System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7, 1.8 GHz CPU, 2 GB RAM, 512 MB GeForce 8800/Radeon X1900 graphics card, DirectX-compatible sound device, 900 MB hard-drive space
ESRB rating: Not rated
Release date: Available now
Once upon a time, there was an old Atari game called Lunar Lander. It was fairly difficult (for me, at least, when I was a very young lad), and it epitomized the simplicity of early videogame mechanics. Using the thrust engine of your space ship, you were tasked with landing on the moon, without crashing.
Fast forward to 2012. Developer Shovsoft has tackled the same premise with the kind of graphics that make a 1979 Atari game look embarrassingly out of date. Lunar Flight presents you with the same kind of simple gameplay: land or launch your lunar vehicle and try not to get yourself killed in the process. Only now, since it’s 2012, the game comes with complicated physics to test the skills of even the most dedicated amateur astronauts.
True to its simplified premise, Flight focuses almost exclusively on launching and landing your vehicle. Yes, there are a variety of missions, but none of them involve using phasers to destroy enemy ships or launching fighters to cover your astronauts while they attack another facility. Exploration, survey, and moving/locating cargo are your typical objectives. Successful missions earn XP and money for buying upgrades and whatnot. All of this feeds into the game’s goal: to give you a difficult and rewarding simulation of piloting a vehicle not unlike those used by the Apollo astronauts.
Not being a professional astronaut or high-performance jet pilot, I can’t really tell you if the physics are realistic, but I can say that they’re complicated. This game isn’t for those who just want to grab their joysticks and ignore things such as fuel, thrust, attitude, direction and delta vee. I crashed a lot during my first attempts because the controls are very sensitive. Flight rewards thinking instead of adrenaline-fueled maneuvering. And since it’s the moon, you have to re-learn some basic premises of flight if you’re only used to flying fighters in dogfights.
I will say that Flight is very focused on its physics engine and graphics. It looks really good for a $10 game, and someone clearly loves its engine. However, I have to warn you that the learning curve is really steep and the penalties for failure (crashing your vehicle and so on) are punitive. Buying a new lander after you crash your old one costs a lot of money, and since new stuff is unlocked with cash, new players could find themselves digging an ever-deeper hole of debt until they switch to a new profile. This isn’t a problem, but you need to know who you are before purchasing Flight. It’s not a casual game for casual players. It’s a small, complicated game looking for players with the time and acumen to do well with it.
I will readily admit that Lunar Flight isn’t the game for me, but I also know that it’s the kind of game others will enjoy. If you’re really looking for a complicated lunar landing simulation that focuses on physics, pick up a copy. Those looking for a game with Star Wars or Star Trek physics need to give it a miss.