Death of the Critic

The Backlog - Luftrausers

Written by: Tom Blaich


I have a confession to make. Like many of you reading this, I have a list of games that I’ve been meaning play for years. I have way too many games on Steam, and a stack of cases sitting next to my TV. Close to five hundred games now. Maybe more. It makes me feel guilty. I haven’t touched 90% of them in one way or another. I need to fix that. So this week,
I dug deep into my backlog and pulled out a game. I want to play all of them; I’ve just never had the chance. Now’s the time.

I’m a big fan of many of the titles that Devolver Digital has published over the years. They all seem to have a certain sense of “style” to them.
Luftrausers is, of course, no exception to this. What appears to be a relatively simple game at the surface hides a surprisingly complex system of upgrades that can fundamentally change the way you play. You take control of a tiny place faced with a big problem - jets, fighters, missiles, boats, subs, oh my. They all stand in the way of your ultimate goal, getting a lot of points as quickly as possible.


The objectives are remarkably simple. Destroy the enemy. Don’t die. Do it quickly. If you chain your kills together quickly enough, your combo grows together. As you gain points, you unlock new levels of difficulty, which spawn more enemies of varied types and give you access to new unlocks and challenges. You get these challenges three at a time, a la
Jetpack Joyride. Beat one of them, and you unlock another. Each piece of your ship has a separate set of challenges for you to beat.

It is a simple game that is so carried by the complexity of action. A bullet hell game set in a much more limited space. There is an inherent sense of satisfaction with mastering the controls, learning to bob and weave through a screen full to the brim of deadly machine gun fire. A sense of awe when you manage to fly through hell and come out the other side unscathed. A very real feeling of accomplishment and exhilaration that few games manage to inspire.


Each upgrade can fundamentally change the way that you play. Weapons that actually perform differently from each other, not just having different fire rates or damage values. The way you change your load out drastically affects the style in which you play the game. Each combination genuinely feels and plays differently. If you want to be a nipple, but slow firing jet, you can. If you want to ram things to death and shoot a cannon out of your backside. You can.

The way you outfit your ship also changes the way the game sound. There is a fantastic rock/synth track going in the background with a satisfying hero’s theme that thumps and pulses along in the background while you blast your enemies into oblivion. Each piece of your ship acts as a modifier, which generates the track in the background. A cannon will sound differently than a machine gun, which will sound differently than a laser. It slowly changes the track into something entirely different but still ultimately satisfying.

Yet while I played, I could not shake the feeling that there was something missing. That this was a flash or phone game in disguise that you can play on steam. The environment does not change, the challenged feel plucked out of an endless runner, and the upgrade system, while wholly satisfying, ultimately feels incomplete. It feels like the inklings of an amazing game. A
Meat Boy waiting to be made Super. With more content, this could be an amazing game, but for now it feels like more of a curiosity.



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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