Game Review: Luftrausers (PC)

Videogames were once a much simpler time. The only S in a game was in High Score and not Story. Controls were designed to be tight, responsive, delivering as best of an analogue of what you wanted your on-screen avatar to do as the technology of the time could possibly be capable of. The arcade mechanics would push you into letting the machine swallow your collection of quarters alive as you dared to try and best your previous score, the score of the bastards above you on the list but most especially the enemy type or boss which has put you in your place time and time again. Possibly while drinking a two-liter bottle of Shasta and listening to an all Rush mixtape.

Luftrausers harkens back to this golden glory age, taking to the leaderboard toppling, lighting fast addictive gameplay which has been so frequently over the course of this generation of games and giving it developer Vlambeer’s personal touches. The setup can’t be simpler: You’re a ship that shoots other ships and boats to chain a combo together and tack together a high score. Unlike other ship-based shooter titles where you gain powerups while in the stage and use that to your advantage until you’ve died, instead you are rewarded with ship body parts and engines that all contain special properties. Mixing and matching all of these to fit your playstyle and get you that much closer to your next high score.

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Your default Rauser is a bit on the vanilla side but it still a perfectly serviceable fighting machine. It has a rapid machine gun, a decent amount of health on it and can turn on a dime. By beating challenges, earning skulls and leveling up you are given new parts to swap out. How’s a laser sound? Or a body that can insta-kill anything you ram into with the exchange of not being able to take a single hit from a bullet? Or an engine that specializes in letting you stay under water, giving you all manner of new tactics to employ? There are over 100 different combinations for you to take to the skies with. Finding that one part you never knew you wanted so badly and adding it to your Rauser is extremely rewarding and helps bump the replay up quite a bit.

And you’re going to need every bit of help you can get as Luftrausers’ difficulty jumps up quickly. On the default difficulty you’re thrown into the fray with a slowly building intensity that takes about a minute or so to reach its fullest concentration. Clusters of smaller fighters busy up the screen and provide excellent combo-extending potential while you hunt out the larger and more powerful ships all while stalling out and dodging large-caliber fire from anti-aircraft naval units and other unmentionable things that take to the higher levels of the sky above. The unlockable SMFT difficulty mode ramps this up to a large degree – you’re pretty much at full-tilt insanity within a handful of seconds and the brutal difficulty never lets up. It’s not going to be for everyone but the craziest pilots and the hardcore difficulty freaks but its inclusion is extremely welcomed for those who want an even faster paced game.

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I’m still taken back by how well the style used works in even the most hectic moments. The extremely minimalist design used for every ship, bullet and object betrays how excellently it all works in motion without sacrificing the little details. All ships are cast as silhouettes, yours being shaded a bit darker than the rest to help you pick your Rauser apart from the swarm of enemies on screen. Every enemy type is distinctively shaped so even at a glance as you zoom across the sky you can take note of the type of dangers you find yourself facing at any given moment. And even with dozens of ships on screen there is still room for effects like moving ship-parts or water splashing upwards as your craft gets too close to sea level. The sound design too is filled with great little details. Appropriately lo-fi in nature, everything makes just the right amount of noise without overloading the senses with information. The soundtrack is pretty excellent too and apparently changes on the fly depending on what you’re currently experiencing on-screen.

All that said, Luftrausers lives and dies on its gameplay alone. If the thought of taking to the skies as an ace pilot with the sole purpose of continuing to shoot things until you eventually die and watching that glorious numerical score tally up takes your fancy, you’re going to love what it has to offer. If simple, arcade-esque gameplay hellbent on pushing replay after replay to refine your approach and occasionally getting screwed by a stray bullet while you were hovering in a stall without firing to recover your health doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you most likely won’t care for Luftrausers for very long. If you’re finding yourself on the fence, I recommend you check out the prototype available from Vlambeer’s website. Do you want more of that, but even crazier and with more in-depth systems? Here’s a shot of whiskey and your plane-riding gloves, pilot. We got us a sky to win.

 

Final Score: 5/5

Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 5:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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