They say that indie games reminiscent of mainstream retail titles are doomed to a terminal fate of identity crisis. These people obviously never played SkyDrift. Fast-paced, frantic and uncompromisingly energetic, Digital Reality’s airborne, Mario Kart-esque racer is pushes many of the right buttons whilst forging its own characteristic identity within the arcade racing genre.
To veterans of the multiplayer racing scene, SkyDrift’s premise is straightforward and easy to comprehend. Eight aircrafts are pitted together in a race to the finish line, with the course littered with power-ups of varying efficacy in order to add a little spice to the experience. These power-ups range from rapid-fire bullet projectiles to missiles, electric shock attacks and vehicular repairs, and each of them are well tailored to the madcap sense of action upon which SkyDrift is built.
Yet to call SkyDrift cheap would be to do its strategic dynamic a disservice. Each player can store up to two power-ups at a time, with weapon level-ups offered to those savvy enough to collect two of the same power-up. The underlying complexity of the game lies in the concept that, while any player can unleash a homing missile at the touch of a button, it takes an element of thought and forward-planning to utilise one’s perks at exactly the right point on the course in attempting to throw one’s opponents off their game long enough to take advantage. When you crash or are taken down by an opponent’s power-up, you’re granted a quick respawn, but it’s moments like these at which a few seconds’ down-time can make the difference between victory and defeat.
The game’s single-player campaign is lengthy and varied, with survival modes and speed races devoid of power-ups thrown in to avoid stagnation and repetition. Completionists will also be glad to know that the solo mode offers an ample array of unlockables and in-game achievements, expanding its replayability beyond that of a standard, bare-bones racer.
SkyDrift’s online multiplayer, however, is where the game’s long-term appeal will live and die, and it’s encouraging to see that, on the whole, it’s a sound, satisfying social experience. Online matches are, as of this writing, relatively easy and painless to set up, and the community is healthy enough to maintain a reasonably stable community for the time being. On the flip side, the game’s unrelenting pace means that minor instances of lag can threaten to spoil the party as players attempt to navigate sharp corners and narrow gaps in the environment, and such technical quirks are bound to stir up a quarrel or two among friends and strangers alike.
The game’s control system should also be called into question. As with many PC racers, the keyboard setup is a tad awkward and unwieldy, and most players will be better served by digging out a third-party gamepad or Xbox 360 controller. Even so, controller users still have to deal with the keyboard control HUD being used for the tutorial, forcing them to make frequent reversions to the controls menu in order to get to grips with the alternative control scheme. Even though it’s certainly not impossible to cope with this setback, it’s nevertheless an issue that could have done with ironing out.
Such limitations aside, SkyDrift is a polished and fluid product. It’s bright, good-looking and technically impressive, and it’s a great example of a game playing to its strengths without losing sight of a coherent creative blueprint. Put bluntly, if you’re looking for an accessible, feel-good multiplayer extravaganza at an affordable price, SkyDrift should be near the top of your shopping list.
Review summary Pros:
Frantic, fast-paced action feels tremendously satisfying; power-ups are balanced effectively
Occasional technical hiccups compromise fluidity; inconsistent level design leads to some finicky moments