Ace Combat 7: Playing with the Fog of War
Updated: 4 days ago
In my view, the closing missions of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown continue to be some of the most memorable missions in the series as far as gameplay is concerned. That's a strong statement but hear me out.
Even in other combat flight simulators, the so-called "Ace Combat vision" is a soft jab at the all-seeing situational awareness (SA). Every ally and enemy unit is displayed on the player's radar and extended radar views. Even just visually scanning the horizon will show where all units on the battlefield are. With positions known, players can freely employ every weapon onboard their aircraft without second guessing. This level of SA has been in place since the series first launched in 1995.
Ace Combat 7, Mission 15, "Battle for Fabanti," would have been the mission any conventional flight arcade or flight sim campaign ended. The climax of a war that spanned an entire continent is bookended by allied forces storming the capital city of the opposing force. Invading by land, sea, and air, allied forces routed the defenders can close in on the military headquarters building. Typically, victory would be secured, and epilogue cutscenes would roll, but this battle doesn't end that way.
Instead, military satellites from both sides are destroyed while in orbit. Their debris scatters and knocks out countless other satellites in the process. A textbook case of the Kessler Syndrome. Reliable long-range communication is lost and datalinks are disrupted. The big "final battle" ends in favor of the allied forces, but with confusion spreading, the war continues in a new uncoordinated fashion - the fog of war is implemented in a way it has never been before in the Ace Combat series.
With no orders from their chain of commands and the location of allies and enemies unknown, all military units in the conflict make decisions based on best guesses, rumors, old intelligence reports, new intel gained from meeting with allied units, and the essential need to secure supplies by force for their survival.
In gameplay this is presented in a way that maintains the level of SA expected in the Ace Combat series while still incorporating the consequences of the loss of information. As cutscenes and narrative radio chatter explain, allies and enemies are no longer automatically identified because of the loss of the satellites and the data they provided.
Players are forced to close within a relatively short distance to unknown units to make their combat identification. While the units are still unknown, they will attack the player no matter which side they are on - they too cannot identify the player's affiliation. Friendly fire incidents do happen during this time. This is especially dangerous for players. With their aircraft carrying dozens of powerful weapons able to decimate multiple units at once, heavy losses can be inflicted on friendly forces within seconds. Being patient, holding fire, and flying defensively while closing distance is the only way to prevent friendly fire incidents. As friendlies and enemies are sorted, the local airborne warning and control system (AWACS) passes that information to allied forces.
This reduced situational awareness appears in varying degrees during the last missions of the game, but mission 16, "Lost Hope" is one of the best examples:
This interpretation of the fog of war negates the ability to reliably attack from a maximum distance and brings player closer to possible threats. This makes high level threats that are usually attacked from long distance now even more deadly because players have to get as close as possible to them. Using long-ranged weaponry under these conditions is still possible by identifying a target(s), flying out, then re-attacking. This new condition that should be fulfilled before attacking breaks up the usual gameplay experience enough to make it more challenging without forgoing the gameplay experience players are already used to.
I believe this implementation of the fog of war in Ace Combat 7 was a great example of a curveball in the series' tried and true formula. Further refinement could add more tactical complexity to future Ace Combat installments. A more refined version of this could allow for constantly changing conditions in campaign mode, add more options to change the usual multiplayer environment of the series, or somewhat control how players fly in the game to set them up for unexpected scenarios.
It's sincerely something I hope appears again, not only in Ace Combat but in other flight arcade games currently in development.
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.