Black Skylands Early Access Review

Living in a land above the clouds is an attractive premise for an adventure game. The colourful, 8-bit style visuals of Black Skylands are sure to pull you in. Black Skylands is a steampunk adventure that puts you at the helm of a flying ship where you must explore the skies to avenge your fallen clan members. Having spent some time with the early access version of the game, here are some things worth knowing.

Black Skylands is quite similar to the likes of Hotline Miami in terms of combat. It is not nearly as responsive and tight, however. It feels like the combat is just very clunky. The weapons cant be fired accurately while moving so you must stand still, exposing yourself to fire from enemies who do not suffer the same penalty.

Enemies have a tendency to be a little difficult to see at times when things get hectic. Their colour camouflages too well against certain backgrounds. To make matters worse, a ridiculously large reload icon covers way too much of the screen, further obscures your view and making it harder to be aware of everything on screen. Since magazines are small without upgrades, this is a problem you will deal with a lot in the early stages of the game.

reload marker
The reloading icon is incredibly large and covers the exact spot where your gun is aiming. IF you are sniping and are lining up shots, forget about being able to see where you are aiming with the size of the icon

When you are not on land killing bad guys, you are sailing across the clouds. Your zeppelin style flying ship is your link to the various islands. You will be quite eager to pilot one of these as it is one of the main selling points of the game. Sadly, it is the worst part of the game, for multiple reasons.

The ships are about as easy to control as a car on ice. You would expect a certain amount of drift in a floating ship, but not to the extent we see in this game. Performing delicate manoeuvres normally results in you crashing into walls. There are some instances where you are challenged with piloting the ship down a narrow channel with enemies shooting at you. It is hard enough to do without the enemies, with them, it is an absolute joke.

A single bullet from an enemies pistol is enough to blast your ship off course and right into a wall. Why a single bullet can cause a ship this size to kick back so much makes no sense at all. It would be fine if dealing with these enemies was easy but it is not. Your ship is fitted with cannons that can only shoot at 3 angles. If the enemy does not fall within the line of fire, you must turn the ship. Very hard to do when a bullet from the enemy makes your ship spin in the other direction. Let’s not also forget that shooting the cannon on your own ship causes the same amount of recoil, making combat and flying annoying to do at the same time.

The amount of recoil your ship takes when hit with any sort of projectile is worsened with jetpack enemies. Rather common and the weakest of all flying enemies, they are like a group of flies on cows back. They are way more nimble than you are and you lack the means to effectively swat them. You will find yourself spinning around in circles trying to get your cannon to line up so you can hit one of these guys. What is even more strange is a large ship cannon that shoots three rounds at a time is not enough to kill one of these guys. They take several hits.

black skylands review
Air combat does get easier with upgrades to your ship but the fact you have to spend a few hours of grinding with terrible ship control and unenjoyable gameplay just so you can have some fun game play is not the kind of grind that makes a game worth playing. It should go from fun to incredible.

After playing the game of cat and mouse, where the mouse is far superior to you, the best solution is to speed past them. Ramming these small guys with jetpacks with your ship that is a good 20 times bigger than them also does very little damage. It is not that these guys are difficult, you are just not given the means to kill them in a way that is even remotely fun.

Since piloting the ship should be one of the most enjoyable parts of the game, you get off to a pretty awful start when flying them sucks and in-flight combat is even worse.  The combat on foot is not nearly as smooth as it should be and never gives you much of a thrill either. The gameplay desperately needs some fine-tuning.

Outside of the core elements that should be the most enjoyable part of a game, there is some potential for Black Skylands. The base building component is quite enjoyable. You start off in a place called the fathership. It was destroyed and you must rebuild it, section by section. As you gather resources from around the map, you can construct new buildings that give you new weapons, armour, upgrades and enhancements for your ship.

Many of the upgrades in the game will improve some of the problems with the gameplay, specifically with the control of the airships, but this is not a fun solution. Why should you have to spend several hours grinding resources with a ship that is a nightmare to control, only to be rewarded with a ship that is less of a nightmare to control. You are best off not playing the game at all. The ship should already be fun and the upgrades keep making it better.

Gathering resources is a case of going to an island, picking up a box and flying it back to the fathership. It is far from exciting but resource grinding rarely is. What the game needs is a thrill to occupy that journey. Some intense air to air combat scenes where you are having a 2d dogfight with an enemy. Some better stealth components so you can sneak into islands more effectively, taking out enemies with some style. Or just go in guns blazing.

The game is not particularly hard but it is frustrating. Stealth is possible but it is difficult to tell if enemies can see you. There is no sort of warning marker like many other stealth games have when enemies are starting to become aware of you. Guns blazing is also difficult since you have to stand still to shoot accurately. I have already said enough about how awful the ships are to fly. This game could be fun, but it just isn’t there yet.

black skylands aiming
The crosshair is where you are aiming but the two lines either side show how large the bullet spray is. Good luck hitting an enemy with a weapon like this.

Black Skylands is still in early access and is sure to improve as time goes on. There are quite a few bugs that resulted in me having to restart the game and I got stuck in the environment several times. All to be expected when the early access label I suppose. For now, at least, this game is not nearly as enjoyable as it could be. There is quite a bit of potential in there and hopefully, the developers can turn all of this into reality before the game gets a full release.

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