An arcade flight simulator with the potential to own its place among the greats.
On January 2, 2017, Dark Nebulae launched Celestial Breach into Steam Early Access. As with any early access game, there’s going to be some issues and polishing that needs to happen before its official launch, but on day one Celestial Breach fairs better than many I've experienced. Strapping into the cockpit for the first time brought me joy as I reminisced of days long past, quarters jingling in my pockets, as I climbed into the seat of a G-loc, Afterburner, and Blazing Angels arcade cabinet. I truly was wishing for a flight stick and throttle, but Celestial Breach offered full controller support, so it sufficed for now. I spent time with a controller, as well as keyboard and mouse, just to try and get the feel of the game from both aspects. The controller was more comfortable but wasn’t as responsive as the mouse. A couple quick repeated slides with the mouse and even the less mobile planes were pulling heavy G’s, while the axis of the controller wasn’t pulling quite as fast. If I were in a PVP setting I probably would have dropped the controller for the quicker action, but the game is solely focused on coop PvE and the AI ships flight patterns weren’t terribly menacing, so I settled for comfort.
Dark Nebulae provides four playable aircraft classes.
Gamers and war plane enthusiasts will both be satisfied by the models and distinct attributes of the aircraft. First, the Dragonfly, an all around multi-purpose fighter, is one of the more immediately recognizable shapes, throwing back to the sleek, narrow profiled body, and prominent canards, of the Russian Sukhoi fighter, sporting a more modern look with canted tail fins. Next, we have the Stratofortress a lumbering hulk of an aircraft sporting heavy armor and weapon damage with the body of a rocket-propelled flying wing. The quick, hypermobile Interceptor is an incredibly fun class to play, especially for quick in and out runs, knocking enemy aircraft from the sky. Last, the Firefly is another fighter with all around stats, which will likely be most pleasing to gamers while attempting barrel rolls in a ship that almost feels wrong without Fox McCloud at the stick.
Each aircraft comes with different weapon types from air to ground missiles to unguided bombs, and all the aircraft are upgradable. While performing missions and taking down enemies each player in the session will build up credits, these can be used to increase the power of your weapons, purchase special abilities or increase the base speed, mobility and damage of your aircraft. Progressing through the objectives gets tougher but upgrades even the playing field of the different classes, so each player doesn’t feel they need to conform strictly to the role of their class. The weapon I found most difficult to get a feel for, was the machine gun. The MG is the primary weapon and is required early on in each mission with slower reload times of your secondary weapons. There was a reticle on the screen over the player aircraft that would flash red when you got a hit. However, it didn’t match up with impact point of the weapon, which made it seem confusing and unnecessary.
There are two maps, as of the current iteration, both well built and visually pleasing.
“Winter” is a wide open, snow covered map, giving great options for attacks, skimming mountains and dropping in to hit your targets, but allows for high flying drops from unguided bombs, a much more fun and satisfying weapon than I thought it would be. “Canyon” is a much different approach, as you’re confined within tight rock walls. It’s a fun level, but a wrong turn means doubling back, or risking the damage taken for flying above the canyon walls.
You can fly as high as Icarus if you want to, though you would find yourself falling to the ground in a smoldering heap.
The punishment is far from immediate as you take small amounts of damage to persuade you back into the canyon which keeps you from skipping directly to the objectives. The only thing I found troublesome, specifically with Canyon, is that after death and respawn times, the player is thrown back to the initial spawn point several kilometers away. It’s less of a big deal when playing the Interceptor, but in my first playthrough, making my way back to the objective felt like a significant waste of time. The spawn point is much less of an issue in Winter as there is no ceiling, making the distances more direct.
Gameplay mechanics are fun, and the graphics are good, but the sound is where things are up and down.
The music in the game gets repetitive, which caused me to turn it down and let the sound effects take over. While most of these are mediocre for the time being, the explosions have weight and unleash a powerful sound, especially when the unguided bombs hit. The lock tones are also piercing, so much you’ll still hear them after removing your headset.
While Celestial Breach is entertaining, its Early Access state is apparent, and many of the following issues will probably be rectified shortly. A few things should be noted upon booting the game:
There is an initial lack of instructions. While these might not be necessary for most of the experience, there was a point where three of us players sharing a session were unsure if the objective had bugged out and never triggered the next checkpoint, or if there was something we missed.
The multiplayer is peer-to-peer. Not having to set up servers is nice, and it’s incredibly easy to get into a game or find friends. Still, and like most online indie games, at times you’ll struggle to find one to join, and because of the unstable nature of peer-to-peer, you’ll be dropped from sessions every now and then. Furthermore, when entering a session that’s already begun, you won’t get to select your class and loadout. While all of the aircraft are fun to play, choice is always the better option.
Celestial Breach is only a few days into Early Access, and it’s easy to sink time into it, a sign of a great game in the making. As Dark Nebulae works its way through polishing its title, I have little doubt its current shortcomings will be straightened out, and hopefully, Celestial Breach will join the ranks of my favorite arcade flight simulators.