Respawning in 3... 2... 1...
Ah, yet another class based shooter where you make your way around various maps blasting enemies out of the sky and... wait, sky? Yes, Altitude takes the usual class based concept and takes it to the skies in a 2D aerial dogfight to the bitter end in what is quite a welcome change of pace from other online multiplayer titles.
The game's action is viewed side-on and uses some fantastic cel shaded visuals for its graphics. Everything just looks like it was plucked right out of some cartoon and there is a lot of polish to the work there. The environments themselves tend to be littered with a variety of objects like mountains or barriers that are melded well into the wonderfully crafted backgrounds, and there are more than enough variety in the locations to work. Radioactive arena? Check. Desert wasteland? Check. Football pitch? Check.
The planes themselves look good too. There are 5 different designs and they can be painted a number of colours based on which team you're fighting on, which can showcase quite a rainbow of vibrant colours. The special effects being flung left and right as bullets, missiles and lasers get thrown around. Yet the effects are never done to overkill standards. You'll never lose track of your plane in the chaos and helpful indicators will point the way to important things like the ball or bomb in those respective game modes.
There's no real music to speak of, instead the game puts more focus on the engine noises and explosions that fill the battle skies. I suppose this leads to fewer distractions but really I wish there was something to listen to other than the planes. The sound effects are done well enough but you don't really want to be listening to just that.
Controlling the plane is a very simple affair and the game even allows for a number of input methods such as the mouse, keyboard or joypad (or even a mixture if you want). The mouse feels like the best option for this, as the curso position controls your movement direction and aiming. With that it feels easy to pull off daring moves like sharp banking or loops as you chase after enemies or attempt to shake them from your tail. Pressing the buttons uses your plane's primary fire, secondary fire and held powerup weapon. Controlling your speed is kept pretty simple too so it's easy to burst away or slow down. It will take some practice to stop yourself smashing into obstacles but once you've adjusted it becomes second nature.
There are some clever mechanics involved as well. Be too reckless in how you control your plane and expect it to stall, forcing you to try and recover. Respawning is a simple matter and you're never far from the action when you do need to come back.
You have five planes to choose from, although you need to unlock four of them by earning experience playing the game. Each plane offers its own play style, like the bomber is the slowest but also the most powerful. These planes can be further customised with "perks", which also must be unlocked and can adjust certain parameters. You can set one red, one green and one blue perk for a plane. Red perks affects weapons, green affects defences and blue affects energy (which controls how much you can use special weapons and thrusters). The perks lists generally aren't that extensive but there is enough here to give you some options to play with and thus make a plane feel like your own.
Weapons mostly depend on the plane you have chosen and gives you some good choices to pick from. Control a bomber and you can opt to bombard enemies with missiles or lay floating mines to catch out pursuers. The more nimble Loopy has a machine gun or can fire EMP blasts to stun targets. Chances are there's going to be something for you. These options are padded out by pickups that appear in the arenas, giving you special weapons like homing missiles or a floating barrier. Mixing these in with your normal weapons can help nab a few extra kills here and there.
There are quite a few stages to play around in. There does seem to be some feeling of deja vu with some of them in terms of layout but for the most part there are some good solid designs with clever obstacle layouts and features like mountains and volcanoes to worry about. The football pitch arena though stands out as a fairly boring one but one bad location isn't too bad.
There are generally five different game modes on offer (plus a couple that are basically the same as others but with only one life each). You have standard free for all deathmatch where you try to shoot down as many targets as possible. Team deathmatch splits everyone into two teams for more of the same as both sides fight for the most kills. Demolition is an offence vs defence style of game, where one team tries to defend bases while the other team goes on the attack but everyone is limited to 1 life here so reckless flying is not encouraged. Aside from the fact you're doing it in planes this is pretty standard stuff but fun nonetheless.
The remaining two game modes feel a bit more different to the norm. Team Base Destruction is similar to Demolition except both teams are trying to destroy the other team's base and respawning is available. Special bombs are placed in these maps to blast bases with and turrets are in place to shoot down attackers. Trying to work your way past enemy defences to blast their base can be a lot of fun. Then there is the Ball game mode. Essentially this is football with planes (or soccer to you Americans) where two teams scramble for the ball and then try to shoot it into the other team's goal, with the most points after a set time determining the winner. These game modes also manage to get the player involved in the excitement quite well.
So yes, Altitude is fun but it does have one problem. In a bid for simplicity the game generally lacks depth and soon starts feeling a bit repetitive. The game modes lack real substance that limits the amount you can play them before the fun factor starts to dillute and only five modes in itself hurts it. This is made a bit worse by the online communities insistance of setting virtually every server's game mode to "Ball". Yes it's different to the norm but seriously I wouldn't mind joining a free for all or base destruction server more than "very rarely".
However, even with that aside there just isn't quite enough in here to sink your teeth into. After a short time you'll have seen everything you need to. So what that means is that Altitude is fun distraction you can play for a few short bursts between other games but in terms of a main online multiplayer experience it's not going to replace other big names anytime soon. Considering the low price it might just be worth the investment.