It seems like an absolute age ago that Luftrausers was announced for the PS Vita and at the time it looked like the perfect fit, one of the titles that was part of the start of the Indie Revolution on Sony’s handheld. Since that time many, many Indie have come and gone and still no Luftrausers, to the point it was almost forgotten about. However, it is finally here and it has really been worth the wait.
Luftrausers is at its core a 2D shooter, that shares some characteristics of a twin stick shooter, but without those exact mechanics. Yet it is a lot deeper than other 2D shooters, adding in some very interesting customisation options, that really do set it apart.
When you first jump into the game, you are given a brief overview of the controls. Push up to boost, move with left stick, shoot with the X Button and that is pretty much it. Along with some core mechanic descriptions, such as stop shooting to fix your damage. What is interesting though, is that when you first start playing, the controls don’t feel natural, you don’t feel like you can just pick it up and become a master of the game. It is at odds with everything you’d expect with a game like this.
The idea is that controls should be easy to learn, so you can then master the game, finding ways to get better scores. Yet here, you spend much of your first time getting to grips with the control system. Unlike a twin stick shooter, or most shooters in actual fact, you don’t simply press the direction you want to go and then go that direction. To get forward momentum you have to press up on the analogue stick (or D-Pad) which provides a boost. Then you can use that momentum to turn and go in another direction, but if you aren’t boosting, you begin to free-fall, you can still turn, but you will do so heading toward the sea at the bottom of the level.
The sea won’t kill you if you hit it and is actually a good way to fend off enemies that are following you, before emerging to take them down. It really does take a while to fully understand the controls, but when you do it opens up in such a way that you soon forget how alien this felt at the beginning.
Soon you are finding ways to out maneuver your opposition, finding a way to group them together, before quickly turning the tide and unleashing hell. What you have here is a very good dogfight system, that works amazingly well in 2D. Boosting in one direction, then stalling your plane, allowing enemies to go past and then boosting again to fire the deadly shots and racking up the score. It feels so good once you get a firm grasp on the many little techniques within the game.
It’s not just your technique that improves though, as you complete challenges, you unlock various upgrades that can change your weapon, boost type and body. There are many interesting combinations available, such as a part that uses bullets to boost, meaning you fire bullets from the rear of your plane everytime you boost, which works out great for taking out ships, of enemies on your tail. Other parts may improve mobility, but wreck you strength, others may do the reverse, the variation here is stunning.
At one point we used a set up that stopped us taking damage when colliding with enemies, using the rear bullet shooting boost, which was allowing us to feel invincible. However it came at a cost, as mobility was lost and it was harder to evade enemy fire. So switching up to better mobility, meant that we had to actually shoot our enemy, this was fine, but strength was worse and it took less damage to end our run. What is great is that there is no ‘catch all’ set up, every single one (or which there are many) has pros and cons, it is just how you want to approach each run that will determine what you use.
You won’t ever really settle at one setup though, because for each part on offer to customise your plane, there are series of challenges. Completing these will also help you level up to unlock more part and more challenges. These range from getting a certain score, or getting a set number of kills in a single run, to something a bit more challenging, such as killing a certain type of enemy in a certain way.
The more difficult the challenge, the more XP you can earn to level up and unlock more. It works really well and you find that you want to experiment, you want to try new part and take on new challenges, to the point where at times, you forget this is a score attack game. Which again is what the main part is all about and to that effect there is a combo multiplier mechanic, every shot you hit with, your multiplier goes up, to a maximum of 20x and the better your multiplier, the bigger your banked score will be. It isn’t easy to get a maximum multiplier and keep it going, as take too long to hit another enemy and you lost it, banking that score at that time.
This means that you are soon trying to balance staying alive, completing challenges and getting the best score possible. It really does draw you in and you will become very, very focused, and what initially seemed like a slow burner of a game, becomes very intense and extremely challenging, especially as you always feel you can better your score, or that of a friend on the leaderboard.
Luftrausers has been a long time coming, but it doesn’t disappoint one little bit. The title is cross-buy, and whilst it is great on the PS3 and the big screen, it is yet another Indie title that has found a home on the Vita and it really is the perfect fit.