Review: LUFTRAUSERS (PS3/PSV)

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Title: LUFTRAUSERS
Format: PlayStation Network Download (PS3/PSV Cross-Buy) (311 MB) / PS3 (258 MB) & PS Vita (61 MB)
Release Date: March 18, 2014
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Vlambeer
Original MSRP: $9.99 (Cross-Buy)
ESRB Rating: E
LUFTRAUSERS is available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and PC. It is a Cross-Buy title.
The PlayStation Network versions for each platform were used for this review.
Copies of this game were provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy
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Gameplay:
The arcade-style, score-chasing shoot-em up that is LUFTRAUSERS features the sort of split second respawning that can keep players entranced for hours on end.  After a very brief tutorial where you’re quickly taken through the game’s few simple features, it’s time to ‘raus’.  Characterized by WWII era German parody, LUFTRAUSERS oozes fun, lighthearted charm, and addictive gameplay.  The aircraft carrier that houses your ‘rauser’ floats along the calm sea until you’re ready to press ‘up’ on the d-pad or left analog stick and quickly unleash chaotic mayhem upon your first thrust.  Before long, you’re dodging cannons from battleships, being chased by legions of fighter jets, and screaming “mayday” at your TV or Vita.

Remember the days before the left and right analog sticks so inherently controlled your character’s and the camera’s movement respectively?  The PS1 iterations of games like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil for example used the right and left d-pad buttons to slowly spin your character and the ‘up’ button would then allow you to walk in the direction you were facing.  Ancient, right?  The same sort of control scheme is used to control your ship in LUFTRAUSERS and although it takes some readjusting, I think it works well contextually.  The ‘shoot’ button is the only other command used during gameplay but letting go of ‘up’ and thus laying off the thrusters is very much a part of the technique.  The ship will enter a gliding state necessary for mastery of movement.

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While it may not be as visually appealing or impressive as Resogun, the gameplay in LUFTRAUSERS reminded me of Housmarque’s PS4 launch title.  The 2D plane is infinite from left to right while the clouds and ocean mark the vertical boundaries of the play space.  Flying into either of these extremes will cause your airship some melee damage and you’ll be thrown back into the carnage.  The regenerating health model can have some of its characteristics tweaked by plane modifications but it fits well within the overall style.

As you reach higher scores and complete more objectives, new weapons and features will become unlocked.  With each upgrade comes a well-balanced and sometimes experience-altering tradeoff in firepower and/or movement.  Players can opt to equip their plane with a high-powered laser beam at the expense of turn radius versatility.  Exploding upon death can be sweet revenge against those pesky tailing bogeys – but is it worth taking more damage upon melee strikes?  The beauty of LUFTRAUSERS is that the choice is yours and players can spend countless hours experimenting with the different combinations.

The objectives in the game borrow some nominal ideas from mobile titles and encourage continued retries.  Some of the objectives feature a running count that carries over between rounds.  When you know that destroying just one more battleship will unlock that next upgrade, the game becomes that much harder to put down.  Score-based objectives foster a spirit of satisfying, combo-chaining enemy destruction.

Visuals:
LUFTRAUSERS uses a sepia-toned color palette with a minimalistic art style for its gameplay, menus, and everything in between.  Ships and planes consist of dark, cut-out style shapes with little detail while bullets, missiles, and cannon balls are represented by pixilated dots and/or white, outlined balls.  The visual style accents the time period from which the game is loosely based and the lack of particle effects allows for easier movement tracking amongst the chaos.

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If there is anything that can detract from the LUFTRAUSERS experience, it is the visual laziness in the technical sense.  Screen tearing is the most obvious when an enemy projectile follows your ship across the screen and seems to continuously break, and then mend itself.  Noticeable visual hiccups occur with less frequency on Vita because of the smaller, high quality screen but the PS3 version isn’t even optimized for HD.  The left and right sides of the screen are cut off and the vehicles lose their smooth textures when enlarged.

Audio:
The music in a score-chaser can be critical considering that players can and will engage in lengthy sessions, all in one locale, without any dialogue, story, or cutscene to break up the monotony.  If a single looping track is going to be utilized, it better be good and at the very least it must not be an annoyance.  In LUFTRAUSERS, the musical score mimics the epic, thrilling melodies of old war movies and compliments the endless action.  Heroic nostalgia and patriotic righteousness come to life through the soundtrack.

A game like this, optimally enjoyed on the Vita in my opinion, should have audio that can also be considered optional.  If most of your playtime is done in 10-minute bursts throughout your commute or on your lunch break, having forgotten your headphones isn’t a problem.  The quick and fun gameplay, not particularly meant for complete immersion, does not need the audio assistance all of the time.

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Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only but the leaderboard integration is seamless.  Players can see how they rank against friends and against the world.  LUFTRAUSERS is a Cross-Buy title but I did not see a readily available Cross-Save option.

Conclusion:
LUFTRAUSERS has graced the floors of video game trade shows for much longer than the 2-man independent studio would have liked.  Although it has received praise everywhere it’s been shown and played, the road to release has been a long and tough one.  The result is a super addictive, highly accessible, authentic arcade experience that follows the formula of the other Vlambeer title I’m familiar with – Super Crate Box for PlayStation Mobile.  The instant retry approach makes for a quick and painless route back into the action that anyone can enjoy.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

Written by Emrah Rakiposki

Emrah Rakiposki

– Food
– Video games
– Rap music
It has been my life’s work to properly order the list of this world’s greatest pleasures. There is no right answer.

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