Some months ago I somehow ended up finding at itch.io a flying arcade sim called Sky Rogue. The screen caps looked really nice and a lot like the kind of game I am into. It was avaialble as a "pay what you want title", and while I could get ir for free at that time, it just felt wrong to me because I wanted to support this game. So two weeks ago I randomly remembered that this was a thing that existed, went to the game page and downloaded the demo. After I got tired of reseting the demo's save data again again, I opened my wallet and got it on Steam. Now that I have played the current build for a while, here are my impressions:
Sky Rogue is an arcade flight simulator with some roguelite aspects thrown in the mix. Every time you start a mission you are presented with a randomly generated island and a random objective, that usually involves either taking down specific ground structures, or a number of bombers or even an armored and heavily armed enemy flying airplane carrier. When you sucesfully finish the mission and return to your base carrier you then progress to the next day, and each new day challenges you with another mission and a new (and slightly harder) island. The more enemies you kill, the more money and experience you gain for upgrades, so on besides focusing on the mission objectives you can also grind non-mandatory targets. But destroying enemies gradually increases the "alert level" (think about GTA alert system but with more time between the enemy waves), so there is a risk-reward factor on it.
The upgrade system works like that: money is used for temporary upgrades and experience is used for permanent unlocks. Whenever you die you algo get to level up based on how much experience points you gathered at the last run, and then can choose one permanent unlock per gained level. These unlocks are either new planes (they are called "aeros" in this game) or new weapons. Money is used in the shop in-between missions, so you can upgrade your weapons levels up to level 3. Each weapon levels up differently: some of them gain more speed, others get damage upgrades, faster ammo refill rate, maximum range increase, etc... But whenever you you die you have to start on Day 1 all over again and lose all the upgrades.
Gameplay is were this game really shines at the moment. It is fast, furious, and flying feels freaking good. At higher speeds you will have lower maneuverabilty, forcing you to slow down during dogfights, but then if you brake too hard while maneuvering you can stall. And stalling is really easy in this game, but so it is stall recovery. The scale of the combat and the enviroments is not as big and expansive as in Ace Combat, but also not as small and close as in Rogue Squadron, being in a place between those two games.
Enemy fighters comes in three flavors: regular, veteran and ace. While regular enemies are pretty much cannon fodder, the ace pilots will give you a run for your money: they will outmaneuver most of your guided weapons, forcing you to either gun them down using your cannons or dogfight them until you got a good spot behind them and blow their butts off with missiles. This kind of reminded me a lot of Ace Combat Zero's ace fights. Those guys are also pretty trigger happy, meaning that when they hit you they will hit you hard, high-fiving your face with a salvo of missiles. Ground structures seemed at first that they had too much HP and took forever to take down, until I learned that if you hit them with the right weapon the right way they suddenly became not so though anymore.
At the beginning each mission you got to choose the aero you'll use and the weapons you'll bring along. Each aero is classified both by one purpose class (interceptors, fighters and bombers) and one wheight/wing class (light, medium, heavy and swing-wing), and each model got a max weight and avionics capacity. Strong weapons are heavier and smart weapons needs more avionics. You have 5 slots to equip stuff: one for the bread-and-butter multirole micromissiles, 3 for the specialized weapons and the last one for countermeasures. You are free to fill up these slots any way you like it, as long as you don't exceed the wheight and avionics limits. There is a huge array of weapons to choose, and learning wich configurations goes well with each plane is lots of fun. On the other hand, currently we got only 5 different countermeasures, and one of them (the dodge roll) is infinitely better than the others.
One of my favorite aspects is that the game gives you lots of freedom to choose how to approach the missions. Let's say that your current mission is to destroy 2 command centers. You coud grab an air superiority aero and clear the skies, then clear the anti-air ground based defenses so you can safely proceed to use your cannons to attack the comand centers' weak point for massive damage. Or you could instead choose a bomber aero and do some precise bombing from high altitudes, avoiding having to deal with ground units at all. You could even do a mixed approach by clearing the air enemies with a good interceptor and then switching mid mission to a ground attacker to finish the job. You can also decide between focusing only at the mission objective (wich gives you less money but is safer) or grind a little bit by killing some non-critical targets (more money but with higher chances of making a mistake and being shot down).
There are three control schemes: keyboard, keyboard and mouse and controller. Keyboard and mouse feels like trying to fly a plane in Battlefield, but worse. The main advantage of this configuration is the ability to freely look around with the mouse, but controlling the craft with it is so bad that I can't reccomend it. Pure keyboard is solid enough, and being able to lock the camera at your target partially makes up for the lack of camera control. But the best way to go is controller, because of how easily you can access every button anytime. But surprisingly, controlling the camera with the right stick feels a lot weirder than it should be as it is too much sensitive. Thought on the plus side it recognized my chinese Dual Shock clone almost perfectly. I had to configure each input manually, sure, but I have so many problems with lots of games not recognizing it at all that I feel relieved for it. There is a local 2 players co-op mode that requires you to have 2 controllers, but I haven't been able to test it out yet.
The visuals are really colorful and vibrant, and I love the art direction. The flat shading and low poly models reminds me of Virtua Racing, and the cleaness of the art direction makes it really easy and quick to recognize enemy fighters and structures. But bomb targetting GUI can be imprecise if you are too fast or aiming above ground level, and the cannon aim reticle is made in a way that forces you to do some guesswork to hit moving targets.
One department where the game is really lacking right now is the soundtrack. It seems that the it will get an overhaul on the next big update, but at the moment we got only 3 tracks: one for the main menu, one for the intermissions and another one for the missions. They are all made with synth instruments to reference arcade-y music. They are ok but not great, and the mission theme is quite repetitive and gets old REALLY fast. I've been playing with muted music and listening something else on the background, like Homestuck's battle music album, for instace. I was surprised that Ace Combat 5 and Zero soundtracks didn't fit that well with that game!
One thing I find funny is that despite the game being called Sky ROGUE, the roguelite aspects are pretty lightweight. I would even call it a roguelite-lite. Weapon and Aero unlocks are permanents, and there isn't much punishment for dying: you lost your weapons upgrades and have to start again from day one, and that's it. Each island is randomly generated, sure, but there is only one biome availale so far so all these islands kind of like feel the same. In the end the game feels more like an old school arcade title than a roguelite. But one thing that reminded me a lot of Spelunky or Binding of Isaac is how it mercyless kills you again and again until you start getting the game rules. I went for it playing as I would play Ace Combat, and this got me killed at the first tries. Once I understood that I should proceed with caution, everything started to go better. Also the game's aeros are pretty bulky HP-wise and can take quite the beating, and that led me to a false sense of security that got me killed more times that I would like to admit, and it was all my fault.
And about the difficulty progression: each in game day that passes presents you with a new, harder island. The first two islands are so easy you can beat them while being half-asleep. Day 3 is when things starts to get interesting and challenging. Day 4 is a steep spike on difficulty, and Day 5 and latter feels like pure insanity, with so many enemy crafts and enemy spawners that it reminded me of Luftrausers sometimes.
The game have mod support, and the dev states that they want to expand it in the future. Right now it is possible to make and share through Steam Workshop custom color schemes, custom aeros and custom missions. Also the modders seems to be making some really cool stuff, like scy-fi ships, anime ships, modern jets, historical planes, mechas, schmup ships and even a car and a table. So I naturally downloaded every single Star Wars ship available, the Ikaruga ship, and a custom Star Wars mission that breaks completely the mold of regular missions by having a buttload of enemy ships and allied ships and structures helping you.
The current development status is that the game already have most of its features already implemented, and the developer says that there are plans to include more aeros, enemies, weapons, biomes and a proper ending with a final boss and everything, and also some (very much needed) progression and balance tunning. Personally, I can't wait for biomes. The green islands are pretty and everything, but I would love newer biomes with more dramatic terrains like some mountains or even cannyons. The game pratically screams for online versus multiplyer, but it looks like it is not on top of the developer's priority list. Wich I can totally understand, as implementing this kind of thing costs some serious time and money, and getting the foundation done is way more important. To me the current aero and weapon variety is aready good enought, and with 18 hours clocked it already was worth the money spent.
This game got a rock-solid foudation, and I'm excited to see in wich directions the developer is going to expand uppon it. It ticks all the right boxes for the kind of game I enjoy, and it is pretty hard to put it down.