Another day, another game gets the roguelike treatment. This time it’s a retro styled Ace Combat affair. Is it a Kenny Loggins success or just a bit bobbins?
Genre: Action, Indie, Simulation
Developer: Fractal Phase
Publisher: Fractal Phase
Release Date: 24 Aug, 2017
Sky Rogue is a fwooshy rogue-lite action flight simulator! Blow things up over land, sea, and air, on an infinite number of procedurally-generated islands. Choose one of a diverse set of aeros and kit it out with a dizzying array of weaponry. Go toe-to-toe with enemy aces or assault giant flying aircraft carriers and battleships, but watch out for volleys of missiles; when you die, you’re dead.
Live out your Top Gun fantasies in this no holds barred arcade experience. Barrel roll and loop the loop in your custom painted kite. Tally ho and chocks away Ginger! Let’s see if we last more than 20 minutes in the unforgiving skies of the rogue.
How time flies. I can’t believe it’s been three years since I initially backed the alpha of Sky Rogue on itch.io. I’d completely forgotten about the title up until I received an update informing me that the game was finally out of early access and that the 1.0 point release was on Steam’s digital store
I was originally drawn to the game because I’m a sucker for simple filled polygons. This love of primitive shapes goes back to Starglider 2 on the Atari ST. A groundbreaking title, which was in its day, the pinnacle of 3D graphics. Time marches on and so does technology. What was once considered cutting edge is now just a twee retro aesthetic. I have no problem with that and actively seek out anything that employs this classic look.
I love a good dog fight, whether it’s a Tie fighter, Sopwith Camel or a Eurofighter. There’s nothing quite like a high-speed joust between your foe in the open sky or vacuum of space. Getting on your opponents six and nailing them with whatever armaments your craft is equipped with is deeply satisfying. A personal favourite of mine is the lock on missile sound. It’s a great audible cue that your enemies days are numbered. Flying through the debris of their shattered craft adds to the intoxicating gameplay mix.
I have to admit when I first played the alpha build I wasn’t blown away. The content was bare bones which was to be expected, given the time frame. The one thing that stuck out to me was the twitchiness of the controls, which I just couldn’t get to grips with. I can’t recall whether that build had gamepad support or not. I soon lost patience and mentally put the game on the back burner, in the hope that the devs were committed to the project and would iron out the many issues affecting the overall experience.
Enough of the pre amble. Let’s boot this puppy up and see what’s on offer.
The campaign mode is the meat of the game. This is where the rogue part of the game’s title comes from. Set over 12 days, you are tasked with completing one mission per day. These are randomly generated. A sortie can include taking out out airborne targets such as lone AWACS planes, bomber squadrons or drones. Land based objective include sam sites, factories and command centres. There’s also the addition of naval encounters which can comprise of freighters and cruisers. As the campaign progressed the missions ramp up in difficulty. The opening couple of days are a cakewalk, taking out lone undefended Awacs is a turkey shoot. By day 4 it’s a whole different ballgame. Blitzing a well-defended command centre surrounded by SAM sites is a tricky proposition, early warning radar scrambles drone and veteran units to fill the skies with a hornet’s nest of feisty foes.
As you complete missions you receive Tech points(XP) and cash. The cash can be used to upgrade your arsenal items during missions. When you inevitably die, you get to spend your tech points based on your performance. If you level up, you’ll get to pick a weapon/item/plane. Sometimes, if you have done particularly well, you get two choices. Then you start the whole shebang again, only now you have a bigger and more robust arsenal to tailor your mission load-outs.
There’s a multitude of Aeros to unlock. Here is a list of the ones I’ve managed to unlock in the short time I’ve been playtesting the game.
ROGUE – Medium Fighter
SCHWALBE – Light Fighter
KONDOR – Light Bomber
FALKE – Light Interceptor
ZULU – Medium Bomber. This is a good choice for early game land based targets
VECTOR – Medium Interceptor. Superb multi role plane, much like the real life Eurofighter Typhoon
DRAKON – Heavy Fighter
MEDVED – Heavy Bomber
ORCA – Heavy Interceptor
RAIJU – Swing-Wing Interceptor
KIRIN – Swing-Wing Fighter
ONI – Swing-Wing Bomber
ROGUE II – Experimental Fighter
ODIN – Experimental Bomber
The real star of the show is the ordinance that you can equip your aeros with. You start out with a rather humdrum arsenal but death by death you acquire some very nice kit. There’s all manner of guns, missiles and even drones to add to your loadout. I particularly like the long range AA missiles like the AAM-LR Longbow and AAM-MR Javelin. These long reach weapons allow your slower fighter-bombers to rule the sky from afar, way before any more agile foes can get in range and cause you harm. These are pure hog heaven and inject a sense of technical superiority as you press a button unleashing certain death upon your unwitting target. There’s an innate beauty watching a longbow missile arc across the azure sky, leaving a wispy vapour trail before blowing your enemy back into the dark ages.
In addition to the campaign, there are two more modes. Endless; this is the same as the main missions but without any end bosses and obviously goes on Infinitum. Free flight is the opening level devoid of any foes, allowing you to practise flying manoeuvres and try out different control schemes.
The soundtrack that accompanies all this air carnage is an amalgam of 16-bit cracktro styled tracks along with bombastic Advance Wars flavoured menu(GBA) tunage. They align beautifully with the prevailing retro aesthetic. Lots of pitch bending top lines, crest atop of pulsating FM bass lines and crunchy drum beats. Spot Fx for lock-ons are on point and deliver a great audible 8-bit beep feedback. Every weapon select is accompanied by suitable bleeps and bloops.
Graphics are pure Atari ST / Amiga era nostalgia. If you have ever played Carrier Command or Starglider then these will evoke days of yore. Clean immaculate low poly models zip through the skies in a vibrant retina burning basic colour world. Sonic blue abounds both in the liveries of the areos and the surrounding vista. Explosions are Heinz ketchup red and Coleman’s mustard yellow. There’s no gritty COD browns or muted colours employed here. Everything has been painted with the primary palette of a Saturday morning cartoon. Bliss.
The game has come along way since its early alpha. I’m happy to report that all the issues I had with the control schemes have been ironed out. Gamepad support is tight and responsive. Using the Unity plugin rewire gives the player all the custom options to tweak the controls and button bindings for every function. There are more QOL features in the options menu. You have the choice of playing in arcade mode, which doesn’t flip the entire screen when you pull off a barrel roll. Only the model spins. I call this feature the anti chunder/puke mode, for folks who suffer from motion sickness. Another option stops missiles from firing until you have a good lock on your targets. All these features are welcome and aid to a cool gameplay experience.
Sky Rogue is a classic arcade shooter lovingly wrapped in a retro low-poly aesthetic. Folks who desire a quick dogfight with out all the usual time-consuming flight simulation baggage will find a lot of enjoyment from this tightly coded package. So play out your Iceman fantasies and jump into the danger zone!