The MoeGamer Awards are a series of “alternative” awards I’ve devised in collaboration with the community to celebrate the sorts of things that never get celebrated in end-of-year roundups! Find out more here — and feel free to leave a suggestion on that post if you have any good ideas!
Structured fun is all very well and good. Everyone likes completing stages, scoring points, levelling up, that sort of thing. But sometimes all you want to do is do your own thing, making use of the tools a game provides without any real “goal” in mind.
This sort of activity is typically associated with “open world” games — and indeed that kind of game is very good for just dicking around, seeing how the different systems interact with one another and working out exactly how much chaos you are able to cause within the constraints of the game’s ostensible “rules”.
But it’s not just open world games that are good at this. Today’s award, suggested by riobravo79, celebrates a game in which it’s fun — and relaxing — to just dick around and see what happens. And not a bandit encampment in sight.
And the winner is…
Ace Combat 7’s VR mode
I’ve mentioned numerous times at this point that I’ve had a lifelong fascination with aircraft. I’m not a plane nerd or anything — despite very much being my father’s son in numerous other ways — but I have always found just the thrill of being in a flying machine to be absolutely intoxicating. (And on one flight to the Edinburgh Festival while I was at university, I discovered how easy it is to become literally intoxicated while in a flying machine. Hope you’re doing well, wherever you are, Krissie.)
I used to play a lot of flight simulators back in the 16-bit days — both military ones from companies like Digital Integration and MicroProse as well as subLOGIC’s Flight Simulator II, that which would later become Microsoft Flight Simulator. I enjoyed how much those games demanded of their players; pressing buttons to activate various systems was inherently satisfying, and I always felt like I was doing something remarkable while I was playing them.
But I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I was still looking at a low-poly landscape on a 14-inch TV monitor. However realistic the rest of the experience was, the audio-visual side of things fell a bit flat.
This improved somewhat as DOS and Windows PCs came to the fore, and gaming hardware became more powerful. I remember having a lot of fun with games such as Strike Commander, TFX and EF2000, and I was particularly enamoured with them for the fact they had virtual, polygonal cockpits which you could move your “head” around in to look all around you. It was a step closer to actually being there… but still not quite enough.
Fast forward a bunch of years and I (somewhat belatedly) discovered the Ace Combat series after playing Ace Combat 4. I wanted more, but at this time it was a series that had been dormant for quite a while, mostly due to the fact that flight simulators — particularly more arcadey-style ones — had fallen out of favour in recent years. This, it seemed, was it for Ace Combat.
Except it wasn’t. Out of nowhere, Namco announced Ace Combat 7 for PlayStation 4. And it would have PlayStation VR support. Conveniently, I’d treated myself to a PSVR headset a while back thanks to a generous credit deal available on Amazon. I was, it’s fair to say, hyped.
I was a little disappointed to discover down the road that the VR mode was not for the whole game, but rather a small collection of missions. But then I heard some words that well and truly piqued my interest: “Free Flight”.
Are you telling me that I’ll be able to pick a plane, strap on a VR headset and just fly?
Yes. That’s exactly what the game offered. Granted, you had to complete the three VR-specific missions before you could do this, but those turned out to be a lot of stomach-churning fun in their own right. But when I finally got up into the peacetime skies in my bird, knowing that there were no enemies around to ruin my day and that I was just free to dick around… well, that VR headset didn’t come off for a good couple of hours, let me tell you.
The Free Flight mode lets you explore the three VR stages as much as you want. There’s nothing to “do” as such, aside from just flying your plane and looking out of the window… but that’s all I wanted. The experience of flying a plane in VR was unlike anything else I’d ever experienced. It felt real. It was like fulfilling a lifelong dream… even though it was just pixels and polygons on a screen. It was absolutely magical.
And there was plenty of silly, physically impossible fun you could have, too. PSVR’s motion tracking means that you can shift your position around in the cockpit as you fly. You can stick your head down into the footwell and see how well you can fly “blind”… or just have a close look at the fully working instrument panel. You can stand up and stick your head out of the top of your canopy. You can turn around in your chair and fly “backwards”. It was a glorious, wonderful playground; it was the experience I’d been one day hoping we’d be able to get from flight simulators since I was a child.
The sight of the clouds casting shadows over my instruments as I climbed higher and higher. The way the sunlight broke through as I cleared the cloud canopy. The remarkably authentic feeling of vertigo as I pushed the stick forward and pointed straight down at the ocean 40,000 feet below me. The genuine knot in my stomach as I successfully pulled up inches from the waves.
I was flying. I could do whatever I wanted. I was free. (Unless I crashed… though even then, it was just a few button presses to get back into the air again.) And it was wonderful.
The MoeGamer Compendium, Volume 1 is now available! Grab a copy today for a beautiful physical edition of the Cover Game features originally published in 2016.
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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