For the past couple of weeks I’ve been taking to the skies in a tiny aeroplane, getting shot at by lots of other tiny planes and tiny boats, occasionally getting shot at by fairly tiny but slightly bigger blimps and wondering just how to write about it to do it justice. Luftrausers has a sepia colour palette and a distinctly late-80s arcade feel which is mainly based on high score chasing, and yet it feels every bit as refreshing and original as the most unusual indie games found hiding in the dark corners of the gaming world.
The Vita was practically made for games like this. When the best and longest attempt you can manage lasts all of about 3 minutes, it becomes very clear very quickly that this is a definite pick up, put down game that works perfectly in blasts of 10 minutes at a time. And yet with objectives to meet, which in turn unlocks new parts for your aircraft it’s quite tricky to only have the one go. Like a bag of Maltesers it’s impossible to stop at one game. Even when you get your fingers tied up in knots and end up crashing and burning, even when you get painfully close to an objective and want to throw the Vita at the cat in a rage, even when you take off and get killed almost immediately, you still want to go back and try again. The lure of finding out what’s next on the upgrade wheel and hitting that maximum combo for a bit longer to trump your top score is a powerful draw indeed.
One big reason for this addictive nature is just how easy it is to play, while having a deceptively deep strategic element to your flying. It might be that you can’t turn quickly while shooting, or you’ve picked a body type which allows you to take more damage. Each choice of body, weapon and engine gives an entirely different beast to control, and there’s little more satisfying than the moment you kill the throttle, spin round and drift poetically backwards between streams of gunship fire while laying waste to the pack of enemies who had spent the last few seconds trying to take you out with everything they’ve got, followed by a burst of power to take you out of reach of the nearby boats. When it works you feel like a gaming God, like a hero of the skies. Then you lose concentration, crash into the sea and end up looking like an utter tit. Luftrausers is full of these ups and downs, and it makes it an utterly compelling experience.
Between the exhilaration, frustration and heart stopping close calls is a friend-based leaderboard system which compares you to your friends, giving even more reasons to keep plugging away when others might start to flag and find the novelty and styling has worn off. Deciding on your combination of craft hardware gives some nice chances to experiment (as well as adjusting your objectives according to the makeup of the plane) and there’s always the big question each time: play it safe and give yourself gaps in your shooting to regenerate your health, or go all-out and never let go of the fire button in the hope your higher combo meter and flying skills will make your inevitably brief run all the more rewarding.
On the surface Luftrausers appears shallow, giving just minutes of enjoyment at a time. But don’t be fooled – this is a game that will have you coming back repeatedly for quite some time, and if you’re the kind of person who takes your Vita on the bus, to the canteen or to work for a cheeky 5 minute blast when the boss has nipped out for a cigarette, this will fit the bill perfectly. Thinking about it, if you’re the kind to sit for half an hour and not move, transfixed on the same game the whole time, then it’ll suit you as well. Frankly, I’m loving it.
Reviewed on PS Vita