Luftrausers is a word that makes red squiggles appear in Microsoft Word, but it’s also a video game. Specifically, an arcade shooter published on Steam by the same people who put out Hotline Miami and developed by Vlambeer, a Dutch indie team who also made last year’s Ridiculous Fishing. Not that you’ll have time to think about that while you’re inevitably getting shot down. Being that the game is clearly inspired by old school arcade games like Asteroids and Xevious – another name that causes red squiggles – it’s not easy. Especially in your first flight when you realize that once your vehicle takes off, there’s no turning back. It’s possible to lose some of your speed but that’s about it. You can’t pull off the old trick of just sitting still at the start of a match like most arcade games. So, how does it work?
The goal of the game is simple; try to get the highest score that you can. You hit “Up” on your keyboard or gamepad to launch your customized fighter plane and fly around the map, destroying enemies that range from planes to boats and even blimps. Before the start of each round you’re able to customize your fighter with unlockable parts. These let you change things like your main weapon and the aircraft’s body. Do you want to fire lasers? Go right ahead. Want to ditch that armor upgrade for something more nimble? Knock yourself out. The game’s description says that there are over 125 different combinations you can use, but as is the way with these systems its likely many players will just figure out which build works best for them and stick with it. That being said, experimentation is good though and there is a lot that you can experiment with to find that one perfect build.
Finding that one mix of equipment is what is importhant though. What I found is that it’s difficult to tell when you get upgrades and what they’ll be. Completing certain challenges will gain you more XP to help you level up faster, but as I played there were times when I’d achieve the highest score and get nothing. Honestly, I think the system would be better if everything was unlocked from the start so that it allowed players to experiment with new combinations each flight.
Luftrausers is best played in short bursts. Trying to see how far you can get without dying is a good enough reason to keep playing these kind of games over and over, but I felt like I had to force myself to keep going over extended play sessions. It’s a white knuckle affair too as you skills will be challenged throughout. Luftrausers is a game that gets the blood pumping as you shoot, dodge and fly at high speeds. I imagine it would be a great party game with friends, one that has you passing the controller as you all try to survive as long as you can with other people telling you what to do and not do, like “don’t get shot at”.
The presentation in Luftrausers is great, with a unique art style and excellent soundtrack but after seeing the same scenery and hearing similar songs, it gets tiring. That’s too bad, because the core gameplay in Luftrausers is very good. You constantly switch between the cat and the mouse running for dear life. You’ll be taking out the small buggers without a second thought, only to then encounter an enemy fighter with weapons and armor that are equal to yours.
Unfortunately, that’s all there really is to Luftrausers. It doesn’t have the personalization of Beat Hazard and it doesn’t have the level of content that Pac-Man Championship Edition has. In many ways for the entry point of ten dollars there are better options out there. But if any of what you’ve read sounds intriguing or if you see the game on sale, take to the skies and enjoy the ride.