we’ll be adding to that. We want those things to be fixed, so players can know, "That’s the variation, I know how it plays, I’m learning how to fight against it.”
Across those three – that will be the character’s entire moveset?
Yeah. We don’t want to leave stuff out, so I imagine that’ll be the base three, and they’ll encompass all of what that character can possibly do.
Digging into some of the under-the-hood stuff, I noticed I wasn’t able to run, and there was no stamina meter.
We don’t have them, no.
What is the reasoning behind that?
The overall fighting is, we’re moving in, it’s a little tighter. It’s focused more on what they call “footsies,” jockeying, space control. Our arenas are smaller, and it’s a lot more about strategy than all-out aggression. In Mortal Kombat X, it was way more of like a rushdown, get in the guy’s face, run up to them, make them guess high or low. So we’re really holding back on that, and making it more strategic. It’s more intense, and, I don’t want to use to word intimate, but...
It’s more about close-range combat.
Is that something that you saw as the main direction you wanted to take the series? Was that feedback you got from the community? Where does that sort of shift come from?
Part of it was the community. A big part was just change. We don’t want to just release a game that just feels like a prettier-skinned version of the previous one. We really want to people to play it and go, “Wow, there’s a lot of things that are different.” What we did with the meters is totally different in MKX, the super moves, we’ve separated them.
The X-Rays are basically the Death Blows now?
Yeah, exactly. That’s the big, crazy finisher move.
I like the change because it feels more like you don’t have to save your meter for other options. Everything has its own meter.
Exactly. And that was strategically something we did. Because if you’re a pro-level player, and you’re using the meter as like a resource, you’re like, “Oh, I’ve got to use the meter to do a pro move, now I’ve got to escape here.” You’re not going to save that up for a Fatal Blow or an X-Ray. So we separated them as three separate resources that you manage. It feels deeper to me, and the dynamic of the game just changes dramatically.
Can you walk me through those meters? There’s the pro moves, and the meter’s two bars – so what are your one and two-bar options?
It’s basically splitting up your enhanced moves into offensive moves and defensive moves. Offense moves are like, normally you shoot on spark as Baraka, his projectile. If I use one of the meters, I shoot out two. Basically making a more powerful version of that move. So you can use meter, but that’s a resource. And then the defensive ones, if you have me in a combo, you can roll out of it, escape. That’s another resource.
Each meter has two segments. Are there options that use up two segments?
There are options that use two segments. There are options that use up one segment from each bar. If you knock somebody down, and they want to escape and then get in their face, you can do a rollout, which is a defensive move, with an attack with it, so it uses one of each meter. And some of the moves that are super-powerful, those use two chunks of the meter.
So it’s all management. Do I want to use this one that uses two chunks of the meter? It will be a great advantage but then I’d have to wait for it to fill up. And it’s all timed. The meters all fill up over time.
The other thing I noticed is the way you activate those enhanced moves is different. Before you did the regular motion with the block button, but now with Scorpion’s teleportation, you have to press up and front kick after you do it.
That’s still in flux. We’re in a bit of experimentation and such. Me personally? I want to keep them as simple as possible. I don’t want the barrier of entry to be being able to do something that’s really difficult. I’d like it, ideally, if they were all across the board simple. The barrier shouldn’t be, "do you have the dexterity to do this?" it should be "Can you think of the right thing at the right time?"
Can you talk about the philosophy behind changing that specific input?
Well, the designers, the guys who were steering in that direction, they wanted to do something that made sense visually, as to what you see on screen. But currently, it’s resulting a lot of different ways to enhance these moves. So if you pick up new character, you have to learn how to enhance different moves, as opposed to say, let’s do a universal thing, so when you pick up a character, everyone knows how to do everything. So we’re still kind of changing everything.
Are there going to options like in Mortal Kombat X Scorpion’s spear, where he can use the double-spears with one meter, but then if he nails you with it, you can use another meter to whip it and set them on fire?
Oh, yeah, absolutely.
So in terms of roster selection, you saw the seven characters we have now, but there’s been a back and forth. In Mortal Kombat 9, it was all about the past history, it was rehashing the plot of one through three. In X it was moving toward a new direction, where you had a lot of new characters. Where do see that direction going with 11?
I think Mortal Kombat X probably introduced more brand-new characters. The D’Vorahs, and Ferra & Torrs, Cassie Cage and Jackie, probably more than Mortal Kombat 11. I think Mortal Kombat 11 will introduce some new characters, but we have 80 characters or something, there’s always this passion to seeing your favorite character returning, Skarlet or Baraka. Baraka’s a big one. People were pissed when Baraka wasn’t in MKX. So I think if we had like a needle, it’d lean a little bit more towards servicing those players who want to see their favorite return.
I’m going to say two words and you react however you want. Cassie Cage.
[Long pause] Uh, Cassie Cage, I’m a big fan. [Laughs]
Well, I figured I’d try.
The new year has been rough for Netflix. In addition to having to raise their prices, the streaming service is facing down the barrel of losing 20 percent of their content this year to companies like NBC Universal and Disney pulling their licenses to bolster their own streaming services. Like cowboys standing in a circle ready to draw their guns, it seems like everyone has decided it's about time to draw. Netflix doesn't see this as the real threat, though. The real threat is Fortnite.
In a letter to investors today, Netflix argued that HBO is not their main competition, but rather Epic's multiplayer battle royale shooter. Moreover, the competition has been winning more often than not, putting Netflix in the position of defeat more than victory in the battle for people's time.
"In the US, we earn around 10 [percent] of television screen time and less than that of mobile screen time," their letter to shareholders reads. "We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO. When YouTube went down globally for a few minutes in October, our viewing and signups spiked for that time... There are thousands of competitors in this highly-fragmented market vying to entertain customers and low barriers to entry for those with great experiences."
At present, Netflix has 139 million subscribers, compared to Fortnite's 200 million registered accounts. However, the monthly active users for Fortnite tend to be around 80 million, while Netflix has 100 million by their own count. People just usually log in on Netflix less often than Fortnite, which charts a middle ground between being a predictable experience and one fresh one by virtue of it being a multiplayer game. That is to say, you don't know if randomly clicking a movie on Netflix will be interesting, and you know watching something you've seen will be the same experience as the last time you saw it, but Fortnite doesn't have either of these problems.
With games like Fortnite also ending up on mobile phones, the barrier to entry is starting to become no greater than it would be to watch Netflix or Hulu.