Luftrausers has already broken a little personal record for me. It is the game I spent most time researching before completing my review! Quite an achievement. The main reason I spent an hour trawling through internet sites is because of the name. I was determined to find some kind of sense behind it, but alas, there is none, which is maybe for the best. ‘Luft’ is a German word for ‘Air’ however, ‘Rauser’ is pure gibberish in every language I could find. What makes it odd is that, even though the name makes no sense, it fits the game perfectly. It’s mindless, meaningless and a little bit of fun.
Luftrausers was first released as a free to play browser game a few years ago and was surprisingly well received. The original was a bullet hell air combat game in retro graphics with a funky soundtrack. It gained praise for its fun, flowing combat and its tendency to get pretty crazy later on in the game. So what exactly have they changed for the Steam release? Unfortunately, not much. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve added achievements, “missions” (in the loosest possible meaning), unlockables and, the biggest edition, ways to upgrade your aircraft but the basic mechanics are largely intact.
You control your aircraft with the arrow keys, press ‘X’ to shoot and stop pressing ‘X’ in order to not shoot. However, the aeroplane you’re controlling doesn’t handle like most aircrafts I’ve ever seen. It glides freely through the air and is able to do 180 turns on the spot allowing fantastically fun combat that games like Ace Combat and H.A.W.X simply cannot offer. There is no real objective for you to hit, they just dump you into an area, throw a load of enemies at you and tell you to go nuts. The combat is by fair the strongest point of the game. The ability to boost and then suddenly decelerate although you to provide Red Arrow style moves to avoid bullets. There is a satisfaction from dropping in between enemy bullets, taking them out with a few well placed shots on your own before diving head first into an enemy ship causing it to explode pleasingly as you rocket back up out of the water.
The “missions” I mentioned are basically a few targets for you to hit, such as obtaining a certain amount of points, killing enemies by ramming into them or killing a certain number of a certain enemy. They add a bit more incentive to the game, but not much else except to help you unlock new weapons, engines and chassis’. They largely feel like an unnecessary edition and can in fact deter you from enjoying the game. I preferred making up my own objectives and the ones they gave me just distracted me. It feels very similar to mobile games such as ‘Slayin’ where all you get is a never ending stream of enemies with only a few minor objectives to keep you from getting bored. In fact, I could see this game making an appearance on IOS in the future where maybe it has more of a place. It has a ‘pick up and play’ aspect to it that I have never associated with PC gaming. I turn my PC on to play colossal games where I have to put in hours and hours of my time whereas I play IOS games when I’m waiting for a friend to turn up, or I’m on a ten minute bus ride. Luftrausers is not a game you will pump hours of game time into. It’s a little thing for you to mess around with while you’re trying to decide what other game you want to play.
The upgrades are where the game really shines. The modifications you make to your aircraft will completely change the way you play it. For example, you can unlock a chassis that prevents damage when you ram into enemies, making it less of a shooter and more of a unusually violent game of tag, where you can do things such as use homing missiles and fly around carpet bombing the ships that spawn. They’re great fun to experiment with and there doesn’t seem to be a combination that is purely ‘the best’. It all depends on your play style and what kind of fun you fancy at the time.
The trouble with Luftrausers, which you may have guessed by now, is that it’s very insubstantial. Once you’ve played for a few hours you’ve seen pretty much everything the game can throw at you. There’s only four or five different enemy types and nothing that I would consider a boss, the closest thing being a giant blimp that appear every now and then but it feels more like an annoyance than an actual enemy. This is increasingly worrisome when you consider the price. It’s a little over £6. This may not sound like a lot, but I can buy mobile games with double the content of Luftrausers for £1.50.
Having said that, I can’t deny that I enjoyed my few hours with Luftrausers. It’s a unique, entertaining little game that will definitely hold your attention while you work out what triple A title you want to play next. I think the best option for any potential consumer would be to go play the free version on the games website. It doesn’t have any of the fancy extras that the Steam release has, but you will be able to try out the mechanics and the excellent game play. If you enjoy it support the developers by buying the full Steam version. Luftrausers may not revolutionise the gaming industry but it’s one of the most polished games I have played recently and the excellent combat will certainly keep you entertained for an hour or two.