LUFTRAUSERS is a shoot-em-up with no fat. Simple controls, minimal tutorials and only a couple of button presses between each replay: everything in this game is geared towards dropping the player straight into the dogfighting action as soon as possible. Like a laser beam, LUFTRAUSERS has a limited focus but benefits from its powerful precision.
In LUFTRAUSERS, the player takes the helm of a series of experimental fighter-planes engaged in combat over sea in an unknown (though eerily familiar) war. An arcade-style game at heart, there’s no story or world to explore, just an ever rising high score to top. Unlike it’s mechanical forebears- the space shooters of yesteryear- gravity is as much an enemy in this game as your rival crafts are.
You don’t have absolute control over your position, but can only thrust and turn to avoid mid-air collisions. Flying a “Rauser” is easy to learn, and hard to master. Though no run lasts very long, your first few cracks at the game will inevitably be extremely short, as you unintentionally nose-dive into battleships and weave into streams of enemy fire. Once you start getting to grips with the system, however, possibilities for experimentation arise.
A key feature of the game is the ability to customize your craft. As you play, you will unlock new ship parts (weapons, bodies and engines) which can be mixed-and-matched to create functionally unique fighters. One engine increases speed but restricts turning, for example. But part switching is not a tepid swapping of barely-noticeable stats. Hitting on an interesting combination can completely warp the way you play the game. One body, for example, completely nullifies collision damage. Combine this with an engine that nullifies water damage and the previously mentioned faux pas of nosediving into ships becomes the best strategy for dispatching them. Replayability is largely a function of your expanding inventory of parts and the exponential increase of possible planes that results.
The visuals of LUFTRAUSERS are decent. The restricted palette is a bold choice that serves the frenetic gameplay well; simple, strong colour distinctions prevent the speedy enemy crafts from blending into a noisy background. The detailed sprite art is a treat when it’s presented, but this is only in menus and cutscenes.
For the most part, your visual experience is a collection of single-shade sprites and flickering particle effects over a largely homogeneous backdrop. There’s a retro edge to its look, but the high artistic bar set by other notable indie titles leaves LUFTRAUSERS somewhere in the middle of the pack. More interesting is the way LUFTRAUSERS handles music. There is, in one sense, only one musical track when flying. For a game banking on repeated plays, this has an obvious problem. LUFTRAUSERS’ solution: the instruments and their melodies are linked to the player’s choices of plane parts. So in another sense, each unique combination of parts is not only a unique fighter, but a unique song. This is enough to keep the audio from getting stale, and offers an interesting parallel aesthetic incentive to experimenting with parts.
If LUFTRAUSERS has a problem, it is that there just isn’t that much to it. Effectively there is only one “level,” and while progression comes in the form of unlocking new enemy types and ship parts, nothing all that transformative occurs between your first run and your last. While it is a great deal of fun and undeniably well-made, at times it feels like it would fit in high-end free online flash games. LUFTRAUSERS does only one thing, but it does it very well.
Whether LUFTRAUSERS is a wise purchase for you depends very much on how you want your next game to fit into your life. It is a game built for short bursts, but one that might slaughter an Angry Birds fan. The explosion of casual mobile gaming over the past few years may have had the unfortunate consequence of equating “quick” with “easy.” LUFTRAUSERS represents a middle-way: it has the simplicity and brevity of a commute-sized casual game with the technical brutality of a hardcore title. If you’re looking for a game to give you days of depth, you’d best look elsewhere. If, however, you need a game that will burn time during breaks but won’t hold your hand, you couldn’t do much better than LUFTRAUSERS.
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