SkyDrift (PC)

SkyDrift, in case you missed our review of the Xbox 360 version, is kinda like Mario Kart but in airplanes; futuristic, flown-by-madmen, able to do impossible things, airplanes. Kinda like Red Bull Air Race, but with powerups. This time around, the action heads to the PC via Steam — but is it as fun on your desktop as it is on your television?

The action, if that opening paragraph didn't adequately explain it for you, breaks down like this: take control of any of a number of aircraft (and there are already at least two DLC packs that add more aircraft, should you feel the need) and participate in a number of high-flying competitive events. You can play against your mates online if that's your thing, however the AI provides a compelling solo experience too.

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The actual flying stuff — despite the similarities the in-game vehicles have to real-world aircraft — doesn't control much like a real plane. If you've spent any serious time pretending to fly planes on your computer, the difference between what you appear to be controlling (planes) and what you're actually controlling (some sort of weird flying car thing) can take some adjusting to.

Once you do get your head around it, however, and stop trying to correct the attitude of your plane, you'll find the control afforded by the setup on offer to be more than adequate. That said, we highly recommend using some sort of joypad; for review purposes, we spent 95% of the time manipulating things via an Xbox 360 controller.

The powerup system, while instantly familiar, manages to add enough tweaks to the formula to make things interesting. There are a number of different tokens you can collect, providing things like mines and projectile weapons of different types, as well as defensive shields and even a repair type that fixes up your plane.

Collect two of the same type and you'll enhance the effect when you trigger it, or collect two different types and you can switch between them as befits the needs of the moment. You can even convert a powerup into boost, significantly enhancing the (already solid) strategy of the system.

Boost itself is rewarded over time, with bonuses available for doing clever things - much like Burnout or Need for Speed: The Run. Triggering the boost is satisfying for a number of reasons, not least of which is the it genuinely feels fast visual effect, or the actual speed you gain from it.

About the only disappointing component of the effects system is the explosion on death; it feels lacklustre and retro, which is a stark contrast to the thrilling exposition that's otherwise on offer from the graphics systems. The levels in particular feel alive, with loads of detail and sequences that cause parts of them to collapse, explode, or otherwise change as the race progresses.

There are few tracks available to be raced around, which is a shame — but at just $9.99 (USD - about $12.50 NZ), that didn't affect the score as much as it might otherwise have done so. The tracks that are there are mostly very attractive, well laid out, and varied enough to warrant their individual inclusion.

There are elements, though, that feel forced or somewhat artificial — particularly those that restrict your flow through the environment — but if this sport actually existed, chances are good such constructs would exist too, so again, you can't get too uppity about that.

The aircraft designs are remarkable; to a plane, they look amazing. If you've any interest in fanciful aircraft designs, you'll absolutely love flying these amazing things around. Hopefully the developers look into licensing their visage for the purpose of creating model kits — I'd line up at midnight to buy the complete set. In particular, the Sparrow X1 is the stuff of boyhood raptures.

At $9.99, SkyDrift is an absolute steal. There's not a huge amount of content, but what's here is excellent, and developers Digital Reality have already demonstrated that they're ready and willing to support the game with affordably priced DLC. If you like the idea of racing fantasy aircraft through narrow canyons, firing all sorts of crazy weapony around in your quest to be number one, SkyDrift is absolutely essential.

"Those magnificent men in their flying machines!"
- SkyDrift
Follow Own it? Rating: PG   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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