In which a 27 year old fighter jet shoots lasers.
At Playstation Experience 2016, Sony revealed a trailer for Ace Combat 7, and in some ways it is a very Metal Gear trailer. This is fitting because the Ace Combat series of games is, in some ways, better at dealing with some of the main themes of the Metal Gear series than Metal Gear games are.
The Metal Gear franchise is probably best known for its convoluted story and inscrutable characters. Or rather that’s what it has became known for ever since the release of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. In the brief Golden Age between the release of the first and second Metal Gear Solid games, the tactical stealth franchise was also known for its heavy handed way of dealing with the intersection of technology and warfare. The game that dealt with this intersection most directly, Metal Gear Solid 4, also had some of the most problematic characters and the most convoluted plot, which sort of overshadowed the way that game dealt with the dehumanization of warfare and the disparity in the way that developed nations and developing nations deal with conflict.
The Ace Combat series is the exact opposite of the Metal Gear series in terms of storytelling. Where Metal Gear has a large cast of bizarre characters, the Ace Combat games max out at about three named characters. Where Metal Gear’s story plays out over the course of five games, Ace Combat iterates on basically the same story for every game. The two series do share some common underlying themes, though, and if the new trailer is any indication, this new Ace Combat game is moving more in the direction of Metal Gear than any previous entry in the series.
The dehumanization,or robotization, of warfare is a major theme illustrated by the Gekkos in Metal Gear Solid 4, and this trailer for Ace Combat 7 shows signs that this will be a major theme in this new game. A recurring image from the trailer is a massive aircraft, referred to as “the Arsenal Bird”, carrying a large escorting force of drones. Fans of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty will recognize the Arsenal code name as one of the Metal Gear vehicles from that game.
Pretty much every Ace Combat game is about the Air Force of a small fictitious European Nation fighting to retake their country after it is invaded by the forces of a world Superpower underscoring a lack of respect for international law. The Metal Gear game that deals with this theme the most is probably Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, though only tangentially. One of the conflicts that set the backdrop for MGSV is the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but the game really ignores the political implications of that incursion in favor of weird conspiracy theories. With Russia’s recent annexation of the Crimea and multiple political challenges to globalization, this theme is only becoming more relevant over time.
One potential result of decreased globalization could be that rich, developed countries will continue to get richer while poorer, developing nations will get poorer, which could increase the likelihood of a High Vs. Low tech battlefield. In Metal Gear Solid 4, the background conflict of the first few chapters is one such conflict between a Private Military Corporation and a local militia in which the militia is totally outmatched. The new Ace Combat 7 trailer shows a lot of signs of this being a main theme in the game. The voice over of the trailer makes references to convicts as fighter pilots, which is the type of policy that a poor country without the resources to operate a drone program might employ. Most of the fighters shown as being part of the player’s side of the conflict are at least twenty years old, while the opposition employs future tech drones and massive aircraft that would be immensely expensive to build and operate.
At any rate, Ace Combat 7 seems to finally inject some human character into what has been a fairly mechanical series, and it seems to be taking inspiration from Metal Gear, which could be good or really bad. It’s definitely a game to watch regardless.