A game that’s unlikely to have been at the forefront of everyone’s “must buy” radar for September what with Gears of War 3 lurking around the corner any minute now, but SkyDrift is definitely one of those titles on the Xbox LIVE Arcade that can restore your faith in the digital download marketplace where for 1200 MS Points you are getting a highly addictive and entertaining gaming experience.
Developed by Digital Reality, SkyDrift is an aerial combat arcade racer which has both amazing single player and multiplayer content which we can only describe as exhilarating, breathtakingly fun with a big capital ‘F’. The best comparison against any other Xbox LIVE Arcade title to date would be to match this against ‘Hydro Thunder Hurricane’ only with the control of planes instead of boats – SkyDrift easily wipes the floor with Hydro Thunder Hurricane in many different ways and we truly believe that after playing the free trial of SkyDrift just once, you would be more than willing to purchase the full version immediately. This is not a simple flight-combat style game; it hooks into your competitive nature and willingness to succeed, it’s a race for the number one spot using a combination of luck, skill, speed and offensive/defensive weaponry tactics where a brief wrong move could leave you trailing behind your rivals. Expect to grit your teeth, slam your fists, but you’ll do better next time – you’ll make sure of it … or so you might think!
The Campaign within SkyDrift is an arcade style of working your way to the next round by completing required objectives. You cannot simply pick a stage and select your favourite game mode, so one of the best aspects of the Campaign is that it allows you to experience all the game has to offer before you brave the Multiplayer. You can change your difficulty settings between Easy, Medium and Hard, but even the easier setting cannot determine your crash rate – the power is in your thumbs! The controls are quite easy to learn, so if you thought keeping a plane in the air was something of a challenge, it’s not going to be with SkyDrift. As you would expect, RT is your acceleration, LT is to brake whilst the left-stick is for turning and pitch (keeping your plane higher or lower in the air), and the right-stick is for maneuvering the plane into the knife edge position (to get through some tight spots). Once you have completed the optional tutorial which teaches you on controls as well as learning about the available boost and collectable power-ups, controlling your plane becomes second nature and you’re soon raring to go.
There are seven stages to complete within the Campaign and within each stage are a combination of different tracks and different race modes of varying degrees of difficulty. The six tracks you will encounter are:
- The Dam, a track focussed on speed, but the faster you go the more dangerous the obstacles. Mind the water – there’s lots of it!
- Lagoon, another great speed track with many winding tunnels and heavy turns.
- Heatwave, a track for the most courageous as you fly high above a river of lava.
- Wrecks, featuring ancient ruins and a ship graveyard, but many nasty turns in sight that require on-the-ball piloting skills.
- Avalanche, a fantastic detailed track full to the brim with ice glaciers and caverns. You might even need to wear your coat!
- Petrol Coast, race along the coast of a petrol refinery, but beware the icebergs and drilling towers in your way!
Each track also appears playable in reverse which although you will see the same scenery setting, it does feel completely different from starting the other way round because it changes your obstacles and flight path – add different weather conditions to the mix and hey presto, another completely new feel to an already played track. Combining all of the available tracks with three different unique game modes of: Power Race, a fast and furious racing paired with power-ups; Speed Race where players navigate the course through ring targets that boost plane speed faster and faster, and finally a Survival Mode where pilots race against the countdown clock and each other – makes for a great game that never feels stale, because as previously stated, no two races are ever the same. This is anything but boring, it’s fast paced and quite a speed rush.
It was briefly mentioned that during the tutorial you will learn how to use the power-ups within SkyDrift which is your arsenal of offensive and defensive pickups that are upgradable to bring a swift ‘Shock’ or ‘Missile’ on your opponent in the close vicinity. Alternatively, grab a ‘Shield’ to protect yourself against incoming attacks or even get a full ‘Repair’ for your damaged plane. Each plane has two slots for power-ups, so you have two different types available at once. Each power-up has two levels – if you pick up a second power-up of the same kind it will upgrade your existing one to make it more powerful. Strategy plays a part as you must choose which powers to keep, which ones to upgrade and which ones to burn to give your plane a small amount of ‘Boost’. In true Mario-Kart-esque style, power-ups never fail to impress and help you gain a lead over your opponents, stack them up to knock out the player in first position near the finishing line, or convert them into a boost to stop you trailing behind. There are many different methods of approach, but thankfully the respawn system is fairly quick if you get knocked out or crash (trust me, you’ll crash many times). It just leaves you with a few seconds delay, but still a safe enough distance to enable you to catch up and reclaim your position.
Just like any other great racing game, SkyDrift features a selection of planes to choose from and some colourful skins to unlock. In total there are eight unlockable modern planes, each with 4 customisable skins and each plane is individual in its gameplay style – some planes are faster, some planes are easier to control around tight corners, others have improved Armor or Boosting capabilities. The game also features a very nifty built-in Reward system with unlockable badges and medals. There are 15 badges all in all, each containing 3 levels (example: Rocket Ranger Bronze: 5 missile kills. Silver: 50 missile kills. Gold: 300 missile kills.) and a total of 26 medals (example: First in Class: Win a Power Race.) If you want to earn all of the games Achievements, you will need to unlock badges, planes and courses to do so. SkyDrift naturally offers plenty of replay value and with added multiplayer capabilities you are sure to take advantage.
Multiplayer in SkyDrift is very much like the campaign only with real live competitors racing against you. The experience online is not hindered in any way shape or form, it is only improved. As well as joining a quick race, you can also create your own races with your own rules – choose your favourite track, choose your favourite gameplay mode, add your choice of weather component, set the number of laps and away you go! A neat bonus is that you do not need to have unlocked the track first in Campaign before playing it online – in Multiplayer you can experience all of the games tracks in a racing environment that suits you over and over again both publicly or set to private match with up to seven other players or friends on Xbox LIVE.
Visually SkyDrift offers the same quality graphical content that would expect from a full retail title (albeit a budget one – think Sega Rally for instance) Each track has been created with stunning backdrops and scenery to compliment the racing environment with the last lap of each race nicely collapsing in parts around you as the finishing line draws near. It’s often hard not to stop and stare as you race your plane through the caves, over the hills, volcanoes or edge dangerously closer to the water in the hope of a boost bonus. It’s an absolute joy to play and in our opinion, virtually flawless – the only improvements that could have been made were extra tracks, and extra game modes, but this could come at a later date via Downloadable content.
SkyDrift is best described as a perfect marriage of simple, addictive, pick up and play flight simulation with fiercely competitive gameplay that ensures close races. It offers full retail-quality stunning graphics and effects for a digital title – and quite frankly, for 1200 MS Points SkyDrift is well worth its price tag and offers gameplay that is likely to keep you entertained for not only weeks, but months on end!