Coverage Club is our weekly series of smaller impressions in the style of full reviews. Games can range from brand new titles hitting Early Access to older hidden gems that never got their due. No matter your preference, you’re sure to find something off the beaten path here.
Airships: Conquer the Skies
Covered by Richard Costa
Some games are at their best as self-contained, handcrafted experiences. You beat them and move on to other games, though you might replay them at some point. And then there are games like Minecraft or Factorio that could go on forever, with a great focus on player agency and freedom. Airships: Conquer the Skies was released out of Early Access in August, and it seems to aim for those heights.
Airships is a 2D strategy battler at its core, vaguely reminiscent of classics like Lunar Lander and Choplifter, except with a steampunk style and a focus on designing and building your own aircraft. Customization comes in a variety of ways, and you can experiment with different sizes, engines, and weapons. There are also land ships and artillery buildings that can take down airships. Designing and building a ship isn’t just a matter of cobbling together every possible module and hoping for the best. There is a system behind everything, bound by the laws of physics. Depending on the weight, ships can only fly so high.
Flying itself takes careful planning, as ships can often bump into each other. There are also flying mountains that can stand in your way. Maneuvering works best in steps, first forward or backward, then upward or downward. You can flip them around to get a better vantage point against enemy ships and buildings. There is also a boarding mechanic where you can see little soldiers jumping from your ship to the enemy ship and taking it out from the inside. You can also ram enemy ships if you included a rammer in the prow of your ship.
There are also monsters such as dragons and giant squids to fight against. Different enemies take different strategies to kill, as one would expect. The battles are in real-time with pause, and maneuvering has a cooldown before you can make another move. The tactical elements could be a bit more refined, but a simpler and more straightforward design makes the battles tighter and compelling.
Three player modes are available right now. There’s the single-player Conquest mode where the player can conquer cities in a customizable map. Missions allow self-contained battles where the challenge is maneuvering your ships against a more powerful opponent. Finally, there’s multiplayer in PvP skirmishes. The developer, David Stark, has spent the most of August and September fixing the most immediate issues since the release. According to the latest update, he is now working on refining the Conquest mode, which needs improvement. The game also includes mod support and community-made content.
Airships: Conquer the Skies might become even bigger and better with future updates. This isn’t the kind of game to be left unsupported in the long-term, much like the aforementioned Minecraft and Factorio. It would be very difficult to match the popularity and positive reception of those games, but Airships has been very well-received so far. It has a niche, a unique art style, and a very creative modular shipbuilding system that makes it stand out. Anyone who’s interested in building things and strategic 2D battles should check it out.
Covered by Robert N. Adams
I like games with spaceships in them. Whether it's a flight simulator, twin-stick shooter, or real-time strategy, I'm more than happy to explore the final frontier in a game. Escort Commander blends arcade space shooter gameplay with strategy elements into one neat package so I couldn't resist trying it out.
Escort Commander is exactly what it says on the tin: you're the commander of an escort force. Specifically, you're escorting an asteroid colony containing the last few survivors of humanity as they try to make their way to a safe haven through the treacherous enemy territory. The colony begins the game with two basic turrets and the tiny ship you control to protect it. From there, it's all up to you to gather credits, destroy enemies, and make it to the end of each level alive.
The first level is easy enough. The ship you command can deal with most of the light resistance you have to contend with. Once you clear it, you're given a number of different ways to spend your credits. You can upgrade your personal ship, upgrade the colony, or invest in a fleet of ships to fight alongside you.
The second level gets a good bit more challenging, and by the third level, it's evident that Escort Commander doesn't have a difficulty spike insomuch as it has a difficulty cliff. I have yet to beat the third level with any strategy I had attempted. I tried buffing up my personal ship, arming the colony with as many guns as I could afford, or sending out a fleet of ships to protect it. No matter what I did, the colony would inevitably succumb to the onslaught of alien ships hell-bent on eradicating humanity. (Can't say I blame 'em.)
Your success is Escort Commander seems heavily dependent on your skill as an individual pilot. The colony upgrades or fleet ships you can bring along might help some, but you're going to be doing the majority of the work. Unfortunately for the human race, I wasn't good enough to be able to shoot down enough of the bad guys to survive each level. It was simply beyond my capabilities.
The difficulty of the game compounds with several design decisions that make it even more challenging. The amount of the level that you can see feels way too small for how quickly enemies can do damage. You'll often only discover enemies are approaching your colony because the guns have turned and begun firing on it. You'll then have to charge in and hope to defeat them before you take too much damage, but it feels ultimately futile.
It doesn't help that Escort Commander is often lacking in critical information. How much range does each turret have? I'm given a number, but I don't know how far that is in the game. You'll see damage listed, but not DPS (arguably a much more important stat). Add to this the lack of any kind of difficulty setting and you have a recipe for a headache.
I found playing Escort Commander an absolutely infuriating experience that is brutally unforgiving. If you're a nut for arcade shooters or SHMUPs and you love a crazily hard game, Escort Commander is for you. It certainly wasn't for me.
TechRaptor covered Escort Commander on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.
What do you think of this week’s Coverage Club selections? Do you know of an overlooked game that deserves another chance? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to follow our Steam Curator to keep up to date with all our reviews.