Vlambeer has had a troubled history mostly due to the amount of copycats on various outlets for their IPs. It happened to Super Crate Box and Ridiculous Fishing, together with flash title Luftrauser. This of course has only served to highlight the problems facing talented indie developers when their work has been plagiarised. Luftrausers was a game that nearly didn’t exist thanks to the demoralisation of the developers and suffice to say we’d all be worse off if it hadn’t seen a release.
It’s very difficult to survive more than a few minutes in Luftrausers, given the chaotic nature of the action as time passes. What begins as a few planes and ships suddenly escalates to battleships and ace fighters, culminating in rather extraordinary assaults from laser fighters and huge blimps.
The key to your survival, which just so happens to be the most compelling feature of the game, is the fact the game uses only two buttons and that the most effective thing you can do is not press anything at all. Your plane recovers when you’re not firing, but the multiplier relies on kills, meaning you can’t stay passive for long. But what sets the game apart is the fact you can stall your engine to enable tight manoeuvres to dodge bullets.
Once you get the hang of how your chosen plane handles, you feel like an aviation master, until something inexplicably destroys your craft and you desire to better your piloting skills in another round.
As you accumulate points and achieve the weapon-specific objectives, you can unlock new parts that not only change how your aircraft handles, but how it takes on foes. By combining specific parts together, it is possible to create interesting aircraft: One that takes no damage underwater or when ramming into enemies, but has a great weakness to discharged ammunition; or an aircraft that exploits the kickback from the ‘spread shot’ to propel your aircraft without engaging your hover-engine.
The variety coupled with differing gameplay styles is refreshing, while the objectives to unlock new parts or features can truly test your skills. It might only take a few hours to see everything, but the difficulty ramps up suitably.
A lot of indie titles are adopting the retro look, with Luftrausers being no different. Here it looks serviceable with its sepia tones, though you can unlock colour schemes that widely vary from garish messes to functionally superior. Like old Atari games of old, the rudimentary shapes of the vehicles allows for your brain to imagine for yourself, which is a truly nostalgic feeling underutilised in games. While the giant characters that appear in menus are suitably themed, they’re more window-dressing than advisors.
There are a handful of tunes, with the main game theme changing depending on your plane loadout, which sounds epic enough for dog fights, but more music from the same composer wouldn’t have hurt the game aesthetically should the same tone be carried throughout.
In fact the only thing that really feels absent is the lack of modes. With only a single player objective based score attack on offer, with online leaderboard support, it feels somewhat meagre as a whole. An online dog fight mode where you and other players must out-manoeuvre each other would have been a fantastic addition, but sadly is not present at this time.
For making you feel like the Red Baron, Luftrausers succeeds by offering a basic yet compelling dog fighting experience. The tight controls are what makes this game fun, along with the crazy planes you can pilot along the way. Multiplayer is a touchy subject as to when it is appropriate or not, but here it would have been a boon rather than detrimental to the package. But when the only gripe one has with a game is that there isn’t more ways to play it, that can only mean it’s a good thing.