Luftrausers: Old School Cool DogfightingFiled inside: Reviews
I remember the dogfighting games of my youth. I may not be a big aviation ethusiast, swooning over plane models and the lastest and greatest in fighter jet technology (maybe a little), but the whole romanticized World War II-styled dogfighting style of aerial combat has always appealed to me. It’s tense in a way that so few other forms of combat are. We’ve become so accustomed to soaking up bullets as action heroes, unleashing fifty-hit combos against our archrivals, or being stabbed countless times on our epic quests.
But when you’re up in the air, with nothing but your wits and a front-mounted machine gun, you feel so much more vulnerable. So much care has to go into your every action. And any of your decisions could very well spell your doom.
While games like Ace Combat and Il 2: Sturmovik take you into the cockpit (or right behind the plane, I suppose), Luftrausers takes a decidedly more retro-inspired take on the dogfighting genre.
The premise is simple enough: you’re a pilot, in a plane. Kill everything that’s trying to kill you. And the game manages to execute every facet of those sentences with stunning efficiency.
Brevity is the word that best describes Luftrausers, and I mean that in a good way—for the most part. There’s really no story to bog the game down at all, some loose oddly WWII Nazi-esque imagery, with some cutscenes that last somewhere between one-and-a-half and two seconds each, totaling perhaps twelve seconds of time. The focus is refreshingly elsewhere.
Luftrausers shines in its gameplay, first and foremost. The controls are simple: turn left or right, apply thrust, and fire your weapon. That’s it. Various aspects of how your plane performs are affected by your current actions. Your turning radius slows as you thrust, some weapons push your plane back as they fire. You’re not an indestructible tank, either, as you take damage, your screen is slowly obscured by a bright circle. You can regenerate health fairly quickly, but only when you’re not actively firing your weapon. This leads to a constant ebb and flow of action, destroying the hordes of enemies out for blood, but letting off the trigger to ensure your survival.
Every bullet that soars through the air at you (and believe me, there end up being a lot of those) is a serious hazard, and the endorphin rush that comes with that lucky moment when you soar through a small gap between shots while wiping out a few enemies in the process is quite unmatched in recent times.
There’s more to the game than just shooting enemies with the same old gear, as well. You start the game assigned three missions, each with a value assigned to it. As these objectives are completed, you are awarded different parts for your plane: a weapon, a body, and an engine. These different pieces drastically alter your abilities. All the items in the game are far from balanced: there are some clear losers in the pack (looking at you, Gungine). Every combination of equipment gives your ship a different name and look, and also subtly alters the soundtrack, a nice touch to keep the game from feeling too repetitive.
After all, outside of a few menial (and occasionally outright unfair) tasks, the game has little variation outside of the “kill all the things” mentality. As I said, brevity is the operating adjective, and that applies not only in the length of single attempts (which can last maybe a couple of minutes at the most), to unlocking the majority of the mods for your plane (maybe a day or two, depending on skill level).
The saving grace of the game comes in the tight controls and simple execution. The visuals are very low-key: monochrome color scheme, nothing too fancy at all. It does muddle things up a bit at times, but I would almost argue that this is by design—things can get difficult to sort out in a real plane, I imagine.
Every enemy serves a unique purpose. There are a load of basic foes: fighters that serve as general fodder, jets that force a quick reassessment of new stimuli, boats that fill the skies with more bullets than most planes. Then special enemies start appearing: battleships that anticipate your movements, aces that pursue you without mercy, and blimps that all but fill the screen with bullets. The game becomes a bite-sized version of popular arcade bullet hells, all with a strong sense of personality, though it may be short lived.
In some senses, I hesitate to recommend Luftrausers. It feels oddly niche, a lovechild of old Atari games and modern action game sensibilities. That being said, it’s an easy game to get over in a few days, especially when unfairly difficult missions prevent you from unlocking the final pieces of equipment.
It may be worth seeing if Luftrausers is right for you. You can visit luftrausers.com, which features a version of the original Luftrauser for free play and bears a strong similarity to its successor. If it’s for you, you can grab it as a cross buy on PS3 and PS Vita or Steam for $9.99.