Diving Into the Fray with Luftrausers [Preview]
Luftrausers is a remake of Luftrauser, a free game released by Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman (Vlambeer) a while ago. In it, you play a lone jet fighter dealing with an ever-increasing amount of enemy fighters, boats, and ships. It’s all done in an odd art style that’s reminiscent of a Game Boy title, but that doesn’t even begin to explain the unique look of this game. It’s simplistic, yet shows so many intricacies that I just don’t know how to accurately describe it. With most of the planes and other items in the game done up in silhouette it should look minimalistic, but when you see the game in action while you’re dodging enemy fire and weaving through screen-shaking explosions, it’s anything but. I suppose it’s no surprise that the developers of Ridiculous Fishing have a created a title that’s a little hard to describe.
I was pretty dismissive of the game when I walked by it at PAX East, and pretty much stopped at the booth because I wanted to stare longingly at the games of Ridiculous Fishing being played (Stupid IOS games not being for Android). Anyway, the spots around the game were getting crowded, so I was pushed back and ended up watching what was being played on the television beside all of the loathsome iPhones and iPads. The game looked a little plain when I watched it, like a Game Boy title that had been cast all in red. Unable to see anything else, I kept watching it. Out of nowhere, the plane crashed into a ship, bursting outward in a mixture of a skull and mushroom cloud. The screen shook with the force if it, just giving off this almost tactile sense of how powerful the explosion had been. I think I started to reach for the controller without saying much else, as that’s when Rami Ismail put it in my hands.
This game looks very simple from a distance. It’s very deceptive about how addicting it can be. If the show floor hadn’t been closing in a few minutes I doubt I would have given the controller back, as it was just really, really fun. Blowing up planes and watching the screen shake and rumble with every explosion is just so rewarding in and of itself that I had a hard time stopping. Every shot bursts out of your guns with a terrific noise; each hit slamming home like the world was coming to an end. The audio and visuals combine to make the game feel earth-shattering, and makes you feel so powerful you think every failure had to be a fluke. Why’d I die? I was doing great.
Controls are extremely straightforward, so you’ll be diving right into ships and planes in no time. Pushing up moves you forward, and left and right let you bank in one direction or another. It’s a 2D game, so there’s no need for any ship controls more complicated than that. You can press a button to fire, although I don’t know why you’d ever take your finger off that button. That’s all there is to it, and now you just have to apply that information in combat. Turning takes a little bit of getting used to, as I often found myself turning right into things instead of away from them as I tried to remember which direction was which. Try to stay aware of the nose of your plane, and you should be all right.
You have very tight controls of the plane, and can turn a sharp circle if you need to. I used this a lot when enemy ships were closing in on my tail and I needed to dodge their fire, but they can turn just as well as you can. It’s for that reason that you might want to fly out farther and put some distance between you and the other ships before you cut a tight turn and fire back at your pursuers. I was faster than all the other planes in the demo, so I did this quite a few times.
If that sounds easy, you’re underestimating how many ships the game is going to throw at you. I hadn’t been playing all that long before the whole screen was chaos; filled with ships, gunfire, and explosions. The screen kicked and shook with every destroyed plane, leaving me struggling to see where my own plane was. I’d lose myself as several ships blew apart in my path, only able to find my location by tracing my shots back to my ship. I kept telling myself that these graphics should have looked simple, that most of the game was displayed in a red silhouette, but all of this stuff happening at once was jaw-droppingly beautiful. It’s a look all of its own; one that comes out of the game’s various good points all coming together at once, and everyone who worked on it should be proud of how well it all comes together. These elements seem designed to be seen in tandem; like several artists all working toward one huge masterpiece while working in several different disciplines.
Oh right, the not being easy part. Well, that’s just the planes, as there are also destroyers floating on the sea that fire huge shells up in your direction. The game is just choked with stuff that’s going on, and all you’re trying to do is fly your plane through it all while downing your enemies. It felt like every time I took one out there would be a group of them flying in from off-screen. It just gets out of hand really fast, but in an awesome way.
You can take a lot of hits, too. If this had been one of those plane games where you died in one hit, I would have choked the developers with the controller cord right there. I got shot many, many times, and rammed into a ton of ships before I died. I’m not even %100 sure that ramming ships isn’t a viable way of taking them out, I hit so many. Being able to endure that much damage works with the carnage, though, and it encouraged me to just fly my plane right into the middle of the worst areas and fight my way through them. I knew I could take the damage, so why not hurtle toward that battleship and just hope to survive? It feels great to do it.
You’re not stuck with any one set of guns, either. I played the game on a randomized mode and was given different power ups and weapons each time I restarted. They’d all been chosen from a menu, though, so I know there are a lot of unlocks or available guns to play with. Mine ranged from bombs that I dropped to a gun that fired from both ends of my ship, making every round new again. The explosions from some of those shots changed as well, with the dropped bombs creating huge clouds with each hit.
I think this is the first time in years I’ve found myself making jet plane noises and shooting sounds. I can’t describe this game in person without sounding like a five year old; making engine and gun sounds as I gesture with my hands. It’s just a really wonderful game that is pure fun. I don’t even care that there are going to be missions to complete or anything else. I just want to get right back up in those skies and dive headfirst into the biggest dogfight I can find.