Best described as a cross between Teeworlds, Team Fortress 2, and an RPG, Altitude is a shockingly addictive online multiplayer game from indie studio Nimbly Games. Grab a plane and take to the skies as you compete (and co-operate) with other players and earn experience points bombing the enemy base and taking down foes with a variety of power-ups. As you gain levels you unlock new planes along with equippable "perks" that enhance and alter each vehicle. The instant action grabs you from the start while the nuanced gameplay and healthy serving of upgrades keep you in for the long haul.
Even though it's structured around online multiplayer matches, Altitude begins with a single-player training session that helps you earn your wings while leveling-up your plane. First, learn to pilot using the [arrow] keys and fly through a series of loops. Then its on to some simple player vs. computer-controlled bot skirmishes that get progressively more difficult. Finally, it's time to try equipping perks, the crucial items you'll use to customize your plane to suit your playing style. Do you use armor strong against collisions or against enemy fire? Depends on how reckless of a driver you are!
As you ground enemy planes, damage turrets, and complete plane-specific challenges, you earn valuable XP that increases your level. When you reach certain milestones, new planes become available. A total of five planes can be chosen (ten if you include their alternate versions), each with its own weapons and attribute scores in health, speed and agility. The explodet, for example, is a strong, slow, lumbering beast with deadly missiles and the ability to set land mines. Loopy, on the other hand, is a thin-skinned speed devil equipped with tracking missiles and an EMP! Which plane you pilot is up to your personal preferences, as each is deadly in the right hands.
Analysis: Your reaction after playing the training missions in Altitude will be something along the lines of amazement. Afterwards, the excitement will cool a bit as the gameplay settles in and you start to learn the real ins and outs of controlling your plane. After you gain a few levels, unlock an additional plane, and earn a few new perks, the amazement factor returns. This time, however, it doesn't go away. Altitude is one of those rare games that keeps its charm long after that new game smell has worn off.
One of the factors in designing a video game is creating a rewards structure that gives players an incentive to keep playing. Why trudge through hour after hour of gameplay if there's nothing in it for you at the end, right? Altitude satisfies that role in three ways: levels, perks, and planes. For starters, gaining a level is a reward in itself. Not much of a reward, but an achievement which makes you feel good. Gain a few levels, however, and you get something even better: a new plane! Different vehicles change how you play the game, broaden the gameplay variety, and give you a real reason to keep playing.
But that's not all! Perks are earned throughout all of this, pieces of equipment that become more and more useful as you unlock learn to use them. Challenges can be completed at just about any time, earning you bonus XP that go a long way to increasing your level.
If Altitude has a drawback, it's a lack of map variety. There are just over half a dozen pack-in maps to play, with a few community maps circulating the servers as well. These are divided between free-for-all skirmishes and team-based "bomb the fort" maps. Beyond that, there isn't much else to speak of. Another gameplay mode or two, nothing too complex, just slight variations could work wonders (capture the flag? king of the hill?). A few new terrain obstacles could also be a boon, as the only thing that really exists at the moment are turrets
With no real flaws and an extremely addictive gameplay, Altitude is one of the best casual online multiplayer games I've ever seen. It's well-balanced, easy to play, and nuanced enough to be difficult to master. It's one of those games that implants itself in your head so at random moments throughout the day you think "Ooh, I should go play Altitude, see if I can gain a level or two."