Throughout the years, the gaming community has seen quite a few different arcade kart racers come and go. Some, like Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing, have been stellar games rewarded with popular followings. Others haven’t been all that amazing, unfortunately.
Digital Reality‘s latest, SkyDrift, follows a similar action formula. However there is one major difference, as it takes to the skies with explosive aerial racing and combat, as opposed to jumping into a drift-heavy go-kart contraption. What I’m happy to announce is that it fits right in with the former category, delivering an exhilarating fast-paced flight experience which leaves nothing but shattered plane parts on the course.
If you’ve played one of the aforementioned games before, then you’ll pretty much know what to expect here. There’s a lot of high-speed flying, mixed in with some tight maneuovers, evasive actions and best of all, weapons. Digital pilots jockey for position using any means necessary, whether the required force is an EMP blast, a few rockets to the cockpit or some heavy machine gun fire.
It’s all in the name of the game apparently, with no sportsmanship to be found. The colourful skies are no place for scared rookies, as it’s a dog eat dog scenario from start to finish, complete with upgradeable weaponry. Smoking pilots fearing explosions can try to pick up a repair icon, though it’s not always available among the assorted pick-ups.
What I like a lot about this game is how dynamic it is. The skies feel alive, with tons of obstacles, structural collapses and colourful devices. Nothing stays the same throughout each race. Smokestacks, rock walls and throughways are prone to falling just as the player tries to skirt his way through.
This adds a great infusion of challenge and character into a sub-genre which needed a bit of a boost. Though, from experience, I must say that getting hit by crumbling architecture is more frustrating than being shot from behind with upgraded heat-seeking rockets, due to the possibility of avoidance. Boosting helped me get through quite a few of them, especially when I decided to ‘burn’ some of my power-ups to make more nitrous; one of the game’s best mechanics, which makes picking up every visible item a worthwhile venture.
The make or break control factor isn’t anything to worry about here. Planes maneuver like they should in a fast-paced game where avoidance is key. There’s not a lot of realism to be found, but the required abilities to stop on a dime and turn on a whim are available in full force. This means that crashes are your fault, not the controller’s. While playing this game, you’re sure to crash a lot, so don’t feel bad about it. The tracks have lots of obstacles which provide some fun challenges and require tricky moves to get through.
Starting out, players are asked to choose from a tiny selection of one man planes. Each one is ranked based on important statistics such as speed, maneuverability and contraption stability. This allows for choice and options when it comes to the type of winged contraption you’d like to use. Some may opt for the strong yet cumbersome beast, while others may go with the speedy but weak machine instead.
I’m more of the well-rounded type, opting to go with the first available plane for the entire game. Reason being was that it fit my style the most, whereas every one of the other planes (including most of the extra ones unlocked via progression) were specialty products. Average speed combined with a decent amount of strength worked for me. Surprisingly, that plane seemed faster than the jet plane I gave a whirl later on.
Customization is limited, but that’s usually the case with this sub-genre. The only options presented in SkyDrift are different decals, which can make your plane a bit more fashionable. Perhaps red and blue represents your personality more than black and white, or vice-versa. Every plane has four different decals to be quickly slapped on by imaginary workers, though pilots must work for their colours. The first few tend to unlock through race completion, though the fourth decal for each flight device requires players to win a couple of matches against human competition.
Once the hangar doors are opened and it’s time for takeoff, the races can begin. Whether they’re online or man versus artificial intelligence machines is up to player one. Either way, a wild ride is to be expected. The two options presented include a seven tier career mode, as well as the aforementioned multiplayer shenanigans.
Both include three different race types: power races with full use of weaponry, speed races which drop power-ups in favour of speed rings and survival circuits. The latter is an explosive, fuel-injected challenge where the skies’ eight racers fight to be the last one alive. Throughout the race, every racer failing to take the lead ends up falling from the skies upon the end of a calculated timer. All three modes are a tad on the basic side, but they’re so much fun that it’s easy to overlook the inherent simplicity.
Career mode presents itself through a menu showing seven different stages. Up until the final pedal to the metal race, each stage contains several different events. In order to make it on towards the next stage, players must pick and choose a set amount of these challenges to play through, making it onto the podium in each.
Every race takes a few minutes at the bare minimum, with later ones lasting for between five and six minutes. This allows the core mode to last for several hours. Though, a lot of armchair pilots will be hankering to jump back in shortly after completion because the game is so much fun.
It’s great that the development team included full online multiplayer as an option, but I wish there was more of an incentive included. Perhaps more of a community aspect, containing online only unlockable emblems or perks. Maybe even the option to create a tournament. With that being said, I don’t want to dwell on the negatives, because I’d just be nitpicking.
The online portion of SkyDrift is fun, competitive and explosive, providing all three game types from the career. It runs well, despite the odd networking glitch. The only real issue is that the community seems rather tiny, which I hope will rectify itself as more people hear how great this game is.
Although it’s a budget downloadable title, SkyDrift is quite a visual spectacle. Its visuals make good use of a realistic yet colourful palette, with hints of orange explosions dotting the skies and a speed-related blur effect. Each track feels unique and well-designed, featuring different environmental hazards (ice, snow, rock) and global locations such as the arctic, a ship graveyard, the perimeter of an active volcano, a large desert canyon and a tropical paradise.
Every shown area is lush, detailed and full of visual flair, just like the planes. They’re all modelled intricately, being well-designed and interesting to look at. Planes off in the distance ahead get neon streaks coming out of their wings, just to let you know their flight path and location. Don’t dwell on them though, as you’re sure to miss an upcoming turn, cave or obstacle.
This digital explosion fest features audio offerings which are well-above average. The skies shake with the thunderous booms from explosions, whether they’re in close proximity or off in the distance a bit. Bullets, rockets and other weapon-based effects all sound great, as do the roar of the machines. I also enjoyed the original score with its rock music tones. The only thing I’d have added would have been an announcer to add a bit of narrated flair to the whole adventure in the skies. Though, I’m nitpicking once again.
Going into SkyDrift, I was hoping for something fun and enjoyable. What I discovered was much better than I’d expected or hoped, as the game is an exhilarating blast of fun and challenging competition. If anything, I wish there was a bit more to it. Though, for a fifteen dollar price tag, there’s quite a bit of content to be found. Wanting more is a sign of a good game, so my compliments go out to the entire development team at Digital Reality. Gamers, give this one a chance. You won’t regret it!
SkyDrift was released on September 7, 2011. It is available for XBOX Live Arcade, PSN and PC. This review is written based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.