A man in a squirrel suit swoops across a gorge, ducking and weaving through canyons at death-defying speed. Your heart races as he narrowly avoids the rock face mere inches from his body, then you breathe a sigh of relief as he emerges from the narrow crevice completely unharmed. You’ve probably watched a number of similar skydiving videos on Youtube, marveling at the skill and cahones possessed by the people performing these inhuman feats. What you probably haven’t done however, is yearned for the experience to be diluted down into an average XBLA game.
Extreme sports games were all the rage in the PS1 era, and the recent success of the brilliant Trials series and the latest SSX seem to have provoked a nostalgia-fueled demand for the genre’s return. On paper, skydiving is the ideal sport to usher in such a resurgence, with the squirrel-suited sport’s high-speed thrills and daring tricks being the two perfect ingredients for an enjoyable extreme sports game. So, why isn’t Skydive: Proximity Flight the gnarliest thing since Supreme’s overpriced flat caps?
Well, a lot of the game’s problems come down to its division of content. The main bulk of the content is found in its challenge mode, which functions as a hap hazard mix between some sort of campaign, and a tutorial for the races, which, while weird, could be overlooked if these challenges were even remotely fun to play. The initial “route” challenges in the game have been lifted wholesale from the SNES classic Pilotwings, but it seems like developers Gaijin Entertainment are hoping there’s just enough squirrel suit thrown in for you not to notice. These route levels have you falling your way through sets of golden hoops as you race against a time limit in various identikit locations. There are ten of these to clear and they are every bit as exhilarating as repeatedly falling through hoops sounds – which is to say, they suck pretty hard.
Operated with basically only your left analogue stick, these sections are patronisingly simplistic and grow tiresome almost immediately. It feels like these challenges would be much better suited to a tilt-happy iPhone game – at least then they could distract you from the strange person touching your leg on the Tube.
After you’ve graduated from the school of hula-hoops, you are then asked to complete the aptly-named Basic Trick Challenges. Pulling off tricks in Skydive requires you to press A and then press the analogue stick in a certain direction , and… well, that’s it. Each trick is assigned to a different direction, and there are five different tricks for you to pull off, but the real points come when you chain these bad boys together. To chain tricks together, you have to repeatedly pull off new tricks before you have fully landed your previous one, which requires furious mashing of the A button and random rotating of the left thumbstick. With such overly simplistic trick controls there just isn’t any challenge in performing technique, and because of this the game makes pulling off a chain of tricks feel about as satisfying as Mass Effect 3’s original ending.
The game isn’t all bad however, and the key to its strength is in its name: Proximity Flight. In the race mode you compete against three AI players, and have to duck and weave your way through canyons and crevices at break neck speed. Being forced to glide in such close proximity to the mountain side (told you it was in the name) is where Skydive finally delivers on the sport’s thrills. Initially, you’ll struggle with the races, but once you get your movements down to a tee, swooping through caverns feels highly satisfying as you narrowly avoid splattering yourself on each rock face. Unfortunately, the fun here is pretty fleeting. There are only four of these races available, and to make it worse, they seem to feature some of the most unbalanced AI I’ve ever seen. The option to tweak difficulty settings seems to be absent entirely, and you’re left with 3 AI competitors who will never crash or falter, making it often feel like you’re a one-winged pigeon pitted against a trio of eagle-like man beings… which would probably actually make a better game.
VERDICT: In short, Skydive: Proximity Flight isn’t really worth your time. While there is a small amount of fun to be had here, it is only that – a very small amount. The concept is admittedly a pretty great one (who doesn’t want to be a flying squirrel?) but sadly the game design and mechanics just aren’t strong enough to make the experience enjoyable. If you really must command a virtual avatar in a squirrel suit then stick to the suit levels in SSX, otherwise we can only pray that Gaijin Entertainment will get the funding for an inevitably vomit-inducing VR sequel.
POOR. Games tagged 4/10 will be playable, perhaps even enjoyable, but will be let down by a slew of negative elements that undermine their quality and value. Best avoided by any but hardcore genre fans.
Review code provided by publisher.