Game Rant’s Anthony Taormina reviews SkyDrift
Much like grandfathers beget fathers and fathers beget sons so does Mario Kart beget the combat racing titles of today. Such is SkyDrift, a downloadable combat racing game that uses vintage airplanes with which to wage carnage.
Spread across seven different stages, including online multiplayer, SkyDrift lets the player select from a small handful of planes and take them for a spin on a number of tracks. If you’ve played Mario Kart, or more recently Blur, you know exactly the experience SkyDrift attempts to emulate — and when I say attempts, I mean attempts.
It isn’t all about the combat with SkyDrift, there is a mode called Speed Race that sees opponents racing through golden rings that grant a temporary boost, but it’s mostly about the combat. Not to mention, it’s with that combat that your plane must fight their way to the finish line using any of the six power-ups available. But like any fan knows, there are so many elements that go into a great racing game – and messing up just one can ruin the experience entirely. Unfortunately, SkyDrift haphazardly handles most of them.
Part of what makes for a fun racing game are the clever and visually interesting tracks that your vehicle careens through at breakneck speeds. Though SkyDrift boasts a few well-realized courses, they are only just that: a few. To make matters worse, it’s often extremely unclear how to orient your plane to make it through the myriad of obstacles, turns, and “action events.” This isn’t a game where, if you come away without having crashed, you are golden – more likely it’s just about crashing with enough of a lead on your hands.
To help prolong the experience, the game uses the different race types and even goes so far as to reverse the track to make it feel completely fresh. So, if you feel like you’ve gone through any of the tracks in SkyDrift before, it’s because you have… a lot. It’s a shame that a little extra effort couldn’t have been put towards making a handful more engaging tracks and maybe a shorter single player “campaign.”
But, you would think that even if the tracks, while pretty to look at, fall flat – at least the combat would be fun. Unfortunately it isn’t. The weapons aren’t particularly unique nor are they all that useful. Power-ups are upgradeable — if you collect two you gain a stronger version of said power-up — but it’s usually just a stronger version of the base power-up. With imprecise flight controls your best bet is to amass as many missiles as you can and hope that their lock-on ability will take out the closest plane to you.
There isn’t really any rhyme or reason to why your plane came out on top, it’s simply the AI dictating whether this was a race that you were “allowed” to place first in — which is a real problem. Instead of making each race feel like they depend on your mastery of the course and the weapons, players will feel way too much at the whim of the combat racing gods. Rubber banding isn’t a huge issue, but that’s partly because you’ll typically be fighting for sixth or seventh place. Never did I feel like I knew what I was doing wrong because even crashes don’t penalize you that badly. It was more a question of did I get the right weapon power-up when the right plane was in front of me.
Once the pack is behind you, protection is hard to come by. There is a shield power-up, but it feels utterly useless against most of the weapons. Plain and simple, you will not be a dominant force in SkyDrift unless you get lucky throughout the whole game. More likely you’ll spend your time being satisfied with second or third place since it means you can progress through the game’s 4-hour single player campaign.
As is the case with most sub-par racing games, even combat-oriented ones, the real fun can be found in the online multiplayer. Against eight human-controlled opponents the combat becomes much more exciting, but the flight control issues still remain. The three race modes — the aforementioned Speed Race, Power Race (traditional combat racing), and Survivor (last place gets knocked out in time increments) — make for a well-rounded online experience, but there isn’t enough to keep anyone coming back like they would a high speed racer like WipEout. It’s a mixed bag no matter where you take your SkyDrift experience, but multiplayer makes this feel like a decently priced combat racing title.
For what it is — a downloadable combat racing title involving planes — SkyDrift has some positives going for it. The gameplay is solid enough to scratch that Mario Kart or Blur itch, but when it comes to casual racing or straight gaming fans this is definitely a pass. Wonky controls, lackluster track selection, and blasÃ© weapons all keep this from being a budget title with some legs. Instead it’s simply lost in the skies with no direction home.
Are you interested in checking out SkyDrift? Do you think that the combat racing genre is still viable?
SkyDrift is available now on the PSN and XBLA.