Review by: Jason Purdy
Published: June 14, 1999
I imagine anyone who ever watched The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger would agree that the movie was just begging to be turned into a video game. I also believe anyone who ever played Pilotwings on the Nintendo 64 would agree that it was a fantastic title. However, I wouldn’t have thought that anyone would think to combine those two concepts. Then again, I didn’t expect to meet a 12-foot, kilt-wearing, bagpipe-playing Scotsman at E3. Life is full of little surprises, and we can definitely count on the Scottish Gaming Alliance to remind us of that.
The SGA were the ones sponsoring the aforementioned piper and Red Lemon Studios (members of the aforementioned alliance) were the ones who decided that strapping jetpacks to the backs of convicted criminals would be a great way pass some time. The name of their brainchild is Aironauts, and I’ve had more fun playing it in the past weeks than I’ve had with any game in a good while.
The story is not a particularly original one as it borrows heavily from several sci-fi sources, but the overall game concept certainly is. The game is set in a future when the highest rated show on television is one in which convicted criminals whose sentences outlast their predicted life expectancy compete in a series of aerial events. These events are held with the assistance of jet-powered gliders that can be used to swoop, soar, dive and roll through the most convoluted obstacle courses. Of course, dodging and weaving wouldn’t be very useful skills if there was nothing lethal to dodge and weave away from. Besides, the Neilson ratings would drop if no one died. Following this sound logic, the game is as much about destruction as it is about aerial acrobatics.
There are several battle arenas, all of which are set in or around various national prisons. Within these confines, the player must use the glider to compete in a series of events. These events can range from simple “Destroy the barrels” missions to more elaborate “Fly through a series of checkpoints while flame-thrower wielding robots try to roast you out of the sky” events. At the end of each set of challenges, you face off against the guardian of each prison. These aerial battles are doubtlessly the high points of the arenas as the computer- controlled opponents are extremely good at out-maneuvering you and removing you from the skies. It takes incredible skill and concentration to eliminate the guardians later on, but serious gamers will welcome the challenge.
After each arena is completed, you receive a number of wing bonuses. These can also be picked up in the individual stage, and at the end of each, you can trade the wings in for speed, armor, weapon or life power-ups. With nine characters to choose from, this allows for a wonderful amount of potential customizations and invites multiple replays to try different strategies and learn the most efficient ways to build your avatar.