Luftrausers Review: Fast-Paced Arcade Piloting is Fun, But Thin

If there’s a key to an effective arcade shooter, it’s having responsive, intuitive mobility at the player’s control.

Vlambeer’s Luftrausers nails this crucial element — flying around the side-scrolling shoot-em-up, dodging incoming fire and cutting down a fleet of enemy craft, the game feels phenomenally quick and fluid.

It’s a very good thing for a game that really doesn’t provide much more to keep players busy than a chance to beat their latest high scores (and those of others). On PC, Luftrausers is a tightly controlled shooter with lots of challenge, but it feels a bit thin for its price tag — this is almost a mobile game you play on your computer.

Luftrausers
Platform: PC (Reviewed), Playstation 3, PS Vita, Mac, Linux
Developer: Vlambeer
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: March 18, 2014
MSRP: $9.99
Available: Steam, GOG.com

Luftrausers puts players in the pilot’s seat of a special, submarine-launched “Rauser” aircraft set against a huge armada of fighters, planes, boats, battleships, submarines and even a massive blimp. With each launch, players fly around the 2-D field, blasting enemies and dodging fire. Movement in the game is king, and your plane’s booster jet is activated by the pressing the Up Arrow key — but letting the booster go allows you to stall your plane, which means you can change direction on a dime and blast off again for quick maneuvers.

That movement capability is what makes Luftrausers feel different from your usual shoot-em-up. Instead of banking around under the normal physics of flight, your plane handles more like it might in a vacuum, except that it’s drawn toward the ocean below by gravity.

The control scheme gives players some intuitive tools for blasting enemies who are chasing you, avoiding incoming fire, and losing pursuers. You’ll need that agility, as every session of Luftrausers eventually becomes an overwhelming hail of bullets and vehicles, and keeping alive is as much about quick getaways as well-placed shots.

Luftrausers also smartly balances its emphasis on not shooting as well as shooting. Mobility and agility are its key concepts, but staying alive is a matter of choosing the right times to go on the offensive. As the Rauser takes damage, color leaves the screen, bringing in a tighter and tighter circle around the plane itself to indicate just how bad you’re getting thrashed. Escape from enemy fire and stop firing, and you’ll automatically repair, regenerating health and allowing you to fight on — but you can’t regenerate and fire at the same time.

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