Quick Look: Luftrausers

Things get a bit crazy as Jeff takes to the skies and tries to survive long enough to destroy the world.

Vinny Caravella on Google+
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Luftrausers Review

4
  • PC
  • PS3N
  • PSNV

Vlambeer's new shooter is as hectic as it is addictive.

Luftrausers is a game that's easy to get lost in. That's an odd thing to write, considering that the whole game essentially boils down to one killer mechanic mixed with a sepia-toned aesthetic. There's no big world here to explore, no quests to embark on, no storytelling of any kind. It's just a shooter, the kind that, at first blush, doesn't seem all that different than any other bullet hell brand of shooter released in the last couple of decades. But once you start flying one of Luftrausers' myriad ship types around its war-torn skies, something takes hold of you. Hours pass as you mix and match weapons and engines and body types, chasing after difficult goals, elusive blimps, and an ever-higher score. It doesn't matter that you're essentially engaging the same exact battle over and over again, because there are so many different ways to approach it. Every fight inevitably ends in the same fiery death, but the gameplay is so grippingly good that all you'll want to do is try and try again.

Luftrausers is a tremendously fun blend of intense shooting and deft aerial acrobatics.

I'm not naive enough to assume that everyone who plays it will turn Luftrausers into an obsession, but I'm betting that most who do will at least lose a few accidental hours to it. It helps that jumping into the game is exquisitely easy. The tutorial is brief, showing you only the basic controls--up boosts your ship, letting go of the up button causes it to stall and drift downward, X fires your gun--before turning you loose in an aerial battlefield full of enemy fighters, homing missiles, and sea-bound attack ships. At the outset, you're given a basic machine gun weapon, and entirely functional body/engine designs. Those simple-sounding controls are a bit more challenging in a full-on firefight, in that balancing boost and stalling, while rotating your plane to fire at nearby enemies, takes some getting used to. At the bottom of the screen is the sea, and at the very top is cloud cover. Both are danger zones that do damage to your plane if you linger there too long. In effect, your task in Luftrausers is to boost, drop, and pirouette around the skies while trying to stay somewhere in the middle of the screen, dodging enemy fire and kamikaze pilots all the while.

This results in what at times feels like an aerial acrobatic routine. Of course, it's an acrobatic routine that requires you to gun down enemies in the process. Doing so is how you score points. Each kill ticks up a combo counter until you reach a maximum of 20x the base score. Going too long without killing an enemy causes the combo counter to reset, but at the same time, just holding down the fire button gives you no chance to regain health. Only by flying around sans any gunfire will your ship recharge, making for an ingenious little risk/reward system. Do you keep firing at that elite pilot that keeps haranguing you in the hopes of keeping your score high, or do you let off for a few seconds to ensure your survival?

As tough as all this sounds, Luftrausers' tight controls mean it won't take you long to get the hang of the basic mechanics. Where the longer-term challenge comes from is finding the right combination of weapon, body, and engine for the way you prefer to play. There are many varieties of each, which unlock as you progress and complete in-game challenges (shoot a number of enemies, kill an ace pilot at max combo, etc). Guns include spread shots, continuous laser blasts, and homing missiles that aren't super great at the whole "homing" thing. Bodies can allow you take more damage, negate crash damage, or even just launch huge, screen-clearing nukes when you die. Engine varieties offer speed boosts, underwater flying sans damage, or the ability to literally propel yourself with bullets. Mixing and matching ship types becomes its own little metagame as you try to find the combo that best suits your abilities. Not every single unlock is a winner, and there are several that I found just about zero use for whatsoever. But there are enough different unlockables to keep you trying different combos for at least a few hours, and using the randomization option can sometimes lead to winning combinations you'd never expect.

The game even makes subtle aesthetic changes depending on what combination of parts you put together. Each combination gives the ship a distinct look, and each comes with its own unique name which appears at the bottom of the screen when you first launch into battle. The soundtrack changes as well, blending different instrument tracks into subtle variances of the same high-tension battle anthems. These little alterations go a long way toward negating any feelings of over-repetition, especially given that, again, there's only one battle environment you fight in. It's a cool-looking environment to be sure, propped up by a variety of unlockable color schemes (some of which are great, others of which make the game difficult to look at), and a mostly smooth framerate. The only time the game chugs is when you're taking huge chunks of damage, and that seems to be more by design than anything else.

No matter how many times you die, no matter how stupidly you die, you'll keep coming back for more.

The only downside to Luftrausers' single-minded design is that once you've unlocked everything and found your winning combination of plane parts, your interest level may wane. A harder difficulty level can be unlocked by defeating one of the super-hard dirigibles that show up after surviving in battle for a while, but it's excruciating. Shooter masochists may love it, but most will probably just find it harrowing in all the wrong ways. That means that for most players, the reward for continuous play will simply be to unlock all the available parts, and work toward getting the highest score you can.

For me at least, that was enough to get me to spend nearly the entirety of Luftrausers' launch day firmly planted in front of my PlayStation 3, diving into battle after battle in hopes of increasing my spot on the leaderboards. And once I tired of that, I immediately downloaded the Vita version (the game is a cross-buy title, so buying one nets you both versions) and jumped right back in. I expect one day I'll burn out on Luftrausers, but for right now, all I want to do is stop writing this review and launch right back into its beautiful, bullet-riddled skies.

Alex Navarro on Google+
43 Comments
Posted by benjo_t

Addictively addicting.

Posted by Ltwood12

This was enough to push me over the edge Alex. Sounds like a perfect game for Vita.

Posted by returnofthereal

Good review, really want to play this game!

Edited by TheManWithNoPlan

The name sure is fun to say.

Posted by CaptainFake

I had the "watch Quicklook, immediately buy game on Steam" experience last night, and I don't regret it!

Edited by HerbieBug

Cool. It looked like it might be a little bit repetitive in the quicklook but I will give it a try soon.

Posted by ninjaculate

Addicting? Really?

Edited by kennybaese

It's really fantastic on the Vita. The frame rate chugging when you take a bunch of damage can get a little rough, especially if it feels like it cheated you out of an escape, but for the most part it's really awesome.

Posted by Wes899

Very fun game that I bought because of the quicklook. Put a ton of time into it already.

Posted by mrfluke

yea the controls once you get a hang of it the game is good fun

also vlambeer are good people, have no problem supporting them.

Edited by a_randay92

Sounds awesome to me. I'll be checking this out on the PS3. Thanks Alex for the review and thanks Vinny for posting the Quicklook. :D

Posted by cyborgx7
Edited by DasaKamov

This was reviewed by Vinny, not Alex.

Vinny posted the Quick Look, but the article's author is Alex. -- hence why it says "Luftrausers Review by Alex Navarro". ;)

Posted by CrazyBagMan
Posted by GS_Dan

Just as I was getting weaned off of OlliOlli...

Posted by ripelivejam

buy this and know you're supporting the space natzi laserbeam mecha hitler regime!

Posted by machinerebel

One of the few games I've bought mid-quick look. Nice review, Alex!

Edited by csl316

After all the praise, I just downloaded it without seeing footage. An $8 shooter seems right up my ally.

Posted by beard_of_zeus

I bought this on the Vita yesterday after checking out the Quick Look, it really is quite addicting and fun to try out all the different part combos. And the thing that you just have to play it to realize is just how damn good the controls feel. My fav combo so far is spread gun + impact body (i.e. no damage on collisions) + underwater engine. Going underwater and then exploding through boats is great. And I think the kickback on the spread gun is supposed to be a downside, but I love stalling out and then having my plane go backwards while I blast fools.

I haven't gotten there yet, but Alex mentioned what seems like the one downside - eventually getting bored since the game is so single-minded in its design. I sometimes get into these score-chasing games, so we'll see.

Posted by Dark_Lord_Spam

Addicting? Really?

I'll suck your dick for an engine, baby.

Edited by awesomeusername

@dasakamov: @cyborgx7: Derp me. I didn't notice that. Thanks for correcting me. I knew it was a little odd thinking Vinny did a review for this since Alex pretty much reviews indies (and awful) games.

Posted by melodiousj

Thank goodness for those rare times when the games press actually pays attention to an arcade shooter. I love these kinds of games, and this one is particularly great.

Posted by OriginalYellow

Anyone on the fence should probably just buy this, its 100% worth the PC admission price of $9.

Posted by agentgray

Forget using up to boost. I find that frustrating. The shoulder buttons work just as well. Then you can just use left and right to move around.

Also, this game is amazing everywhere I've played it.

Posted by Hayt

I understand that language is not static and changes over time but addicting will never not disgust me.

Online
Posted by Sin4profit

@agentgray: agreed, i set my controls up to be more like Asteroids

Great game, played 14 hours of it and i'm around 20th place on the leader boards (Steam) as of right now. It definitely has a few flaws and for people chasing the mission goals i think most will get frustrated before they get bored,. If you do manage to see everything, you still have a great score based shooter to trade scores with friends.

Posted by SPCTRE

As a German, the title drives me nuts.

I also kinda love it.

Posted by Rinkalicous

Has anyone been able to find this on the EU Playstation Store? Apparently it was meant to come out yesterday or the day before, but looking on my Vita, I can't find it.

Edited by DrPotato

@rinkalicous: Nope. I don't know what's up with that, I really want to get the game on my vita.

Edit: And it's up!

Posted by ArbitraryWater

I played like 2 hours of it straight, so I'd say it's pretty good.

Posted by BluPotato

It's by no means goty but its not trying to be, love how it feels.

Posted by Brodehouse

When will Vlambeer make a Combat Basketball game? Like Vlambeer's Combat Basketball.

Posted by chilipeppersman

this looks super cool!

Posted by spraynardtatum

Yeah, this game is great.

Posted by RetroVirus

Just got this on PS3, and holy crap is it addicting. As much as it has been overused, the matches are short enough that you can do a bunch and not realize how long you've been playing, and I feel that I can always do just a little bit better each time to unlock the different rewards for each part.

Posted by MoonwalkSA

Vlambeer are basically the best.

Posted by FreddieFiasco

This game is so great! I've been playing way too much since I bought it yesterday (or was it the day before? What day did it come out?). That green and red color scheme is CRAZY! It gives me weird feelings in my brain.

Edited by DonPixel

Nuclear Throne and Lutrausers, Vlambeer is indie boss.