Alpha Progress Check: Sky Rogue

Almost a year ago I tried to draw some attention to Sky Rogue, an indie flight combat game being released through pay-what-you-want alpha builds. As the game nears the end of that PWYW status, it’s come a very long way.

As of alpha build 22, Sky Rogue feels like the start of a much fuller game. It’s got robust progression systems built on a solid arcade action core. Developer nihilocrat also seems to know exactly what they’re doing going forward.

Alpha 22 will apparently be the last one you can get for free. After January 2nd Sky Rogue will require a minimum $10 buy-in, which will guarantee you a Steam key. It’s kind of like Early Access but outside Steam. I’m glad nihilocrat waited until the game was in a state I could actually consider paying for.

Before, I said Sky Rogue was sort of Ace Combat with flat-shaded Virtua Fighter-style graphics. Now it feels like a SEGA arcade game. No it’s not Afterburner. It’s a free-flying combat game with with tactility and scoring systems that sort of remind me of SEGA’s late 90’s arcade games, perhaps the NAOMI/Dreamcast era.

For starters I can actually survive the game now. Last time I wrote about Sky Rogue I was getting shot down almost immediately upon starting the game by enemies who out-ranged me to a ridiculous degree. I don’t know if I simply approached the game from a different mindset or if it’s actually easier now. Either way, the challenge definitely feels more balanced. Enemies both in the air and on the ground can still deal serious damage if you don’t fly strategically. Actually destroying them and your main targets — installations like radar and command centers, presents different challenges based on your playstyle.

Since the earliest alphas Sky Rogue has let you fly a variety of planes from the light air-superiority fighter to the heavy bomber. Fighter-type planes basically require repeated fast fly-byes of targets while constantly dodging SAM missile locks. I mostly went the bomber route as it deals the most and quickest damage to ground targets. Instead of fast-paced fighting, using the bomber basically turns the game into, well, bombing. You just slowly fly over a target from 2,000 feet in the air waiting for the crosshair to line up below your plane.

The planes and different weapons as of alpha 22 are unlocked by destroying targets and getting kills which is what starts to give Sky Rogue its arcade flavor. You level up which unlocks upgrades for which to buy research. The starting weapons are fairly weak and dying apparently doesn’t wipe the money you earned, so you’re encouraged to keep trying with better gear.

What seals the whole arcade feeling for me though is Sky Rogue’s sound design. The weapons, especially the main gun, feel powerful and offer great tactile feedback. The distinct sound of enemies dying and eventually crashing or exploding both confirms kills and feels rewarding. Think the explosion sounds from classic Gundam shows but refitted to an arcade game. The last alpha added weak points to targets for which future builds will add a clear indication of players hitting them.

Last, and certainly not least, alpha 22 added split-screen co-op. Major things like that indicate the final game will end up being a lot more than what nihilocrat originally cooked up in a few hours in August of 2013.


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