Ace Combat 7 - title

Ace Combat 4 would be on my short list for "favorite games ever". It's one of the few games that I've beaten multiple times. I rented the game from Blockbuster (back when Blockbuster was a thing), and beat it over a weekend. A few months later, I wanted to play it again, so I rented it another weekend, and beat it. I think I may have rented it (and beat it) one more time before finally just buying my own damn copy from a bargain bin, then played through it again.

When I was in high school, my parent's home was broken into, my PS2 and all my games were among the items stolen -- including Ace Combat 4. Despite having already beaten the game multiple times, when it came time to replace my PS2 collection, I bought the "Greatest Hits" version of the game, and played through it once more.

So in total, I rented Ace Combat 4 at least two or three times from Blockbuster, and have bought two new, retail copies of the game.

I always liked how this series hits a comfortable middle ground between an arcade shooter/dogfighter and a flight sim. You can configure the controls so that the planes fly like actual planes, but it also gives you access to 50-100 missiles on planes that only have 2 missiles strapped to their wings. If you get good enough, you can shoot down enemy planes with just machine gun, but it takes a lot of practice.

Ace Combat has found a comfortable middle ground between arcade shooter and flight sim.

I had gotten to the point that the mission briefing music has been permanently burned into my memory, and I was performing my own self-imposed challenge runs in those last few playthroughs of AC4. I would play through the entire game with machine guns only, trying to cut down on the number of times that I'd have to stop at the airstrip or carrier to resupply. I think the only other game that I've ever done self-imposed challenge runs on is Metal Gear Solid 2.

Challenge runs

The direct sequel, Ace Combat 5, sadly, didn't quite do it for me. I played the game once, and I'm not even sure if I finished it or not. A big part of that game's problem was that it was repetitive. A belligerent nation launches a surprise attack, cripples the Allies' military, and the Alliance has to fight back to reclaim occupied territory before finally beating the aggressor by capturing or destroying its secret super-weapon. I had been there, done that so many times that Ace Combat 5 just kind of dragged. It didn't help that many of Ace Combat 5's missions felt recycled straight from Ace Combat 4.

Ace Combat 6 was an XBox exclusive, which I never played on account of having never owned an XBox, and the other titles since have either been portable titles or spin-offs that just veered too far into "arcade" territory for my tastes. As such, it's been over a decade since I last played an Ace Combat game. Perhaps Ace Combat 7 is a prime opportunity to jump back on the bandwagon? Well, if you were getting tired of challenge runs in AC4, then 7 is loaded with its own little challenges for the player.

Clouds will ice your plane, limiting maneuverability, stalling the plane, and covering the canopy in frost.

Much moreso than the previous games that I've played, Ace Combat 7 uses environmental phenomena and genuine level design to throw a little wrench into the gears. Most missions will have some extra little circumstantial element of its design that can knock a player out of your comfort zone and force you to get creative and/or bold.

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Ace Combat 7

Some number of PC players may have booted up Namco/Bandai's recently-released Ace Combat 7 on PC, only to be disappointed to find that their preferred flight stick doesn't work with the game. Un-supported controllers apparently includes the very popular (and very expensive) Thrustmaster Warthog. This isn't a technical issue; it's a hardware-exclusivity deal that Namco/Bandai apparently signed with Thrustmaster and Hori. Only two flight sticks are supported by the game: the Thrustmaster T. Flight and HORI AC7 flight stick. Apparently, the same restrictions apply to the PS4 and XBox One versions of the game

If you're like me, and don't play a lot of flight sims, any flight stick that you have is likely old and obsolete. But you probably still hoped it would work with the game. It's PC, after all, and controllers are mostly plug-and-play. Worst case scenario, you'd have to custom configure the control mapping. Right?

Not so. If the game detects a flight stick that isn't on its approved list, it apparently refuses to recognize it.

I'm not exactly a huge Ace Combat fan, but Ace Combat 4 (which I played on PS2 back in the day) is on my short list for "favorite games ever". Perhaps I'll put up a retro-review of it at some point. Needless to say, AC4 was a near perfect hybrid of acrade dogfighting and realistic flight sim, and it's nuanced depiction of war might make it my single favorite video game about war -- except for maybe This War of Mine.

So I was excited that a new game was coming out. I had bought a Logitech Attack 3 flight stick some years ago for another game, and I was also excited to see how Ace Combat would feel with a flight stick instead of a game controller. So I bought the game on PC expecting the flight stick would work. It didn't, and I was pretty bummed. I bought the game on the weekend of its PC release, and when I found that my flight stick didn't work, I shelved the game and went back to Resident Evil 2 and Civilization VI: Gathering Storm. I figured I'd come back to AC7 in a few weeks, at which point, the flight stick situation would hopefully be resolved, or modders would maybe add unofficial support for un-supported flight sticks.

You can configure an un-supported flight stick via Steam's built-in Controller Settings.

After a little bit of research, I discovered Steam's built-in "General Controller Settings" gamepad mapping, and that it can be used to "trick" Ace Combat 7 into thinking you're playing with a third-party gamepad. I tested it last night, and was pleased to discover that it works!

To see if your flight stick will work (and it's no guarantee), perform the following steps:

  1. Open Steam and select "Steam -> Settings" in the top menu.
  2. In the Settings panel, click "Controller".
  3. In the Controller Config panel, click the button that says "GENERAL CONTROLLER SETTINGS". A big, blue menu with several check boxes should appear in a new window.
  4. In the Controller Settings window, check the "Generic Gamepad Configuration Support" box.
  5. If your flight stick is plugged in, and the PC is registering it, you should see it in a list of "Detected Controllers". Click it.
  6. This should take you to a key binding screen. Set up your key bindings as you see fit. You do not necessarily have to map every single button, as most flight sticks may not have enough buttons.
  7. Click "Save" and a dialogue should appear asking you if you want to "Share this controller definition?". You can name the controller anything you like. The important part here is that there is a drop down labeled: "Select the type of controller:". You must select "Generic Gamepad" from the drop down! You can then click "No, Thank You" if you do not wish to share the settings.

You should now be able to boot up Ace Combat 7, and the game should now believe your flight stick is a third-party gamepad (rather than a forbidden flight stick), and it should function based on the bindings that you specified.

You can configure your flight stick as a "Generic Gamepad" in Steam's Controller Settings.

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Last week, FromSoftware released a cryptic teaser for what appears to be a new game. This teaser is all of 13 seconds long and doesn't provide much in the way of information, or even a title. Is it a sequel to Bloodborne? A sequel to Demon's Souls? A reboot of Tenchu? Or maybe a new IP altogether?

The teaser followed the announcement a few days prior that the Demon's Souls servers are finally going to be shut down -- for reals this time. The fact that every publisher (Sony, Atlus, and Namco/Bandai) announced a server shut down effective the same date -- the 28th of February 2018 -- has lead many to speculate that From may announce a sequel or HD remaster of Demon's Souls.

There's plenty that I'd like to see in a sequel (or remaster) to Demon's Souls, and also plenty that I'd like to see from any possible future Souls-Borne games in general. But I'm not completely sold on the idea of "Shadows Die Twice" being a Demon's Souls or Bloodborne sequel.

FromSoftware's "Shadows Die Twice" teaser from the The Game Awards 2017.

First off, the teaser has a very Japanese style. The music sounds very east Asian, there's Japanese script apparently chiseled into the background. Is it possible that this game could explore the fabled "Easter Lands" referenced in the Souls-Borne games? Every game has had such references. Demon's Souls includes Satsuki and the Magic Sword Makato. Dark Souls has the Eastern Armor and characters like Shiva of the East and the Swordmaster. Bloodborne even has allusions to an eastern land in the form of the NPC Old Hunter Yamamura, who traveled from an eastern land in pursuit of "honorable revenge" against a beast.

A game featuring an eastern land, in the style of the Souls-Borne series would probably add plenty of fuel to the speculation that all the games may have a shared continuity...

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Dark Souls III

The best strategies for defeating bosses in the Souls games typically involves staying as close as you possibly can to the boss, circling around to their backside, stabbing them in the butt, and rolling under their attacks when necessary. A few bosses in the series will break this convention and force the player to have to find different ways of defeating them. Dark Souls III has one particular boss that makes this go-to strategy almost completely futile. If you're able to circle-strafe around the feet of the King of the Storm boss in Archdragon Peak and then still beat it, then I am impressed.

Dark Souls III - The King of the Storm
The Nameless King and his storm drake require a different strategy than the typical Dark Souls boss.

Why you should keep your distance

The King of the Storm is one of the rare bosses in the series that actually requires the player to keep your distance from the boss and avoid getting in too close. There are actually quite a few reasons for this, but there are two that stand out as making this boss particularly frustrating for any player who tethers themselves to the boss's feet. The first is that you'll end up forcing yourself into battle with the most ever-present of Souls games' most formidable foes: the camera. Locking onto the enemy is impossible when directly below him, and so you won't be able to see any of what he is doing. He also moves very quickly and can cover a lot of space, so you'll end up spending a lot of time having to micro-manage the camera as you try to manually keep it focused on the dragon.

The second reason is that the dragon has a potent defense against this sort of strategy: its fire breath. If you hang around under the dragon's belly, it won't wait too long before flying up into the air and unleashing an area of effect fire breath attack that can often mean certain death if you get caught in it. Even a health bar that stretches most of the way across the screen can be more than halved simply by being hit with this attack. But that isn't the worst of it. The attack will also knock the player prone, but the fire spray also persists long enough that it can frequently trigger a second hit once you stand up. This second hit will almost certainly kill you.

Dark Souls III - flying fire breath
Getting caught in this flying fire breath attack means almost certain death.

These two reasons should be enough to keep you out from under the dragon, but there are other reasons why keeping your distance is the better option....

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Dark Souls III

PC elitists now have yet another bragging point. Considering that Bloodborne ran smoothly at 30 frames per second on the PS4 (from my experience), and that Dark Souls III was supposedly built upon that same engine, I expected that the PS4 version would perform on par with (or maybe even better than) the PC version. I was wrong. Both console versions of Dark Souls III are capped at 30 fps, but their actual performance doesn't even meet that standard. This is a big problem considering that the game plays almost as fast as Bloodborne. Dropping a few crucial frames of enemy attack wind-ups can mean the difference between a successful dodge or parry, or losing a third of your health to a single attack. Bloodborne had the load screen issue that was that game's near-debilitating "known shippable"; and now Dark Souls III has its console framerate as being the major launch issue that must be fixed. At least Bloodborne's problem didn't impact actual gameplay...

Table of Content

A challenge to Souls fans

This is probably the hardest game in the lineup. In fact, it may even be too hard in some ways. Enemies are very aggressive and relentless, they are very fast and swift at attacking, and they are very good at tracking your movement during an attack. I feel like the game is sadly front-loaded with excessive difficulty. Oh, don't get me wrong! It's hard throughout, and there's still some definite mid-and-late-game peaks of difficulty. But this game easily has the highest barrier to entry of any game in the lineup.

Dark Souls III is very hard and very much front-loaded with difficulty.

It's one thing to provide a challenge, but the early levels of this game maybe cross the line into outright cruelty. If I weren't already invested in the series, I might not have even made it past the Lothric knights in the High Wall. Yeah sure, Demon's Souls had the Red Eye Knights, and Dark Souls had the Black Knights, and Bloodborne had the warewolves; but in those cases, those difficult enemies were blocking optional paths and items. This is why I can kind of tolerate the mutating tentacle monster on the rooftop that hits very hard, has a ton of HP, obscures half the screen, and causes an annoying framerate drop. Yeah, it's located in a critical path of the level, but it can be easily avoided and is basically just guarding a crystal lizard. The difficult Lothric knights, on the other hand, are placed in critical bottlenecks that must be passed as part of the necessary path of progression through the level, and they will shred new players to pieces! Heck, even that fat, winged knight going around in circles in the courtyard is easier than the Lothric Knights.

And then you get to the Undead Settlement, which is a maze full of ambushes and difficult enemies. Those fat evangelists and the large cleaver undead hit hard and have deceptively long reach and multi-hit combos. This is at a time when your HP and stamina are so low that you can't reliably block their attacks. Their long reach and relentless aggression means you can't back away either. So you're stuck having to stick to close range and roll through their attacks - a maneuver that can result in a quick death if you make but a single slip-up. I had a lot of trouble handling these enemies (as I was still getting used to the new timings for dodging and parrying, and the stamina requirements for blocking), and so I imagine that many rookies will likely be completely overwhelmed.

Dark Souls III - parry
Dangerous enemies have narrow windows for parrying their attacks, making it hard to practice this technique.

There's a higher skill floor than in previous titles, and the game demands a further degree of mastery of rolling, stamina management, i-frames, and weapon movesets that previous games simply didn't require. Bloodborne also toes with this line, but Dark Souls III seems to go a bit further. The problem here is that enemies become far too fast and deadly far too early in the game, and the player character remains slow and relatively weak. What's worse is that the game breaks with the original's insistence on fair difficulty by apparently completely failing to enforce the rules regarding stamina for enemies! This was also a problem in Dark Souls II, but it didn't bother me quite as much because those enemies had slower attacks that were generally easier to dodge.

There's no gradual ramping up of challenge for the player to learn things like roll and parry timings, and there aren't any large, slow enemies to practice these techniques against. Bloodborne had very fast enemies to go with its very fast combat, but the character was also equally fast. Bloodborne also had the Brick Trolls, whose telegraphed attacks gave plenty of opportunity to practice parrying in the very first level while still making progress. Dark Souls III simply doesn't have this. There's the undead spearmen that are easy to parry, but they're so slow and defensive that you'll likely just get bored waiting for them to attack and miss your opportunity to parry. Sure you could go back to the tutorial level to practice parrying, but then you're not making any progress. There's also a lot more instances early of mobs, including the presence of difficult casters (or even bosses) being among those mobs. Fortunately, the boss is very slow and lumbering, and the casters have good audio cues for when they're casting that help to make these mobs less frustrating to deal with.

The big, armored elephant in the room

Dark Souls III - hyper armor
Poise has been disabled for players, which means enemies will always stagger you, but you might not stagger them.

Perhaps the biggest contributor to the game's difficulty early on is the completely baffling way in which poise and defense work - which is that they don't. In addition to not being able to upgrade armor to improve its defenses, the poise stat appears to have been completely disabled for all players in the game's code for ... some reason. Poise was one of the best additions from Dark Souls 1, and its apparent removal completely baffles me. Is it bugged and they're planning on fixing and enabling it later via a patch? Is it planned to be part of DLC? "Hey, want poise back? Pay $15 for this DLC!" The value still shows up in the UI, and there's still rings and weapons that exclusively improve poise, so it definitely seems like FROM intends for poise to be in the game. The enemies seem to still have poise, so this situation seems completely unfair. This might be part of the reason why the start of the game feels so difficult, since those damned speedy Lothric Knights can hit through your attacks, but you can't hit through theirs!

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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