With the recent announcement of the PS3 PSN store due to be shutdown, then Sony reversing that same announcement, the provocation has resulted in clearing the dust on Sony’s seventh generation console. Starting with this Sony console exclusive, Luftrausers, a war-themed shooter that dared to dream with its release, competing with an already-released PlayStation 4 just a few months earlier.
War, never been so much fun. You sunk my battleship. Both those memorable phrases detail the quality Luftrausers provides, albeit from a high level. When you first load up Luftrausers’ cartoon retro-style title screen, a simple instruction is given: Press ‘Up’ on your D-Pad. You soon realise you have been thrust into the cockpit of a plane as a complete novice, not knowing where to go or what to do. Instinctively though, you quickly find yourself flying back and forth, projectile barrages and small planes coming at you at breakneck speed, with a simple goal: Kill or be killed.
Constant death is an inevitability in Luftrausers. But this is glorious, unpredictable, addictive and even productive death. Every plane or battleship you destroy tops up your overall score, levels you up, and bumps your multiplier within each run too. Levelling up means better weapons, armour and the like, and thus, this is how you progress in Luftrausers. In-game side objectives, such as destroying 6 planes in a single run unlock further parts and modifications; homing missiles, reduced melee damage, even protection from the water below. You’ll need that last one should you dive in for temporary cover. All these elements bring variety to the feel and power of your craft. As you toughen up, the opposition gets tougher, and more frequent, which serves up more breath-taking moments of near-kamikaze brilliance.
Although this may not sound as appealing as it is in practice, there is quite the tactical element to Luftrausers to cap off its addictive brilliance. Any damage you do take slowly recovers with ant brief respite, indicated by a circle that closes in the nearer you are to being blown out of the sky. You are also more manoeuvrable should you ever release the fire button, which is great for healing and a temporary reprieve, but those going for the big multipliers will see it reset in those precious recovery seconds. Then the waves begin again, meaning it really is a case of who dares wins.
The wonderfully simple and symbolic nature of holding ‘up’ to fly and rotating using left or right for direction becomes second nature almost immediately, as intended, by throwing you into the action head on. I guarantee a few seconds later you’ll be throwing yourself head-on towards countless merciless targets. Granted, you may well escape some rounds by the skin of your teeth with more luck than judgement, but regardless, the sense of momentary relief is ever present.
Visually, Luftrausers offers a unique semi-retro style, akin to an HD Atari 2600, should such a thing ever have existed. When in battle, it can be similar to a typical bullet hell shooter, with enemies left, right and centre, a la Asteroids, but with the freedom of movement, of course.
As you progress through the various waves of increasing difficulty, Luftrausers succeeds in retaining the thrills and spills of those initial bedding-in runs throughout. For those with a PS Vita, you may miss a train stop or two if you’re not careful. While some runs may be over in mere seconds, the action is consistently heart-stopping, merciless, and seriously addictive. And it all begins with the touch of a simple command: Up.