Fly the friendly skies.
The first thing that struck me when firing up Luftrausers for the first time was the way in which the game embodies that classic arcade-style feeling. I only intended to play for a few minutes; to take the game out for a test drive before returning to it later when I had the time for a more in-depth exploration of what it has to offer. Yet straight away, I was sucked in by the intensity of the air battles, the immediately addictive game play, the instant compulsion to better my last high score and to have one last go at completing that one challenge which seemed tantalisingly within my reach. If there’s one thing in particular that Luftrausers’ game play manifests, it’s that infamous ‘just one more go’ syndrome.
Pimp my fighter plane.
Luftrasuers’ premise is a simple one – essentially the player must pilot an aircraft in an environment populated by an array of enemy fighter planes, battleships and submarines, and try to stay alive for as long as possible. Each time a certain points total is reached the player levels up. A huge amount of equipment is made available to the player in the form of engines, body parts and weaponry.
The customisation options are plentiful, and contribute to the game’s ability to keep players coming back for more, with new parts only unlocked by completing challenges. Some of these are simple, such as defeating a certain number of enemies in a game, destroying a boat or achieving a particular multiplier score; others can be particularly fiendish and only achievable after unlocking upgrades. I found Luftrausers’ abundance of customisation an excellent selling point, and quickly embraced the experimentation this inspired by swapping out parts, testing out combinations and tackling certain missions based on the particular load-out I had selected.
Similarly, this emphasis on customisation is an apt fit for Luftrausers’ game play. Initially I found the controls quite tricky. The game makes use of the arrow keys to control the aircraft, and the ‘X’ button to fire. On the surface this appears simple rather that complex, but to characterise these mechanics as basic would be somewhat deceptive. While these controls took a little while to get the hang of, precise aircraft manoeuvrability required a certain amount of patience to master effectively. Luftrausers’ customisation options for outfitting my fighter plane directly impacted the control I had over my aircraft. If I loaded up with extra armour, pitch and movement would feel slower and heavier. Alternatively, by outfitting my plane for speed and agility I was able to zip around the screen dodging fire. Unfortunately, this had the side effect of weakening my resistance to the enemy onslaught.
Luftrausers’ game play and customisation therefore combine to invite the player to participate in a neat balancing act, depending on the objectives at stake. The game maintains a frenetic pace throughout each battle. The damage taken is frequent and plentiful, no matter how adept the player’s piloting ability. Building up a combo multiplier massively increases the player’s ability to reach high scores, but not only does Luftrausers’ multiplier max out at twenty, it also evaporates extremely quickly if enemies aren’t shot down as efficiently as the game’s pace demands. In addition, the only way to recharge health is to stop firing, dodge bullets and avoid enemy craft, adding another consideration to the varied play styles Luftrausers’ grants players. Strategy is key, but I found that once I landed on a parts combination that worked for me, I was able to regularly rack up high scores and blast my way through several challenges.
It doesn’t take long to get the gist of how to play Luftrausers, but it is a game that rewards persistent use. There is really no need for a tutorial, or an explanation of how and why certain challenges need to be completed. I found that the more time I put into the game, the more I was able to gauge what equipment I needed to accomplish certain tasks. Admittedly, on certain occasions this was only revealed after levelling up and unlocking new weaponry. For example, I was presented with the challenge of destroying a blimp before launching into a particular battle. I had no idea what a blimp was, where I could find one, or how I would destroy it, having not previously encountered one at that point in my time playing Luftrausers.
After a few more games, I still had no clue. Yet the third time around I survived for a particularly long time and the blimp presented itself in the skies above. I was quickly annihilated, given that I was equipped with woefully inadequate weaponry to take it on, but after that encounter I knew the answer to the questions of what and where the blimp was, and worked on improving my customisation options for the next fight. While I had assumed the answers to scenarios such as my experience with the blimp would naturally reveal themselves the longer I played, the lack of explicit guidance might be a distraction for other players.
Luftrausers is an engaging game in a lot of ways. Developer Vlambeer’s design adds to Luftrausers’ appeal, imbuing it with a look that is simple and appealingly retro by making use of minimal pixels and a red and beige colour palette. It might not be to everyone’s taste but I felt it was a perfect fit for Luftrausers’ classic arcade-style game play. There’s a huge amount of customisation, giving you a great deal of choice as to how you want to balance out your ship.
The game play is fast and exciting, but also challenging. The presentation is, in a word, cool. Once all the enemy types are unlocked and defeated, it is possible that Luftrausers’ appeal might diminish. It is certainly not unrealistic to say that this is achievable within a few hours or less. Ultimately, Luftrausers is a game that balances a lot on its plate. It is easy to pick up but demands a lot of patience. It is challenging but lays all its cards out on the table within a very short time. It is fast and exciting, but requires the player to adapt. But it also doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not, and all in all I found it to be a fun experience.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.