In what feels like a ‘let’s try something different’ approach, developers of the PC (and soon to be PlayStation 4) combat simulation MMO, War Thunder, have been busy making a game that not only pinches some assets from its online simulator, but also replaces flying in fixed-winged aircraft with a wing suit and a parachute strapped to your back. It is time to free-fall down razor-sharp rocks, skims over treetops and aim for that perfect landing, as we take Gaijin Entertainment’s latest title Skydive: Proximity Flight for a spin.
Skydive is your virtual thrill-ride through the skies. Leaning more to base jumping than actual sky diving, you get to launch yourself off mountain peaks, and with the aid of your wing-suit fly through ring markers, beat AI and online opponents and tackle a number of challenges across a variety of exotic locations around the world.
On first launch of the game, four modes are available to you: Challenges, Adrenaline Race, Freestyle and Friends’ Challenges. In the Challenges mode you take part in some basic route-based skydives, then you move on to tricks and more harder route and trick-based challenges await in the later levels of the game. Adrenaline Races have you race against three other AI skydivers to the finish line, where as Freestyle allows you to pick-and-mix from the game’s eight locations, starting points, time of day and the type of weather. From here you can beat up to three set difficulty times through to creating challenges of your very own that you can monitor and share with friends in the Friend’s Challenges mode.
As you enter the world, your chosen character is stood on the peak of a mountain or ridge of a Canyon. Beautifully rendered mountain vistas surround your character, who stands with wing-suit flapping in the breeze, their parachute ready to deploy on their back and the command on screen asking you to make your jump.
On my first jump (contrary to the control screen that I was shown) it wasn't made that clear to me that controlling your character was made using the Sixaxis motion on the DualShock controller. Over the PlayStation 3’s long lifespan, you still don’t see that many games utilise this unique feature of Sony’s console, so it was good to be reminded that this functionality still exists inside the controller you so regularly use.
After getting to grips with this control method, controlling my character felt intuitive and surprisingly precise. Some challenges in the game ask you to navigate some very tight spots and it felt far more natural to use the Sixaxis motion controls than any other method that was offered. Having sampled the alternative analogue sticks controls, I had to instantly swapped them back to using motion controls instead, and is a knee-jerk reaction that you don't really hear that often when it comes to choosing between motion and stick controls.
The first few challenges help to ease you into the game where you follow a set path of rings that weave their merry way down the mountain faces. Later challenges soon introduce basic tricks, from barrel rolls, backflips and proximity flights that position you meters away from the mountain surface, along with the close sound of wind blowing between you. The first twenty challenges set you up to tackle even more advanced tasks, such as performing pinhole flights (smaller rings) and added combination of tricks and successful landings. The Extra Challenges replace tricks for more advanced route-based skydiving which can squeeze you through the most narrowest of gaps at times.
The graphics and sound do their job very well here. Having played War Thunder before, I could tell that the game had been put together using similar if not the same assets from their own engine. Overall though, for a digital title, the game is pleasing on the eye. Snow-capped mountains shimmer in the sunlight, whilst low laying cloud hug the nearby peaks below. The same cannot be said for the game’s music however, which favours the stereotypical, and rather generic, extreme rock band soundtrack which had me swiftly turning it off after a few repetitions.
Thanks to your movement being handled by the Sixaxis you are free to concentrate on pulling tricks and stunts by holding down the action button and performing motion gestures with the pad - such as flipping the controller backward to perform a backflip. You may think this is simple, but this is where the usual motion-controlled gremlins rise to the surface and frustrate your experience with the game. Many times where I wanted to barrel roll my character whilst performing a dive resulted in performing a backflip instead. This wouldn’t be an issue if it wasn't required as part of one of the first advanced challenges in the game, so with my progress being halted I felt forced to face these advanced challenges another time.
Sadly, the game’s other mode - Adrenaline Races - has a difficultly climb that matches the steep mountains around you. On first playthrough I found them to be pretty tough, and with the wining AI players taking the most difficult (and faster) routes to the finish, unless you do the same you pretty much have no chance in finishing first. So until you hone your proximity flight skills you’ll be restarting a lot in this particular mode.
Being a skydiving game, I was expecting there to be more attention towards your parachuting skills, similar to the modes seen in GTA Online, however this is really laking in Skydive. Deploying your chute at the end of a challenge can be skipped all together, so you don’t feel forced or even rewarded to pick a safe landing spot. Taking a leaf from games like the Nintendo’s classic Pilotwings would have helped in this area where landing on targets and difficult locations would have really improved this game.
You can also save replays of your flight time, however not being able to replay and change your viewpoint greatly damages my need to revisit this feature. I found flying in first-person a challenge, however i’d have liked to be able to review my drops using this view point in the reply. Sadly only third-person is offered here, along with a frustrating limited range of panning.
In about two hours you would have exhausted most from Skydive. Most, if not all, of the challenges would have been played through. You can keep pushing to earn all three stars for each challenge, but unless you are a completist, there is no real advantage in acing any of them all. The Adrenaline Races are hard, but there are not that many of them, so the game’s longevity lays in the Freestyle mode, which gives you room to compete with friends and other Skydive players online.
Like other extreme sport titles, Gaijin’s Skydive: Proximity Flight is a game that visits a genre that we don’t see that often, however they have managed to miss a few key opportunities (found in other games) that could have made the game so much better and more rewarding to play. I hope that if the developers makes a leap like this again they pack their parachute more carefully next time.