A couple of weeks ago we posted a preview for a plane racing game called SkyDrift, a downloadable title by Hungarian developer Digital Reality that takes the concept of Kart Racing games and literally gives them wings—and, a turboprop.
What you’ll get for your $15 USD is a small selection of game modes and types. There’s the singleplayer campaign and an online multiplayer, and three types of races for you to test your skills at over six tracks (forward and reverse) along with a selection of eight aircraft. The three modes are very different—your standard Power Race is a two or three lap race with the games variety of weapons turned on, while the Survival mode gets rid of laps and instead disqualifies the guy in last place at set intervals until there is only one plane remaining. Finally, the Speed Race removes the weapons and in turn gives you rings you can fly through, not only laying out an optimal route, but flying through them also gives you a speed boost.
The number of levels to race on may not seem like much, but there is a lot of variety between each track. One will have you swooping over rivers of lava, while others have you twisting around icicles in underground ice caves. The reverse tracks are actually a great addition as they are almost completely different experiences from their originals, not only with little things like weapon placements, but also forcing you to use new techniques in familiar settings. The track design itself is very well thought out, tailored to the ways a plane can be flown and making use of three-dimensional space. However, some invisible walls used to keep you on the set course can get annoying and sometimes be a little random in terms of where you can and cannot cut a corner.
Speaking of the flight controls, SkyDrift seems to have really nailed how you would expect the planes to handle. The left stick is used to control altitude and to bank left and right like most on-rails arcade-flying games, where as pushing left or right on the right stick will roll the plane onto its side, allowing for tighter turns and to pass through tighter obstacles. Flying closer to the ground rewards you with an increase in speed and filling up your boost meter, which can both mean the difference between winning and losing. It all feels right and perfectly responsive.
Each plane has its own set of stats that are most definitely not for show, the heavier planes with bad accelerations will be left lumbering behind at the beginning of the race as they slowly pick up greater speeds, while the smaller ones will shoot off and have slightly twitchy controls. The balancing on the planes isn’t perfect, as there seems to be planes with clear advantages; however, a skilled player will be able to make use of the boost mechanics and flying low to make up for lack of maneuverability.
What does seem to be perfectly balanced though are the weapons—fixed on the track and labeled as which one you’re picking up, there is no overpowered or uber weapon like the ubiquitous Blue Shell. The mixture of offensive and defensive weapons is powerful enough to slow down foes or protect yourself, but not too powerful as to negate flying skills and become the true race decider. They’re all able to be powered up to a second level to do more damage or have different effects, and they can also be burnt to refill your boost meter.
One of the highlights early on while learning the game is figuring out that homing missiles can be avoided by flying around tight obstacles so they hit a wall and not you. Maybe that was just me though.
The singleplayer game is a short, three to four hour romp through the levels and gametypes with increasingly difficult enemy A.I. About halfway through you’ll have seen all it has to offer really, however to unlock more aircraft and skins you need to finish the single player. The last set of races can get a little frustrating, as the A.I. has a habit of gaining an unbeatable lead while you’re caught in a battle for the middle of the field. The final race is good though—mixing up the three main game types in one race to try and end it with a bang.
The multiplayer is both SkyDrift's greatest achievement and worst failing. What awaits you is an amazingly lag-free experience of up to eight people on any map on any mode with different lighting conditions and lap count, and a voting session for the next track. However, there is no local multiplayer which is becoming a problem in this day and age. A game like this could really benefit from some old fashioned huddling-around-a-TV-swearing that offline multiplayer would give it. Still though, with the quality of the online mode and some Skype wizardry, it would mostly feel like you’re in the same room. Mostly.
In all the years of video games, for all the things that have come out on various consoles and computers, you’d think plane racing games would be a genre that had been explored far more often. SkyDrift may not be the first, and it definitely borrows from some of the more noted examples, but it most certainly has potential to be a great game and get the genre much more notice.
-The Final Word-
SkyDrift is a fantastic plane racing game that stands out among its inspirational peers. While a lack of local multiplayer is noticeable, it doesn't detract from the charm and balance that gives it such great potential.