Something arcade flight games have always had to struggle with is the number of weapons and customizations an aircraft should be allowed to have. It's a fine balance. Too restrictive, and the viability of half the aircraft roster can come into question once end-game aircraft are available. Offering too many choices can allow for so much overlap in performance there's little to no difference between the capabilities of them all after a certain point. Some games have done a better job at this than others, and so far, it seems that Azure Domain is taking a noteworthy approach in this aspect.
Azure Domain is a still in development flight game that caught my eye many weeks ago. Initially, what pulled me in was its preliminary story on the Steam store. Humanity is fighting for survival after leaving a dying world behind, nations fighting for a Solar Priestesses and extra-dimensional energy harvested for global extinction. That's a pretty intense setting, to say the least. Gameplay-wise, with Azure Domain still in the pre-alpha phase, there's certainly a lot of room for improvements and adjustments in the future. This is something entirely expected of a title still this early in development, so that's not a black mark against it. Aircraft and weapons are still receiving textures, control schemes are being tweaked and compatibility issues are being addressed, while new content is being created. Refinement will come with time, but something I hope does not change too much is how customization and weapon management are currently implemented.
Performance customizations are split into four separate categories:
Airframe Modules change the aircraft's flight performance and ability to recharge and maintain a charge for energy weapons.
Defense Modules for equipping extra ballistic armor changes to shields to better absorb energy weapon damage and even a threat detection system that temporarily augments aircraft abilities when in danger.
Weapon Modules for increasing weapons payloads, changing projectile weapon velocity and firepower, improving laser output, and adjusting bomb timer fuses.
Ability, a way to activate a game-changing ability that has a cooldown timer. In the pre-alpha, this is being able to perform mid-mission repairs to armor.
Each aircraft has varying amounts of slots for each of these categories, but despite the number of slots, each part's performance enhancement is not game balance breaking. Just putting one part from each category won't convert an aircraft into a super jet. Selecting specific parts in conjunction with particular weapons is the only way to make dedicated builds that favor certain types of combat. This is a welcome change from aircraft modification systems in other games that may have half a dozen maneuverability upgrade parts to be unlocked, but in the end, the final part is so high performance the remaining five are just never used again.
Weapons are sorted into three types: bullet, explosive, and laser. These include rapid-firing machine guns, lasers that hit multiple targets at once, guided missiles, unguided rockets, rail guns, and more. There are four classes of hardpoints weapons can be mounted onto: C1 (small), C2 (medium) and C3 (large). The fourth class, Turret, is reserved for Gunship type aircraft. Some weapons, like guided missiles, benefit from being loaded onto larger hardpoints as this enables them to fire missile salvos.
The selected weapons can be assigned to fire groups (or just "groups") with specific firing buttons per group. Using mouse wheel scroll while in combat selects the active fire group. For example:
In the screenshot above, weapons group 1 has a machine gun pod available on the primary fire button (left click) and pulse laser on the secondary fire button (right-click). Mouse wheel scroll up switches to guided missiles in weapons group 2 which launch with the primary fire button.
Aircraft with greater amounts of hardpoints can deploy formidable weapon groups capable of shredding hull sections of airborne capital ships. For example, three machine gun pods backed by a chain laser to destroy fighters or a dedicated close-range weapons group of unguided rockets and scatterguns. It should be noted that any weapons attached to turrets can be fired off-axis from the forward fight path of the aircraft by using free look to aim the turrets at nearby targets manually. The turrets ability to pivot to attack targets also opens up the possibility of broadsiding larger enemies.
A consideration in having so much variety is trying to maintain consistent firepower and ensure weapons compatibility within each fire group. For example, assigning an unguided bomb and guided missile on the same firing button would render one of them useless in most situations. Or deploying multiple laser weapons without energy augmentations could drain the aircraft's systems and leave it with reduced performance and defense. It's nice to have to consider the variety of weapons and their functions rather than worry about whether or not the single secondary weapon you can bring would be useful for the entire mission.
Within the flight arcade genre, most titles default to either aircraft only carrying a solitary secondary weapon or possibly a pair of secondary weapons with significantly reduced weapon quantity. Though it's still early in development, Azure Domain seems to have found an early strength in its development that could set it apart from others in its genre as it nears release.
That's not to say this game has nothing else going for it. Of course, it's easier to check it out for yourself by following the Proud Cipher Media Group, join their Discord to interact with the team directly, and download the pre-alpha for Azure Domain on Steam to get involved.
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.