It is most vexing when you can see a glimmer of real potential in a game, a spark of true hope, until is smashed into tiny little pieces by the clumsiness all around it. SkyDrift is a sad case in point. You can see how it could have been a gem of a title, but instead will be lost into history in under a year thanks to an appalling execution.
The basic concept is an arcade airplane racing game. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, with power-ups and speed boosts. A main campaign gives you a variety of challenges set around 6 or so primary tracks. You get to choose from a number of different planes, each with different strengths and weaknesses, such as speed, manoeuvrability etc. A very simple, classic formula, but of course any game can shake up a tired formula with some fresh ideas.
The elements of SkyDrift that showed promise were the track design and the graphics. The tracks are set in various scenarios, but there are things happening in each scenario. For instance, parts of the scenery collapse and topple over as you fly past, forcing evasive manoeuvres if you are too close. In one map there is an avalanche, and detritus comes roaring down the mountain all around you. These are a lot more fun than static tracks, as there is always something to keep you on your toes.
The graphics are not notable because of their wonderfulness, but because they capture their intended mood perfectly. It is a classic arcade look, with bright colours, clean, crisp visuals and nice effects for when your or one of your opponents blow up or open fire on each other with homing missiles, or get shot by a machine gun and bullet holes start peppering your screen.
But that is where the positivity ends; the rest of the game is a wreck. I tried throttling my plane back, applying zero acceleration. But rather than stall and crash it just still glides along slowly like a granny hovercraft. If you want to make a game in the style of WipeOut that’s great, because WipeOut had a strong, unique racing style. But you can’t create an aircraft racing game if your planes don’t behave like aircraft in very basic ways.
Whilst many games use the ‘catch-up’ racing ploy to ensure you are always in the thick of the race, SkyDrift just smacks it in your face like a wet kipper. On one race I absolutely stormed through the laps with perfect lines, cornering, and turbo usage, and just managed to snatch victory by a hair’s breadth. Then I restarted the race, and put my plane into zero throttle for exactly 1 minute. This means I would be way behind the other racers with no chance of catching them right? Wrong. On a 2 lap race I had caught them all up by the end of the first lap, and managed to claim victory by the end of the second lap. The opponents just race as fast as you do, and it is far, far too apparent.
The problem with any aircraft racing game is how to express the confines of the track, and enforce them. Since SkyDrift is an arcade game, it doesn’t matter that is uses giant neon signs to mark the way round the track. But using mid-air invisible walls? That is unforgivable. You can literally be flying through a vast canyon, then stop dead because apparently the track isn’t supposed to be that high, or you can be careering down a valley and them a sloping invisible wall force you downwards so hard that it smashes you into the floor. This happened on every single lap of a particular track for me, even though my height was consistent throughout the rest of the valley, I had simply reached a section where the game wanted me to descend.
Speaking of crashing, get used to it. Hitting the scenery (or invisible walls), or being shot down by an enemy will result in your fiery death. Should you be concerned about dying? Not really, because you will respawn almost immediately after, and carry on racing as though nothing had happened. On one coastal map I was chasing a nippy racer along a long straight and picked up a rocket. I fired my rocket, and destroyed her. Success? Not yet. She respawned almost immediately, still quite a way in front of me. So I picked up a machine gun and destroyed her again. She respawned in front of me again. So I got another rocket and destroyed her for a third time. Surprise surprise, she spawned in front of me AGAIN. What is the point of a racing game where the destruction of your vehicle has almost no effect? Why even bother turning a sharp corner when you could smash into it at high speed and respawn immediately the other side. Utterly ridiculous.
After attempting to join an online match on numerous occasions, I didn’t find a single other player online. Not one! It seems the public is discerning enough to realise that this game isn’t worth playing. So there is an entire section of the game that will be completely redundant unless you are fortunate enough to have a lot of mates that also enjoy playing very mediocre, unsatisfying, illogical and inconsistent racing games.
Even if you put some really sexy alloy wheels on a cabbage….it’s still a cabbage. Some decent elements to the game are not enough to stop SkyDrift from being a very bad racing game overall. It is not enough to have a good idea, you need to execute that idea properly. And until some proper thought is put into the execution, it is impossible to make a racing game that will withstand the test of time, or even be remotely fun to play. Go and play WipeOut again instead.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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