I'm absolutely terrified of flying in real life. Even just stepping onto a passenger plane is an ordeal for me so the thought of piloting a jet-propelled fighter plane in real life? Well lets just say I'd have to be wearing the brown flight suit that day...
Flying in virtual reality however is a different story. The moment the wheels of my F/A-18F first left the deck of the Aircraft carrier in Ace Combat 7 and the plane took to the skies, I whooped out loud. I grit my teeth and held my breath during my first VR dog-fight. The chase was intense, twisting and turning through the air before flying into the thick clouds above us. Water droplets started forming on the glass of my cockpit and then suddenly I burst out into the clear blue skies above, the droplets turning into trickles as they quickly ran off the glass. It was at this point that I launched an air-to-air missile at my target, it thundered through the skies, connected with the fuselage of the plane in front of me and then BOOM, scratch one bogey!.
As I flew through the fiery wreckage left behind, I let out and even louder whoop. The adrenaline rush had me hooked and I hurriedly scanned the radar for my next target so I could do it all again. I don't think I'll ever forget flying through that first explosion though. The initial rush of the combat was incredible but being able to crane my neck around to watch the debris disappear into the distance brought it all to life. I might be scared of flying in the real world but up in the virtual skies? Oh my word, it's thrilling to the extreme.
You can watch me experience some extreme G's as I play through portions of Ace Combat 7's first two missions in this week's episode of Ian's VR Corner. The video below will give you a good idea as to how it all looks and feels, but in all honesty the flat version is nothing compared to how awesome the virtual shenanigans are when you're inside the helmet.
Bandai Namco provided the T. Flight Hotas 4 used in this video coverage.
As much as I enjoyed Ace Combat 7 VR, it should be obvious from my footage that this game is on the extreme end of the VR scale. The interior of the cockpit gives you a stomach steadying horizon point to focus on but even then, the speed of the combat and tight maneuverability of the fighter planes means that you'll rarely be flying horizontally.
For me there was a tiny a lurch in my tummy the first time I took off in VR but after that I felt nothing but sheer exhilaration. I would definitely urge caution to VR newbies though. As fun as it is, I really don't think it would be wise to choose this as your first foray into VR - work your way up to it with some more sedate titles first, or risk being put off of VR for life because the action here is so overwhelming.
Controls wise, it's possible to play the VR mode with the DualShock 4, or a compatible flight stick and I tested it with both. The flight stick was a great companion piece for adding to the immersion, but using it felt alien to me so I often made easily avoidable errors. This kind of peripheral will probably be an essential piece of kit for seasoned Flight Sim fans but for those new to flying games, the DualShock 4 works perfectly well and it was my preferred control method.
Pre-release, the biggest criticism from series fans was the limited number of VR missions available. Ace Combat 7's VR portion only encompasses three unique missions and these run separate to the main game. Thanks to the intense initial buzz of the VR combat, I found myself happily replaying these missions over and over again, but even so they're sure to get old sooner or later. The main problem here is that there's not too much variety to the mission structure. Only one level gives you a smattering of ground forces to take out, the rest concentrate solely on dogfights.
The impressive immersion gives this VR mode extra longevity, but really it's crying out for more content. I'd love to be able to fly around more locations from the main campaign and being able to go up against some of the bigger aircraft featured the story would be breathtaking, but oh my word, just thinking about how amazing an Ace Combat VR multiplayer mode would be sends shivers down my spine. This is a great VR game, but it's also a terrible, terrible tease.
The first time I remember being this gobsmacked by the immersive realism of a VR experience was when I was cowering behind a box, hiding from Ma Baker in Resident Evil 7, who at the time felt like a real, living presence out to get me. Certain PSVR games have such a high level of presentation that it's entirely possible to lose yourself in the experience and forget the outside world. Ace Combat 7 in VR is one such example and it's an incredible shame that the mode is so limited in scope. VR implementation for the full Ace Combat 7 experience would have made it a PSVR system seller for sure but even so, if you're a VR enthusiast, I'd say this experience is worth the price of the full game.
If you enjoyed this episode of Ian's VR Corner, you can catch up with my previous adventures over on YouTube in our VR playlist, where I've covered Asgard's Wrath, Ghost Giant and Five Nights at Freddy's VR. You can also read our list of best PSVR games.