Luftrausers, built from a combination of Luft, a German word that means air or aerial, and Raus, a made up word that means “to stab at one from Hell's heart with the same fervor John McEnroe attacked a line call,” is the newest game from Vlambeer, the creators of last year's rather spectacular Ridiculous Fishing. In much that same way that simple, movement based fishing game captured the hearts and minds of the mobile gamer, Luftrausers is an attempt to concur the fighter pilot games of yore with an airplane's worth of spiny, twirly, timey, whimey, explosion stuff. With it's fast paced, twitch gameplay, it's perfect for short stretches, but unless you are a leaderboard junkie, it lacks the punch to keep you invested for the long term.
With virtually no story to speak of, Luftrausers puts you in the shoes of a fighter pilot, who may or may not be integral to an evil scientists master plan for world domination. Regardless of the reason, you are given command of an experimental fighter jet and sent to die, over and over, against an unbelievably large attacking force. With no end in sight, your mission is the ultimate no-win scenario. Set amidst a simple, two color back drop, with the planes and ships displayed as black masses, even the color scheme signals hopelessness of your flight.
This threadbare narrative is a master class in both brevity and drawing your own conclusions. Is it a peacenik's doctoral thesis, showing that violence only begets violence and there is no true end when all you recognize is conflict? It can be. Is it a story of the human condition, a picture perfect example of man's day to day struggle? When every match starts with your plane being “birthed” from a Aircraft carrier/submarine, and ends with the surety of death, a case can be made that paints this as a metaphor for life.
Regardless of whether or not you choose to draw a lesson from it, you will leave Luftrausers having had fun, even if all you do in the beginning is die. Functioning almost as the Divekick equivalent to an Afterburner title, controlling your plane couldn't be simpler. Up launches your bird in whatever direction it's facing, the rest of the directional pad spins you either right or left, and square fires whatever weapon you have equipped. Spinning without holding up for the engine allows gravity to take over, with the result being a Top Gun-esque flat spin that surely would have left Goose... it wouldn't have been good. One press of the engine though, immediately pulls you out, leading to some dramatic dives and dodges as you spin, shoot, spin, drop, and then run through a sky lit up by weapons fire.
Your Rauser itself is made up of three kinds of parts: a weapon, a body type, and an engine. They can be mixed and matched as you see fit, and every combination has a different unique name. Want a spread fire gun with a body that takes no crash damage and a super boost engine? Your Karaterauser is in the hangar. Hover engine with a body that drops bombs and a giant super cannon? I hope you enjoy tiny bits, because that's what your enemies will be when they meet the Fist of God.
Don't think that just because you're driving the Fist of God that you are going to have it easy though. Imagine a sky full of planes, a sea full of boats, and eventually an armed attack zeppelin, with every gun meticulously trained on you. Unlocking more options for the Rauser involves you meeting these threats head on, as each part has a series of challenges associated with it, ranging from blowing up a specific enemy type, to destroying a number of enemies without letting off of the fire button. Those particular doozies force your dodging/dancing skills to the max, as your Rauser only repairs itself when you're not firing.
Figuring out when to fire or not, boost, spin or simply drop out of the sky, dealing death on your way down is a blast, but it also leads to Luftrausers only major flaw. If you are not into chasing leaderboards, or even just besting your top score, eventually you will tire of the endless loop. In time, the randomness of the combat, the uncertainty of whether or not you'll last long enough to see, much less kill a blimp, it all comes to a head. It's easy enough to keep your sessions short, but with those, the pointlessness of the continued grind creeps up.
In no way should that inevitable feeling stop your from playing this, though. The joy you'll find from the craziest dogfight you've ever engaged in will far out weigh the point when you will want to put it down. So suit up, and when you're ready, press up to Raus.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!