Simulation games pose a unique challenge from a design perspective. To start, what the player will be doing in a simulator is largely already set for the developers, and it’s their job to mimic those real-world systems in a way that feels accurate. Then the issue of fun comes in: many people might pass up a title with the word “trains” in it, for example, because – no matter how well-made the simulation may be – they don’t care for trains. As of v3.6, Ramjet Anvil’s Volo Airsport already overcomes these challenges in a way that is thrilling and addictive. Though currently somewhat modest in terms of gameplay features, it is by far one of the most impressive Early Access titles I’ve experienced, and Ramjet Anvil are hard at work to make it bigger and better.
Having been wowed by GoPro videos of wingsuit pilots and tasted a bit of what it’s like to fly in Steep, my impression of this extreme airsport was that it takes more bravery than skill. Real-life pilots make it look easy, and Steep makes it look like a danger-focused adrenaline hunt. Volo Airsport leaves a more profound impression – one that shows wingsuit flight as a severely complicated and beautiful activity. With the ability to make the pilot lean left and right, pull up or dive, yaw and roll, and even grab his knees in a cannonball position, I initially failed to understand the intricate physics-based flight. I’d try to pull off hard turns and rolls or pull up dramatically, only to lose control and slap into the pretty geometry at breakneck speeds. As it says in the game’s tutorial videos, Volo Airsport is about small, subtle movements, and the safest action to take is often doing nothing, as the pilot tends to stabilize in a relaxed state. Changing the way I played took some time, because the extreme sports games I’ve enjoyed in the past were watered-down imitations of their subjects, and their ease of play made for a huge margin of error. In Volo Airsport, fun develops with skill, and skill comes with practice.
Guiding the player’s time trying to master the art of the wingsuit are a few key gameplay elements. The geometry itself is the most important constraint on the player, being the only thing with which you can actually interact, and learning the world allows the player to form lines and patterns that yield rewarding, fast-paced flights.
The game features several drop points for the player to choose from, and because the terrain is so sprawling, dozens of flight paths are waiting to be made and discovered. Some of them have been picked by the developers as challenges that vary in difficulty. Challenges quickly helped me realize just how poor my control of the pilot was at first, because flying through those devilish circles at upwards of 250 km/hr takes tedious planning and positioning. Eventually, though, I was able to take a few of them on, and can honestly say the game produced a sense of accomplishment in that.
As of now, Volo Airsport includes a rigid wingsuit model for one player, with a large space to play in, third- and first-person perspectives, an impressive amount of graphics customization, a level editor for user-made courses, and even VR support (which I imagine is phenomenal). The game’s website shows a tentative roadmap that includes some exciting features for the future, such as online multiplayer, parachutes (these are already in beta and work pretty well) and “other ways to fly,” customization of pilots’ gear that affects their appearances as well as aerodynamics, and several others.
Volo Airsport is being developed by a small team, and as such, an investment in the game while it’s in Early Access is by no means a ticket to a full-fledged, fully-polished release down the line. But at this point, what Ramjet Anvil have made is already an outstanding feat of combining simulation and fun, and for $13 it’s a worthwhile purchase.
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