Here’s something to ponder: why did humanity only have the technology in 1973 to create a graphical moon landing game, when we could land two people on the real thing in 1969?
Since Eagle landed at the Sea of Tranquillity in 1969, moon landing games have been a staple of video gaming. Atari’s 1979 Lunar Lander was arguably the first commercially successful and widespread game of the genre, challenging players to land at a safe speed on the moon’s surface without depleting their fuel stores. Unlike previous moon landing games however, Shovsoft’s 2012 Lunar Flight sees the player begin already on the surface of the moon, at one of four bases.
While not a fully-fledged simulator, Lunar Flight is certainly more advanced than the old arcade games and it has a learning difficulty to match. Initial play can be frustrating as it can be quite challenging to keep the Lander stable. Persistence pays off however, and soon most will learn that keeping movement simple and slow is the safest bet. Advanced multiple-axis control is best left until many flight hours of experience are accumulated.
Missions are simple and divided into three groups: cargo transport, cargo retrieval, and data retrieval. Transport is the simplest and involves flying from one base to another, taking into account the weight of cargo carried. Cargo retrieval requires the player to locate lost cargo in a large map area and carry it back to base. Data retrieval challenges the player to hover in place while reading data anomalies. Money earned from missions can be used to buy upgrades for your Lander.
While none of the mission modes are overly creative, they’re adequate to challenge player’s flight skills and as the game is regularly updated there is plenty of room for new modes to be introduced. The game’s main challenge comes from its four maps of varying difficulty, ranging from the reasonably flat surface of a lunar crater to the peaks and troughs of the hilly Mars map. A few hills makes a massive difference to the game’s difficulty.
First impressions count and unfortunately Lunar Flight doesn’t make the best. Hit “New game” and you’re immediately prompted to create a user name and password – even if you want to play entirely off-line. If Lunar Flight was the only game that did this, it would be no issue, but when almost every web site and every game asks for a pointless user name and password it becomes an incredible – and easily avoidable – pain in the rear. It’s an unnecessary obstacle to game play in a world of severe password overload.
The game’s tutorial videos – hastily hosted on youtube – are the next obstacle. While explaining the basic controls in detail, they omit arguably the most important lesson – a simple demonstration of how to get from point A to point B. Expect to crash a lot trying to pull off the advanced manoeuvres shown before realising keeping the Lander upright and untilted at all times is the only way for an amateur to avoid a fiery death. A lack of practice mode means every crash costs you money, so expect to either create a new profile – with password – or spend time earning back the money you lost practising.
Lunar Flight is a solid game with some annoyances that really shouldn’t exist. It’s still a good package for anybody with fond memories of the Atari original, or with an interest in space and lunar exploration. It won’t satisfy die-hard simulation fans, but there’s more than enough in this indie offering to keep casual players engaged for many hours and more than justify the reasonable asking price.
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