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  • Writer's pictureAaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

The Most Powerful Aircraft Cannon in Ace Combat

Overpowered or realistic?



One of my most vivid memories of early experiences with online multiplayer gaming is a curse word laden, 16 person argument from an Ace Combat 6 game lobby. But rather than being about who was more skilled or who was "lag switching" (it was 2007), the subject was about how overpowered the aircraft cannon in this game was. Some people even stating that using it was a "crutch" and should be frowned upon since it seemed so heavily exaggerated to them. I think the reason this heated discussion is memorable to me because there was a valid point to be made.


Inconsistent Presentation

The 28-year strong Ace Combat series has many iterations of aircraft cannons or 'Gun' in its games. From 1995 to present day, the cannons have varied so much, you could probably have an Ace Combat fan identify which game that cannon is from just by describing its traits. High rate of fire but basically no damage? Shattered Skies. Slow rate of fire and only the tracers caused damage? The Unsung War or The Belkan War. Was the only way to make the gun hit anything reliably through the use of an auto aiming device? Probably Skies of Deception, Joint Assault or Cross Rumble. Was it a non-moving gunsight with damage so low it felt like firing paper clips? Assault Horizon.


The gun's time to kill varies per game. It may take four or five seconds of sustained gunfire to down an aircraft in one game, while it may take three seconds of only tracer rounds hitting a target to destroy something in the next game. But that rate of fire being so slow, aircraft can maneuver between the tracer fire, sustaining no damage at all. This could be explained as attempts to game balance each game as it was made by the Ace Combat development team, Project Aces, but the inconsistencies do not help the overall appeal of these weapons in the series.


These variances in how the aircraft cannons hit targets are compounded by the difficulties of using the gun sight each Ace Combat game provides. Speaking in broad terms, inaccuracy and slow refresh rate of the gun sight or 'pipper' players use are the two terms that I think about when thinking about gun sights of the Ace Combat series in general. On the surface, it makes using the gun on targets seem harder than it is.


Ace Combat Assault Horizon POV while using the cannon.
Ace Combat Assault Horizon POV while using the cannon.

In the player's point of view, the gun pipper always seems a bit too slow and a bit inaccurate; especially against highly maneuverable targets. The near useless gun sight from Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere comes to mind. While taking time to let the gun sight settle onto ground and naval targets is fine, anyone trying to use the pipper in air combat would be better off remembering the general flight path of the cannon rounds and visually guiding those tracers onto the enemy aircraft.


In certain games, the firing range and damage output can be augmented through aircraft parts customization. Even devices like automatic gun firing devices and radar guided aim assists that make using the gun a near thoughtless process. The newest game, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, makes extensive use of these customizations. Though, opposing players also have access to defensive customizations. In Ace Combat 7, the gun's time to kill can exceed five seconds if either player's customizations just happen to stack up a certain way.


Not to mention the sheer (and hilarious) volume of fire provided by secondary weapons like Gun Pods; which are essentially two or more extra aircraft cannons with a ton of ammo and no consequences.


The OP Cannon

Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (Xbox 360, 2007) was the first Ace Combat game that presented the largest scale battles in the series up to that point. With dozens, if not a hundred, of enemy units per mission, the selection and deployment of Standard Missiles and 'special weaponry' mattered more than ever. The cannon is always there as well, but after years of being ever-changing and somewhat unreliable, it would be Plan C at best. Right?


As of the time of this writing, the internal aircraft cannons of Ace Combat 6 are still the most powerful cannons in the Ace Combat series. Specifically without any modifications via in game customizations, since that was not possible in the game. The gun pipper in Ace Combat 6 was also accurate enough to be serviceable against all targets. Even during the tightest swirling air battles. Getting cannon shells onto target was easy.


At the time, just how immensely effective they were was a bit staggering. The average time to kill for targets like planes, armored vehicles, small buildings and surface-to-air missile units was just a roughly one second. Maybe a second and a half.


Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation gun kill.
Ace Combat 6 guns kill. Note the Time in the top right of the HUD.

A decent player with good rudder control could sink warships like Destroyers and Cruisers in roughly three or four seconds. A stream of cannon shells can remove every radar, vertical launch cell, air defense system and even the bridge of a warship in just a breath or two. 2


Ace Combat 6 Fires of Liberation ground strafe.
Ace Combat 6 ground strafe.

Now waves of main battle tanks could be easily shattered with a strafe, not anti-tank missiles. In multiplayer, top-tier aircraft like the F-22A and Su-47 could be shredded in a single turn. For the first time, there was even an in-game achievement for completing the single player campaign with nothing but the aircraft gun. That is a lot of confidence and a massive improvement in a somewhat overlooked weapon.


Was it really bad enough to call it "overpowered" though?


Closer to Reality

In reality, we have to remember that since the Cold War a "small caliber gun" built into a fixed-wing combat aircraft is commonly a 20mm cannon capable of firing 50 to 100 shells in 1 second. There are a few things built well enough to take no damage from a heavy volume of fire from objects this large. Even in flight simulators that prioritize realism, an opposing aircraft rapidly breaks into pieces after a moment or two of sustained cannon fire.


Real world records of aircraft using cannons in combat from the 1990s to February 2024 certainly do not match up 100% with Ace Combat 6. The common outcome of tanks, bunkers and buildings being strafed is not the targets being instantaneously vaporized. It is more likely that a target hit by aircraft cannon fire would result in a mobility kill or capability kill (knocking out optics, communications, sensors, etc). But at least using the gun in Ace Combat 6 does not feel as though the player is firing marbles.


 
About the Writer

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.

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