Planes should not fly. We all know that. They are massive, heavy lumps of metal. They should not get off the ground. Yes, we know, the laws of aerodynamics, thrust, lift and all that rigmarole. Forget that. The next time you’re going to fly, take a long, hard look at the damn plane. Part of your brain will tell you it shouldn’t be going anywhere, let alone be capable of soaring to 30,000 feet and looping the loop.
And if you’re going to play this 2D arcade style dogfighter, loops are one thing you’ll need to get used to. This is an online game, so the players are all human – aside from the bots drafted in to make up team numbers – and that means there’s a huge amount of twisting and turning to get onto each other’s tails. Expect more loops than a badly cobbled-together dance tune.
Some planes are nippier than others, mind, with the more brick-like bomber not having such a great deal of agility. But the majority of people seem to stick to the more manoeuvrable kites such as the biplane and the “loopy”, the basic plane model, the name of which says it all, really.
There are five planes in total, and five different styles of match. These include team deathmatch and an objective style game where one team must plant a bomb and the other has to stop them. The most popular games, however, seem to be vanilla free-for-all deathmatch, team base destruction and plane ball. In team base destruction, two teams attempt to blow up each other’s base with bombs. And plane ball is essentially football, where planes can pass a spiky sphere to each other in an effort to fire it into the enemy’s goal.
Every game has one thing in common, though, and that’s an electric pace, with non-stop action and short match lengths. The five to ten minute bouts are basically a relentless stream of spawning, killing and dying (often fairly quickly). Except for the objective game, where dead team members remain dead, a possible reason why it appears to be the least popular mode of play.
Altitude is fast, furious and simple fun, with an easy-to-grasp control system. Pilots can turn, adjust the throttle and fire a primary or secondary weapon, plus there’s a button to trigger any power-ups collected. However, these basic mechanics are complicated somewhat by the introduction of a single nod to realism in the form of stalling.
You can’t climb too quickly, and certainly can’t whizz vertically straight up, without stalling. Recovering from a stall isn’t too tricky, though, and just a matter of pointing the plane downwards, giving it a bit of juice on the throttle and pulling out of the dive. The only trouble ocurs when the craft is too low to pull out quickly enough, in which case you can scream “banzai” while bumping along the ground and decimating the plane’s health. The ground is also your enemy.
In fact, the environment itself can often cause stalling, when the aircraft catches the edge of a cliff or building with its wing. The screen can be quite cluttered with scenery on some maps, and with a lot of planes on screen in a 16-player game – with your team-mates all being an identical colour – it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of your plane and experience some frustrating crashes.
Still, any annoyances are outweighed by the good old, honest, pacey dogfighting on offer here. After a death, we found ourselves keenly mashing the fire button to respawn (there’s a few seconds’ delay imposed) to quickly zoom over to the area where the massive six-plane scrap we were involved in was taking place. The hope being that there were still two or three half-dead aircraft looping around, ripe for being finished off in a multi-kill streak.
The Altitude experience has further depth – or should that be height – added, with a level system. Every plane shot down, and achievements such as streaks of kills, awards the player experience points, and promotion through the ranks unlocks new planes. And also upgrades, such as heavier armour, improved weaponry, repair drones, reverse thrusters and all manner of goodies. This gives you a reason to keep playing and unlocking, aside from “pwning” all-comers, of course.
Low system requirements and busy game servers – we never struggled to find a well populated match – round the experience off. As does the polish the developer has liberally applied to the interface. When we had been playing on one server for twenty minutes, and Altitude informed us of this fact with a pop-up asking if we wanted to bookmark the server as a favourite, we were suitably impressed. And that’s just one of many attentive touches.
Company: Nimbly Games