‘Air Attack’ Review — A Punchy 3D Shmup Spectacle

The App Store has its fair share of top-down shoot ’em ups, with the overwhelming majority of them feeling very same-ish and not really doing much to set themselves apart (bar a few notable exceptions such as the recent Espgaluda II). Newcomers to the iOS, Art In Games, are looking to break that mould with the release of AirAttack [App Store] [Lite].

AirAttack departs from the traditional 2D platform of vertical shoot-em-ups and opts for a fully realised 3D world. This is what gives the game its own identity, as you’ll see enemies not only fly towards you, but loop-the-loop back over you, too. What’s more, Air Attack has an emphasis on bombing runs and laying waste to anything on the ground– something made all the more satisfying when that silo beneath you actually crumbles to smithereens.

The exceptional models and animations really help sell the 3D gameplay. Textures are vibrant and detailed across the board, which really helps distinguish the many different level themes. Coupled with the awesome flight and crashing animations and specular and light maps at work, Air Attack is a visual treat on any device.

Despite all this eye candy, AirAttack ran silky smooth on the 3GS device we tested it on (the game supposedly running well on 2nd gen devices and up too, according to the devs) . The options for controlling your aircraft cover the gamut of tilt, touch, relational touch and on-screen joystick; leaving everyone happy. Controls are responsive and straightforward, with on-screen icons activating the many power-ups collectable throughout the level and a simple double tap activating your regenerating bombs.

Between and throughout the levels is a checkpoint system that doubles as an item store. Items are purchased with funds collected from enemy drops and cover standard upgrades such as cannon firepower and rockets; and special upgrades such as wingmen, lightning guns and even additional lives. The latter levels will see you with enough money to buy power-ups that slow down time, or give a protective shield. The more powerful upgrades have to have certain conditions met before becoming available, functioning alot like an achievement system.

There are 8 lengthy missions divided up into several checkpoints each and a whopping 58 different enemies to defeat. The 8 boss encounters at the end of each level are the fight to look forward to most though, as they’re screen-spanning, multi-part battles that are quite challenging even on the normal difficulty. There is both an easy and hard mode though if you’re finding it overly difficult or feeling masochistic, respectively.

The only setbacks to AirAttack’s otherwise winning formula is that occassionally, enemy fire seems to just disappear into your aircraft, making it hard to see if you’ve been hit or not. It also feels at times that your hitbox is a bit larger than what it appears on screen, causing you to take hits where you think you’ve avoided them. The other issue we had was that AirAttack only offers a local high score system; and when online leaderboards are fast becoming the norm, this may disappoint some.

Even still, it’s hard to look past AirAttack, particularly if you’re a shmup fan. It’s a challenging visual spectacle with solid gameplay elements backing it up throughout. Bosses are great, powerups are numerous, and your tenacity is rewarded as it should be in these games by added firepower and lastability as you progress without perishing. Graciously, there’s a lite version available too, so there’s no excuse not to at least give AirAttack a go if you’re interested.

App Store Link: AirAttack, $0.99, AirAttack Lite, Free.