|System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC|
|Dev: Digital Reality|
|Pub: Digital Reality|
|Release: September 6, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild Violence|
by Josh Wirtanen
Skydrift is one of those neat little games that just shows up out of nowhere, yet somehow manages to be insanely enjoyable and incredibly well-polished. It's an arcade-style airplane racer that seems to borrow a few tricks from the Mario Kart and Wipeout franchises. But don't let these comparisons fool you; Skydrift definitely holds its own even among these undisputed classics of arcade-style racing.
You cannot possibly play Skydrift without commenting on its graphics. This game is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The realistic HD environments in the game are created with an excruciating amount of care and peppered with environmental hazards that are just plain fun to look at. And every course is completely crammed with details that will leave you grinning. For example, one course has you flying through the rusted ribcages of wrecked ships, another has you navigating between the support beams of oil rigs, and yet another has you flying dangerously close to molten magma spilling out of an active volcano.
Every course is so fantastically beautiful that you'll most likely spend your first couple tries just gawking at all the scenery. To top it off, there are some very cool visual effects, like water droplets on your windshield when you fly near water, bullet holes in your screen when you're being shot at, and a heat blur when you fly too close to lava. Yet once you get used to all these details, you won't find them distracting. The game expertly walks the delicate line between beauty and gameplay functionality, making Skydrift fun to look at while a challenge to navigate.
And that brings us to the controls. They're incredibly simple and easy to learn, taking advantage of both control sticks; the left stick steers your plane, and the right stick tilts it, allowing you to knife it sideways. This knife edge flying is something you'll have to learn in order to do well at Skydrift, as you'll be dodging your way through narrow ravines and caverns. Of course, you can accelerate and brake using the right and left bumpers, respectively, while your face buttons are used for power-ups and boosting.
Don't worry about complicated gyroscopes or other gizmos; Skydrift is pure arcade flyer. On top of its simple controls, it allows players to pick up power-ups, including homing missiles, cannons, hovering mines, shockwaves, and shields. You have two slots for power-ups, and acquiring a second power-up of the same type as one you already have upgrades it to a Level 2 version. When you have two different power-ups at once, you can toggle between the two. It's one of the more complex power-up systems I've seen in an arcade racer, but it's one that proves to be very functional and easy to use.
In fact, you can even swap any power-up for additional boost. The amount of boost you gain is determined by your standing in the race; players with a high placement won't receive as much boost as those who are lagging behind. This means if you fall into last place, you'll have to make a tough choice. Do you want to use your power-up to try to increase your placement, or are you better off taking full advantage of the boost it could provide? You can also earn boost by "hugging" the terrain, but this is another one of those risk/reward systems. Can you fly close enough to the ground to earn a boost without crashing?
Skydrift has a fairly robust campaign for a $15 downloadable title. There is a tutorial race, followed by seven sets of campaign races. Similar to the Wipeout games, Skydrift will reuse some of its courses for multiple race types. Yet there are enough different courses and each race type is different enough that you won't feel like you're just doing the same thing over and over.
On top of unlocking later sets of races, there are a total of eight planes to select. The first is available out of the gate, but the rest need to be unlocked by placing in races. Additionally, each plane has four skins, which can also be unlocked. All in all, that's a total of 32 aircraft possibilities, and since there's a "Download" option in the menu, I'm assuming Digital Reality plans on releasing more as DLC at some point in the future.
There are four basic race types. (Well, technically three, if you don't count Reverse.) Power Race is your standard power-up-based race to the finish. Speed Race eschews the power-ups in favor of giant rings spread across the course, and flying through these rings gives you a burst of speed. Survival is perhaps my favorite race type; in it, a timer counts down, and every time the counter hits zero, the player in last place gets eliminated. Finally, there's Reverse, which lets you race on a familiar course, only you'll fly around the track in the opposite direction.
The campaign races provide a fair challenge, and you can adjust the difficulty of each race as you see fit. But if you manage to completely master the single-player, you can take your game online. Skydrift offers a fairly smooth online multiplayer experience, but the downside is that Skydrift might not be popular enough to support a long-term online community. It's a shame, because this game definitely deserves one, and has the potential to offer substantial replay value.