Multiplayer air-battles are the core around which this cute dogfighting game is organized. The 2D planes fight over pleasingly colorful arenas, where players need to deploy some seriously stabby fingerwork to avoid damage from both belligerent enemy craft and inconveniently placed scenery.
Your digits drop to the arrow keys to control flight movement: left and right turn your aero-bird, but you’ll need to take gravity into account – climb at a low speed and you’ll stall; dive and you’ll pick up pace. Constant movement means staking a favorite place on the map is tough, but keeps the tumult of conflict pulsing. It’s indicative of Altitude’s easy charm that after two games, our brain had hardwired our plane’s keyboard-based controls into muscle memory and we were flying like a pro.
There’s a deeper game here, belying the simple presentation. When canyon dives and Immelman turns become second nature, you can focus on your offensive capabilities. Each of the five craft classes come with two standard-issue weapons, plus the option to pick up and deploy special one-shot powerups. Classes range from the nimble-but-fragile ‘Loopy’ plane to the super-chunky ‘Explodet’, complete with a phallic, rocket-housing undercarriage. A perk system adds another level of nuance to plane selection – each has three slots: one defensive, and two that alter the way your weapon load-out plays.
There are several modes, but the classes really come into their own on objective-based servers. A bomb-carrying mode is one highlight, where you need to work together to destroy an enemy base, but it’s ‘plane-ball’ that sees the most frantic matches. When a team is working together to bundle a ball into a bucket deep in enemy territory, it’s a symbiotic game: without any direct communication, players tend to join a swarming hive mind, passing the ball around on split-second decisions and throwing up chuck-and-hope shots from the level’s midway point.
The perk system, based on rewards for kills, assists and length of play, means new players don’t have access to the same level of customization and killitude as veterans. No level of cheery presentation will endear you to getting whomped by some flyboy in a plane you’re 15 levels off attaining. And while the objective-based modes are great with humans, the game’s bots are suspect at best, testing their virtual stomachs by flying in circles for much of the time.
While a lot of ostensibly simple games offer immediate satisfaction, Altitude asks for a little more – its movement and concepts aren’t an immediate given for your fingers. Tough it out, accept that you won’t get the full rewards until you’ve put in the necessary time and you’ll find a wonderful way to fly.
Dec 16, 2009