Growing up in Maryland at a time when video games were just beginning to really surge in popularity, my friends and I would often talk about local game developer MicroProse and how amazing it would be to actually work there making games. We all rushed to play most of the titles that they created for our IBM PC computers and Commodore 64s. Gunship and Covert Action were among the most popular.
So I was a little shocked to see them listed as the publisher of HighFleet, an interesting looking game that I honestly had not heard much about prior to its release at the end of July. I realize that the developer of the game is Konstantin Koshutin, but if MicroProse was involved, I figured it had to be good. And for the most part, HighFleet delivers.
The plot of the game is that Earth has been decimated by war to the point that it’s almost a post-apocalyptic environment. There are still cities and people, but everything is kind of crumbling away, the atmosphere is such that you need tubes and masks to help you breathe, and most of the game takes place in a vast desert wasteland, or at least the skies above it. There is still technology too, though most of it’s full of the kind of big switches and knobs type of electronics that were prevalent back in the 1950s. It’s a really interesting world with a mix of old and new things, and reality and fantasy.
The ultimate fighting machines in this brave new world are flying battleships, frigates and fighters that make up the strange navies of HighFleet. These bulky craft are not aerodynamic at all, with most of them looking like a lunar module from the Apollo program or flying shipping containers. And yet somehow these ungainly craft are able to take to the skies and fight. You will be commanding a fleet of these vessels as you journey.
The plot of HighFleet is honestly not all that amazing, but is saved by the incredibly detailed world. The developers took a lot of time to flesh out the various nations, politics, people and ideals that make up the world. As you unravel the plot, you will also learn a lot about its people and history, which is a nice touch in terms of immersion. You are a Duke and heir to the throne of your kingdom, which is all but destroyed after the tutorial missions. Thankfully, you still have a ragtag fleet by which you can enact your revenge, and maybe even “save” the world.
HighFleet is mainly played in three areas, the strategic map, the role-playing encounters and the combat or action sequences. Your goal in the game is to conquer a specific city deep in enemy territory that is protected by killer fleets, nuclear missiles, flying aircraft carriers and powerful navies. You will likely spend a lot of time intercepting radio messages and conquering communications outposts so that you can learn about the locations of those powerful enemies. That way you can avoid them by plotting different routes though the enemy country, because as powerful as your fleet is, you are always going to be outnumbered and outgunned. Different towns along the way have different resources too, so deciding to go to a shipyard, mercenary outpost or a cheap fuel depot are important considerations too, though keeping away from the killer fleets is truly paramount. Don’t worry, there is more than enough combat to go around.
The role-playing sequences play out pretty much like they do in other games. There are no voices in HighFleet, so you basically just read the dialogue and then make choices about your response. Some choices will immediately benefit or hinder you, like when the person you are talking with shifts their disposition based on what you just said. Other choices won’t impact you until later on.
In terms of action sequences, the one you will see the most is combat. The developers kept HighFleet very simple in this regard, though it is by no means easy. You can control which ships from your fleet go into battle first, but you will only have a single ship fighting at a time, which is kind of unfair because the enemy can bring multiple ships to every battle at the same time. To fight, you simply use the W, A, S, and D keys to maneuver your vessel and then the left and right mouse buttons to fire different weapons (if your ship has more than one weapon system).
Controlling your ship is not that easy either. Gravity affects your oddly-shaped flying machines, so you need to fight that using your thrusters while also maneuvering to get a good shot on enemies. Your ship tends to keep drifting in the direction you are traveling, so over steering can be a big problem, as can over-compensating when trying to shift directions.
While the combat mechanics are easy to pick up, fighting and winning is often pretty tough. You are always outnumbered and most of the time are outgunned as well, especially in the early part of the game. HighFleet seriously needs a difficulty setting that lowers enemy hit points or reduces player damage or something. Given the unfair six or eight against one early fights, it’s not too much to ask. Otherwise, players might decide that the game is too difficult early on and quit before getting to some of the really good parts.
The other big action sequence in the game outside of combat is landing your ships at cities. You do this basically by playing Lunar Lander. At least here the game is forgiving. If you make a hard landing or lose components by smashing into the dirt, the game asks if you want to try again. Eventually you should be able to get the ships in your feet down on solid ground with enough practice.
HighFleet is an interesting game. Despite the steep skill curve you will face in terms of combat, it’s fun to play, and certainly different from almost everything else out there right now. It’s also available for under $30, which makes it a really good value as well.
If you are looking for a unique adventure that is easy to learn but hard to master, then spending time with HighFleet and its world that is dripping with atmosphere is a solid choice. HighFleet earns 4 GiN Gems for being a unique title that may not appeal to everyone, but for those who it does, they will probably fall fully in love with this quirky combat-focused adventure game.