Access Granted: AIRHEART

*DISCLAIMER: ALL VIEWS IN THIS REVIEW ARE MY OWN AND DO NOT COME FROM THE COMPANY THAT HAS KINDLY PROVIDED THE GAME. AS IN EARLY ACCESS, I AM REVIEWING WHAT THE GAME IS LIKE NOW AND NOT WHAT IT WILL BE LIKE WHEN FINISHED; CURRENT VERSION: Update 2*

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AIRHEART is a, “dieselpunk action game about a young woman, who flies her airplane and catches skyfish among beautiful sky islands. Amelias biggest dream is to reach the stratosphere and to bring down the legendary Skywhale, which promises riches and fame for a lifetime.” – Steam Page

This was another blind game for me, surprise surprise, but it was a pretty nice surprise at that. AIRHEART is Blindflug Studios’ first game developed and published onto the PC platform. It is a cute little twin stick shooter with permadeath and RPG elements. It has just been released on Steam’s Early Access and has received 1 major update since its release on the 13th October 2016. The game is currently sitting at 81% positive reviews out of a total of 11; because of this, I wasn’t really expecting the next GOTY. However, what I did receive and experience, pleasantly surprised me.

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Story:

In this game, you play as a young woman called Amelia in search for fortune in the city of Granaria. Granaria is a floating city in “The Above” and Amelia and her father wanted to migrate here. However, the dangerous journey to this fabled city came at a cost; Francisco, Amelia’s father, sacrificed himself just so he could see his daughter reach the city. Unfortunately, the city was not what Amelia was expecting; it is a harsh society with a very strong class system. After living a rough childhood as an orphan, Amelia clawed her away up society where she now works as a part-time fisherman and a part-time mechanic for a small corner-shop fixing airplanes.

This is when AIRHEART begins. Your goal is to make a fortune catching fish in the different sky layers. However, you aren’t the only one in the skies…Pirates and raiders are also flying around and you must fight your way through them to catch larger and better fish. After fighting through the various clans, your ambition is to catch the legendary Skywhale, which promises riches and fame for a lifetime.

The journey of Amelia and her father is actually the story of another game developed by Blindflug Studios and released on IOS and Android. So technically, AIRHEART is the sequel to that game, “Cloud Chasers”.

I personally love the story of this game and love it when a simple game with a simple premise creates a complex, in-depth story to accompany the gameplay. I think that it’s slightly unnecessary, but I always love it when a company takes the time out to explain there experience.


Gameplay:

Like I mentioned above, the gameplay is basically a twin stick shooter with RPG and permadeath elements. Though there are various aspects of the gameplay that I would change, as a recently released Early Access game, I really enjoyed my time with this title.

Granaria:

In the game, you purchase weaponry, planes and repair parts in the city of Granaria. To be more specific, you change your loadout in the corner-shop where you work. This area is split up into the following sections:

  • Hanger: Customise and view your plane
  • Workbench: Sell and craft blueprints to receive parts and money
  • Shop: Buy different ship parts and weaponry for your loadout

The layout of all of these parts if quite efficient and works nicely. However, in the shop there is a bug where the [A] key will make the selection go right, and the [D] key will make it go left. This contradicts the prompts on screen, but can easily be fixed with a small patch.

The workbench is quite useful when wanting to receive new plane parts without wanting to spend a ridiculous amount of money at the shop. However, you can easily exploit the craft and sell function. For instance, to craft one particular gun, it costs 3 blueprints and 300 coins. However, after crafting it, you can then sell it for 600 coins. This resulted in a lot of money being received rather quickly and ultimately resulted in a lack of effort to receive the top end weaponry and plane parts.

The hanger is nicely laid out with sliders to indicate the different plane parts and weaponry that you have. The changes are also done in realtime and you can see what your plane will look like. I would have liked to see the plane parts adapting to the other parts that I had chosen to make the design look nicer. For instance a larger body and smaller wings would look completely off, however if the parts dynamically changed to fit the rest of the plane, the wings could still be small, but get larger towards the body.

05_GranariaTheFlyingCity.png

Controls:

When I first went into the sky, I was greeted by a rather peculiar control scheme. There was no recommendation for what controller system I should use so, by default, I went with the simple keyboard and mouse. However, with multiple screens, this proved to be quite a poor choice. As it’s a twin-stick shooter, you use your mouse to look around and shoot, however, the mouse isn’t locked to the game and will therefore go of the screen. This happens to be a problem, because when you click of the game, the game goes off. If that wasn’t enough, the game doesn’t even pause when this happens so after clicking of for the 100th time, I came back to realise that I was dead and had lost all of my loot. This problem could easily be fixed with a small patch and I will continue to use keyboard and mouse as using a controller is less accurate and makes the game more difficult and less enjoyable.

Though it may look like I hate the controls, after playing for around 2 hours, I started to really enjoy them. Aside from the game disappearing every time I clicked of it by mistake, the fluidity of the flying and accuracy of the weaponry really made my physical experience rather enjoyable.

Pirates:

When you are actually in the sky, you must catch fish. However, you aren’t the only one and pirates are everywhere. In the current version of the game that I am playing, there are 2 factions of pirates. The first faction take up the first 4 levels and the second faction take up the last 4.

The first faction is filled with regular planes and zeppelins that fire a range of different weapons including a single shot sniper, three shot cluster and various machine guns. This is relatively easy to get through when you start playing and after a small amount of time, you can beat this first faction. When you get to the 4th level, the exit is blocked by the leader of the 1st faction and this actual boss is fun to defeat and does reward with quite a substantial amount of cash.

However, after beating this boss and proceeding to the 5th layer, you come across a massive difficulty jump. When you arrive, you are kindly greeted by the 2nd faction in the game. This faction is equipped with all of the original weaponry plus nukes, flames and drones. The first time I managed to get to this zone, I was instantly swamped by loads of little droids firing nukes and snipers. It was impossible and when one of the many nukes hit me, I instantly went down to 0 health and subsequently lost all of my loot from that run. This is when things started to get tedious…As the first 4 levels and the first faction is relatively easy, it was a real trudge to get through them just so I can get to the second faction. However, when I got to the second faction, I would get mauled; because of the difficulty jump. To fix this problem, I would like to see a pad that flies you straight to the 5th layer instead of having to tediously navigate up to there every single time.

When I finally managed to get to the 8th layer, I was greeted by a magnificent boss but I won’t spoil it today as I strongly recommend that you experience this for yourself as the reveal is quite spectacular.

In summary, even though the controls need a little getting used to and the difficulty jump is quite dramatic when reaching the 2nd faction, the overall feel of this first version of the game is really nice and fluid. I just hope that they can add a skip to the 4th layer as after 6 hours of playing, it was becoming rather tedious.

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Quality:

The overall quality for this game is already pretty high for a recently released early access title, however there are a few problems that I would like fixing in future patches.

Art:

After launching the game, I was presented by a semi-cell shaded menu. As the menu is the first part of the game that a user sees, I was expecting the rest of the game to also follow this art style; however, it didn’t. When you proceed to the actual game, the art style completely changes. It wasn’t a bad change, it was actually better than the cell shaded nature of the menu, as that kind of art style doesn’t really appeal to me. The actual art style that you play with is a beautifully designed and the colour pallet is perfect for this title. It’s a shame that the menu is different as the change in style is quite jarring and I think that an update to this is quite necessary if wanting to achieve consistent art throughout the experience.

Planes:

The plane variation is quite limited at the moment, but it is an early access game. That being said, there are only 3 different planes currently in the game and each plane has three parts: Chassis, Engine and Wings. This means that there are currently 9 plane parts and I really don’t think that it’s enough for the amount of time that you actually play the game.

The physics collisions are also a bit wonky as small crashes into corners can result in your plane catapulting quite a distance. This problem gets worse when multiple planes are part of the collision and at one point, one of these collisions resulted in an instant death.


Music/ Sound:

The general sounds of the game are alright at the moment, but some could do with a little polishing. For instance, the gun sounds are quite tinny and I would recommend switching them out for higher quality tracks. However, at the moment the sounds work well with the title and the problems are not easily noticed.

Soundtrack:

The game has a custom made soundtrack by Pocket Universe Productions who are the same composers who are famous for their work on the audio drama Locke & Key. The soundtrack that they have produced for Airheart is quite brilliant. Its firefly-esk country music fits really well with the game and works with the ideas that the developers are conveying in their title.

However, the soundtrack is quite small at the moment and because of this, the music starts to become quite repetitive. I would personally like to see more dynamic tracks added in future updates that made it so different encounters and actions would result in different music tracks being played.

You can actually buy the soundtrack on steam along with some of the exclusive posters that the team have been using whilst at the various gaming conventions.

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Final Thoughts:

After playing this game for around 10 hours, I would say that I had completed the game. At the moment it’s quite a short title and for £10.99, a lot of people would find this too much. However, if you’re not looking for a game to complete, but instead a game to enjoy and replay over and over, this game is wonderful. It’s a twin-stick shooter about catching fish and fighting pirates. The beautiful art style and terrific soundtrack make the game quite relaxing and a great way to spend a chill evening.

There are obviously some problems that should be addressed in the future, but as a recently released early access title, I would say that there are certainly more positives than negatives. That being said, these are some of the changes that I would like to see in the future.

  • More planes and weapons
  • More enemies and bosses
  • Side missions e.g. Fetch quests or Defend an outpost
  • Larger rocks that you can fly into and explore
  • More dynamic soundtrack that adapts to your game

I am sure that at least some of these will be added in the future and I personally can not wait for the next few updates.



Developer’s Log:

“Hello everyone, here is your developer speaking. We are Blindflug – a small indie game studio from Switzerland. “Blindflug” means “blind flight” – we are not always sure where we are going, but we are listening to suggestions, enjoying the journey and believing that we will land in some awesome place.

AIRHEART: Tales of Broken Wings is the first desktop title we made. It is available on Steam in Early Access since 13th of October and we already made two major updates: “Fall of the Armory” and “Fishing for Giants”. Every update brings some new content and features – we are implementing our own ideas and those from steam community.
Follow us on twitter @airheartgame and join the steam community to help us navigate the development process!” – Blindflug Studios – 24/11/2016

Summary

  Pros Cons
Story Interesting premise and a wonderful setting that could really blossom if given time. The actual story isn’t really mentioned in the game, which is a shame.
Gameplay Great twin-stick shooter with rogue-like and permadeath elements. No checkpoints after boss, so the repetition of the first levels can become tedious.
Quality Beautiful colour pallet and wonderfully designed enemies and ships.  The semi-cell shaded hanger contrasts too much with the rest of the game.
Music/Sound The music tracks work nicely and they rarely become repetitive. More dynamic tracks would be nice to see in the future, but it’s good at the moment
Story Gameplay Quality Music/Sound Final Score
7 7 8 7 7.25

Review by Sam Elliott

AIRHEART is available now for PC and Mac, £10.99/$14.99. Thanks go out to Blindflug Studios AG and Premier for supplying the game and assets used in this review. Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section below and be sure to stay tuned to UGNN for all your gaming news and reviews and be sure to follow us on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.
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