Betrayal, wars, unforgiving deserts in a faraway land ruled by an unconquered people. HighFleet promises altitude steampunk behemoth combat. Can the game reach stratospheric levels of fun?
From the onset, HighFleet feels like a personal odyssey through the grime and lassitude of endless conflict, a story told by a veteran of countless wars. Against overwhelming odds, you’re the admiral of a small fleet of flying ships sent to the far reaches of a “world with no memory of its past”, the rebellious Kingdom of Gerat. HighFleet is set in a steampunk world, but you’ve seen it on television before: Afghanistan, Irak, Sommalia and any theatre of war. You know you won’t fare better than other would be conquerors. Through hard hitting lapidary prose, HighFleet paints the mood masterfully.
Playability: Instrument navigation
Aside from combat and landing, you won’t see much of the desert landscape. But it’s there, oppressing, seeping through the pores of your ships. Soviet style levers and gauges that could have been taken straight from Cold War era Udaloy destroyers, put you right in control of your fleet. You’ll land your ships to refuel, repair and rearm through a mini game akin to lunar lander, where carelessness can spell explosions of disastrous proportions. There’s also a diplomatic interaction screen with dialogue options that have more branches than a Hindu Kush pistachio tree. And the star of the game is the 2D battle screen, where you order your ships to perform death defying manoeuvres with the WASD keys and mouse clicks.
Annoyance: Red tape commissar
There’s a lot to do in HighFleet and unfortunately, some of it is rather more tedious than playful or engaging. At times, the game feels like an overzealous Red Army commissar, forcing you, an almighty admiral, to perform mundane repetitive tasks: message decryption, ship module attachments (or detachments?), inventory of ship parts numbered as mysteriously as Samsung refrigerators. Let me get to battle already, or deal with the local warlords? For the nth time, I don’t want to land my five ships manually!
Without million dollar computer generated imagery, HighFleet feels more like real war than your average digital battlefield or wargame. The battle screens where you observe and control your thousand-ton flying behemoths in combat are painfully vivid. The sounds of explosions and missile barrages will keep you on the edge of your seat, while the flashes of tracing bullets and the staccato of gunships will ensure your bum remains sweaty.
The Old Video Gamer’s Prattle: Epic heart of a colossus chained by bureaucracy 6/10
There is great storytelling, judicious mood setting and genuinely fun playability in HighFleet, but this flies with servings of frustration that are a little on the generous side. The one file save option could be easily corrected and is unnecessarily punishing. User interface annoyances might accumulate to the point of towel throw for less patient gamers and require some streamlining. Inspiring artwork and animations are hobbled by the uneven gameplay, but here again, removing the skulduggery parts would propel HighFleet to new heights.
Looking for more steampunk action? Try Iron Harvest a real time strategy game that pits steam powered robots against World War I infantry. Spacefaring folks may also enjoy gigantic mech brawls in BattleTech.