Biggles. Maverick and Goose. Dastardly and Muttley. Erm, Icarus. How we love those magnificent men (and dogs) in their flying machines. And, from supercharged arcade stormers like Afterburner to the lost Amiga classic Wings and PC hits like Crimson Skies, it seems we also can't get enough of being just like them (without the hours of training, moustache wax and risk of death, obviously) by going up-diddly-up-up to blast the bejesus out of the bad guys.
Thankfully, Steambirds: Survival from Radial Games and Spry Fox gives us all another chance to dish out some damn good thrashings among the clouds. I say, top hole! It's the follow-up to - surprise, surprise - the 2010 Flash hit Steambirds, which picked up a gaggle of well-deserved awards for its interesting twist on aerial combat.
Instead of another flight sim that has you watching the altimeter and practising your take-offs and landings, Steambirds was a turn-based strategy number that hurled you straight into the dogfights. The story was loosely based around the two world wars, although this was an alternative universe where back in 1835, some inventor chappy created low temperature fusion that led to fighter planes powered by super-heated steam. Hence the name, I guess.
The missions themselves pitched your fabulous flyboys against the beastly Bosche as they attempted to use all manner of devious, devastating and, damn it, unsporting weapons like poison gas. Dashed poor form. It was up to you to put a stop to Teutonic aggression and, more importantly, impoliteness by taking down ever more dangerous fighters, bombers, observation towers and air ships by cunningly plotting your path to get the blighters in your sights.
Considering Steambirds developer Andy Moore said the first game was just a "market test" to see if players were interested in turned-based air combat, he must have been chuffed when it proved not only popular, but collected a clutch of gongs, including FGL's Best Game of 2010 and Most Original Design awards. We even made it one of our Games of the Year 2010.
However, as he admitted, there were some limitations to the game, mainly a lack of "replayability" and a shortage of aircraft to choose from. Which brings us to Steambirds: Survival. The nuts and bolts of the gameplay have been retained. You order your planes around a top-down view of a contoured landscape and fight in a reimagined Second World War. However, this time there are no straightforward missions. It's all about keeping your kite flying amid waves of fiendish foes.
To aid your cause, there's a few completely new features. When you bring down an enemy plane, it will leave behind a power-up such as a heat-seeking missile, poison gas or nifty moves like 180 of 360-degree turns, which can be handy if one of the bounders is on your tail. Taking out bogeys will also earn you precious copper, which you build up to unlock the 24 planes on offer in the game.
Each aircraft has its own characteristics, armour and weapons, as well as - in a nice twist - its own difficulty setting. Yes, there's no picking the biggest, baddest killing machine and blasting the helpless enemy into tiny little pieces. If you go with a flying fortress (but not a Flying Fortress), expect a angry mass of hostiles to swarm your way.
Once the combat itself kicks off, you can find yourself either aided or abandoned by your allies, facing a few foes or a wall of hot lead, and there's no way out. It calls for a cool head - if you rush after power-ups, you could inadvertently set yourself on a suicide run - and some good planning ahead, as using some of your special weapons will jam your guns for the next turn, which could leave you in a very sticky jam indeed.
But there's no point being too cautious, either. Remember, there's no flying back to Blighty for cocoa and medals. It's a straight fight to the finish. So keep on blasting and take as many of the bounders down with you as you can in a final blaze of glory. It's what Biggles would do. Chocs away! Play Steambirds: Survival here. An iPhone/iPad version of the game is also available - see here.