Review last updated February 2017 following Liftoff release 0.8.2

LuGus Studios comes at us with a highly polished FPV simulator called Liftoff. They have teamed up with ImmersionRC and Fat Shark to bring us an immersive and realistic simulation of FPV flying. The customization in Liftoff goes way beyond control adjustments, with features such as quadcopter modification and a custom track builder. All combined together, Liftoff provides a fantastic simulator experience.

First thing to make clear on everything I say in my post is that Liftoff is still in the Early Access stage of development. Aspects of the game are still being worked on and very well may improve or change as updates arrive. That being said, the game is very solid and has a lot of promise thus far.

 

Initial Impressions

My first thought after launching Liftoff was this is a game designed from the ground up with FPV pilots in mind. The level of detail that’s put into the game shows that they’ve really captured the true experience of flying FPV miniquads and translated it into their simulator. The music playing in the menu navigation screen, and while flying, is fast and upbeat which really matches the game’s pace.

Liftoff - Drone Racing Simulator

Liftoff – Drone Racing Simulator

The graphics look great. I set my game to the highest graphic setting (Fantastic) with all default settings left intact, and the game looks, well, fantastic. Whether you’re flying outdoors on the Straw Bale map or inside on the parking garage level (Minus Two), everything looks great and runs smoothly!  They’ve added some nice touches in the form of a graphic effect that mimics the look and static of real FPV goggles as well.

Moreover, Liftoff recently added 3D flight mode support!  If you wanted to bust out crazy 3D flying tricks like ZoeFPV, now you can!  It works great, and is easy to switch to from Acro / Angle mode!

 

Control Options

The very first thing you want to do when loading the game is setup your controller. Similar to FPV Freerider, you do have the options to calibrate your controls, however in Liftoff, calibrating really equates to setting up your control axes. While in the control settings screen, you’ll see windows for setting up your controller to work with the game, sliding bars to see how your controller inputs are working, a small 3D model of a quadcopter showing how the controls impact movement, and a small window to let you select a controller number.

Liftoff - Controller Settings

Liftoff – Controller Settings

 

Setting up your transmitter and using presets

Liftoff gives you the ability to skip all the setup and choose a preset controller configuration – given that you have one of the supported transmitters. The current presets include a PS4 controller, Taranis Mode 2 transmitter, and XBox One controller; a pretty solid list of the controllers the majority of players will use, with the possibility of more being added in the future.  We have had some issues with the preset configurations, and we have seen a few people on Steam and various forums complain about setting up transmitters to work with Liftoff.

First and foremost, make sure your transmitter firmware is up to date.  This should help fix a lot of issues – especially with the Taranis.  Taranis somewhat recently added a “Simulator” model setting that should work well with Liftoff.  If you are using older firmware, you might experience issues when setting everything up.  Unfortunately, this is very difficult to diagnose within Liftoff and takes a bit of digging on a few different forums.  That said, the Liftoff team has been very active on their Steam community page answering questions and updating the community on issues such as these.

Liftoff - Save & Preset Controller Settings

Liftoff – Save & Preset Controller Settings

You also have the option to set your own preset controller configuration as well, which means you’re never limited to the ways you can control the game. Both the Assisted and Manual creation options will let you go through and test your controller’s stick movements and map them to specific flight functions. After going through the setup process, you’ll have the option to set hotkeys on the controller as well as save the preset in your presets menu.  This is a great feature that can make flying feel more natural in a game environment.  We recommend doing things like setting your ‘arm’ switch to resetting the level, so that you can get used to flipping that switch after a crash.  Similarly, you can set switches for switching flight modes as well.

Once you save a preset, you are unable to go back and make many modifications to it. You can adjust the zero point, deadband, and PID features, but it doesn’t seem like you can re-enter calibration.  This is a somewhat frustrating issue if you are using a non-standard controller, and mess up a step of the configuration.

Liftoff - Hotkeys

Liftoff – Hotkeys

 

Hotkeys

On the note of hotkeys, I did not immediately realize that the game is controlled between a mix of flight controller settings, mouse clicks, and keyboard inputs. Take a moment to look through the hotkeys on the default settings under Options > Controls > Buttons. In this section it will show you the Keyboard default keys for various functions.  Again, we recommend binding a few of the flying specific controls (such as arming your quad and switching flight modes) to the equivalent switches you would use when flying for real on your transmitter.  If you do decide to build your own tracks in the Track Builder, you will definitely want to review the controls here to save yourself time.

 

Single Player Game Modes

Tutorial

The Liftoff Tutorial mode recently got a big face lift.  Upon selecting tutorial, you are greeted with a list of exercises and videos that help welcome new pilots into the game. Most of the tutorial sections feature a YouTube video (which is played through Steam – Shift+Tab to go back to the game) that explains a flying concept.  After watching the video, you can enter the level and test out what the video showcased.  This is a great way to quickly introduce the player to new concepts.  It isn’t perfect, but it is a huge improvement from Liftoff’s original version (a Mirrors Edge-like maze that even seasoned pilots could have difficulty with).

Once you have completed the selected tutorial, exit the map and select the next one.  This is a bit cumbersome – we would like to see some sort of on screen button that would let the user progress to the next tutorial a little more efficiently.  That said, this is a great way to have introductory concepts explained quickly, and get a chance to test them out in the wide spaces of the Drawing Board level.  Few other simulators offer any tutorial, and Liftoff has done a great job iterating on their previous version.

Free Flight

liftoff-freestyleFree Flight will be the main single player area where most pilots should start flying.  This mode gives you the ability to play all of the different environments in a ‘freestyle’ type scenario.  This should allow pilots to get familiar with all of the levels before they jump into the racing mode.  You choose between one of the available environments, select a ‘track’, and then start flying.  The track option allows users to select between the ‘blank’ level, the ‘race’ level (i.e. putting the gates on the field), and user built variations.  If you do select a race style track option, the game will still operate in free flight mode, and the gates will be inactive.  This is great if you want to take the race style tracks at your own pace and get some practice without being tied to a timer.

Race

raceReady to start training for the next Drone Nationals?  Liftoff has a great set of races where you can fly gate to gate and compete to be added to the worldwide leaderboards!  The single player game mode allows you to practice your racing abilities before you jump online to fight for that top position.  The race mode has no real surprises – race through each of the marked gates to complete the race.  One great feature here is the ability to race against your ‘ghost’ of the prior lap on your next lap.  This definitely adds a bit of self competition as you try and beat your last lap time!

Workbench

The garage for your quadcopter!  Here you can change some of the on-board gear – mainly the props, battery, camera tilt angle, and motors.  The other parts – antenna, camera, receiver, and frame seem to just be cosmetic changes at this point.  Moreover, you can use some prebuilt frames used by some of your favorite racers!  Within the Workbench game mode, you can also save and load previous builds. You can think of it as a continual work in progress for quad builds. There is also an option to go into a Test Flight with your current configuration. I love that they added this as a quick and dirty way to see if you like your setup rather than having to save, go to main menu, then test fly. Great feature with a lot of potential.

We recommend that you move to tri-blade props and change your battery to a 4 cell as soon as possible.  Similarly, adjust your camera angle as needed if you find yourself looking at the ground / sky too often when flying.

Liftoff recently added a ton of new frames and components in their 0.8.0 release.  Furthermore, you can now change flight controller settings on the workbench!  We love the Betaflight / Cleanflight style software customization, as it prepares new pilots for making similar adjustments on their real-life quads!

Track Builder

Here you can make your own custom tracks using the pre-built levels.  You can place the different art assets around the map and add track makers to make your own unique course!  The controls do take a bit of getting used to if you only setup the controls for your transmitter.  Refer to the control settings before diving into the Track Builder to make things much easier on yourself!

One issue other FPV simulators have is the lack of variety when it comes to track setups.  Working a full Track Builder into the game will allow players to build their own races for practice or sharing with friends.  Sure enough, the Liftoff community has made an absolutely insane amount of levels.  Even better, you can join custom track matches in multiplayer, and favorite tracks to instantly add them to your track list!  Super convenient, and a great way to build upon the default tracks and courses!

To download tracks, you can either go to the Steam Workshop page for Liftoff in Steam, or select “Download Tracks” in the “Select Track” window when setting up a game.  You can also save maps by pressing the cloud icon within a multiplayer lobby!

Liftoff Levels

Liftoff has been consistently adding levels since release, and the addition of Steam Workshop integration allows for a slew of community built levels.

Environment Icon Track Summary
strawbale Straw Bale An open field littered with straw bales.  A quick and easy map to fly around on with low to ground obstacles to avoid.  A very small map recommended for beginners
forest Pine Valley A forested area that allows for fine-tuned flying between a ton of obstacles.  Lots of ground and vertical obstacles to avoid.
minus_two Minus Two The parking lot level that seems to be found in every simulator! Allows for precision flying that absolutely will test your altitude control.
autumn-fields Autumn Fields Probably our favorite map due to the large size.  A farm map with a great variety of obstacles to avoid and fly through.  Great for practicing freestyle moves and tricks.
hanger03 Hanger C03 A warehouse location populated with cranes and shipping containers.  Great for testing precision hitting gaps and freefalls.
liftoff-arena Liftoff Arena A large stadium with some great courses built in.  This would be the place pilots aspiring to join a racing circuit should start cutting their teeth!
dubai-legends Dubai Legends A replica map of the 2016 World Drone Prix in Dubai.  See if you have what it takes to compete with the best pilots of the world!
drawing-board The Drawing Board A HUGE (no restrictions as far as we saw) level that basically has just a flat floor and unlimited sky box.
Hannover Fly freestyle in a large city style map.  Tons of beams, buildings, and obstacles to work into your flow!

The track builder allows variations on the base level.  This is most widely seen with “The Drawing Board” track.  You can load the base level, and then select the variation from there to load a custom map.  Want to do crazy building dives?  Check out levels like Mega Tower Supreme to dive to your heart’s content!  They even put in a diving area where you can dodge obstacles – crazy!

Ever want to building dive THROUGH a building? Check out Mega Tower Supreme to make your dreams come true!

 

Multiplayer

Version 0.6.0 brought Multiplayer into the mix in Liftoff!  Here you can race against other players and prove your awesomeness on the global leaderboards.  From the main multiplayer menu, you can either head to the lobby where you can find or create your own race, or select the leaderboards option to see the top pilots for each track!

Setting up a multiplayer game is pretty straight forward.  In the multiplayer central lobby, press the “Create room” button to enter the multiplayer options.  Configure the settings you would like – features such as the environment, track selection, race selection, and number of players – and press “Create Room”.  As per game modes, you can select between Race or Freestyle modes.  The addition of freestyle was added in update 0.7.3 and is an amazing way to fly casually with friends.  Again, this goes to show the guys at LuGus really listening to the community, as freestyle multiplayer was previously not a feature until it was requested.

Once you have created a room, you will be placed into the lobby for that room to wait for other players.  Liftoff recently added a feature where you can start the game before other players arrive – a welcome change over just sitting in a blank lobby waiting to play.  When you have players ready to race, or when you are ready to go, start the match, and you are off!  As stated previously, the visuals and latency have been great when we have played with other people.  Other quadcopters are very easy to see due to the trails behind the quad, and there is very little glitching / position updates when flying close to other players.  This was an issue we found with other multiplayer simulators, but hasn’t been an issue for us so far in Liftoff.

We previously wrote that multiplayer games were hard to find due to the closed lobby system.  Now with freestyle and the ability to join a lobby mid-race, games are MUCH easier to find.  We love jumping in and out of random freestyle rooms, or just creating our own for people to pop into!

A welcome sight! More multiplayer games are easier to find and join!

 

Music

Liftoff features a good mix of upbeat electronic tracks from the artist Prixmae.  The music pairs well with flying, and you almost feel like you’re listening to Charpu’s latest flight mix tape when you’re playing.  There is a button in the audio options for using a custom playlist, but it does not seem to be active yet.  It would be great if a future release tied into using a Spotify account, or let you use your own music tracks!

Possible areas for improvement

As you can probably tell, we really like Liftoff!  It provides a great flying experience with a ton of extra bells and whistles.  That said, we did want to spend some time discussing improvements we hope to see in the game.

Better range notifications

altitude-warningThis is probably the most frustrating minor detail in Liftoff for me right now.  If you exit the acceptable flight range in Liftoff, red letters will flash on screen notifying you to return to the flight zone.  The issue is, if you keep flying, or turn back too slow, the level restarts.  We really like how Hot Props simulates exceeding the flight limit by creating static fuzz and darkness on screen – just like when flying in real life.  Liftoff doesn’t leave much margin for error.  if you are already at full throttle, you can pretty much count on the level restarting if you receive that message – you won’t be able to get back within the bounds in time.

Similarly, some of the level bounds are a bit unclear.  We would love an option to put some kind of a semi transparent ‘bubble’ around the map that shows the safe flying limits.  This is especially problematic on some great levels like Hanger C03 that looks way bigger than they are.  Liftoff already does a great job simulating FPV camera noise, so we would love to see that idea evolve towards the level boundries.

Better tutorial and challenges (better in 0.8+)

Liftoff recently revamped their tutorial to be much more informative to new players.  The original version of the tutorial was very difficult, and true beginners would have likely been lost.  The new version of the tutorial includes videos before jumping into a track to help explain the basics of flying.  This is a welcome change rather than just dropping a player in.  That said, the tutorial system still needs some work.

The videos are great, and the tracks are relevant, however navigating between tutorials is cumbersome.  There really is no way to complete a tutorial and move on.  It is a big improvement, but we would like to see a way for players to complete a task and know that they can move to the next tutorial.  We love that the first few tutorial levels are open ended!  In fact, it was something that we recommended in our previous review!  That said, there is no easy way to move to the next tutorial – you have to realize that you are finished, quit the level, and move to the next one.

Again, this is a huge improvement over the original, but we want to keep seeing the Liftoff devs iterate on the tutorial to really make it friendly to new pilots.  We will still say that we would love to see a ‘challenge’ game mode!  Objective based freestyle is sorely missing from the simulator market right now.  We would love to see Tony Hawk Pro Skater meets FPV drone racing!

Better transmitter / controller binding and troubleshooting

controller-config2Many simulators we have played have this problem, but we would love to see a little bit more troubleshooting options for transmitter configuration.  An in game help repository in the controller setup would be huge.  Being able to run through common issues and have a way to troubleshoot would be extremely helpful.  This information is out there, but it is spread across discussion threads on Steam, YouTube videos, and other forums.  We would love to see this centralized to help the community out.  Similarly, it would be great if players could submit their presets for other transmitters on the market to create a database of common setups.  It is great that Liftoff provides some default setups, but there are more transmitters out there than the Taranis.

UI / UX needs some work!

This could be more of a personal thing, but the user interface needs a bit of work.  Some of the navigation buttons can change depending on the mode.  Navigating between menu options, and returning to the main menu, can sometimes be confusing.  We chalk this up to Early Access growing pains, but it is worth mentioning.  Obviously LuGus has their hands full developing a great simulator, but we hope that future updates make navigating the software a bit more intuitive.

 

Overall Thoughts

At the end of the day, Liftoff is an incredible Drone Racing simulator. Customizing your own tracks, and sharing them with other people, makes this game infinitely replayable.  Multiplayer allows you to compete with your friends and the rest of the world on a variety of courses.  The graphics, feeling of flight, and customization add an incredible amount of depth to a well put together simulator.  While it does come at a higher price compared to other simulators, the amount of content in unparalleled. If you have some extra prop cash to spend, Liftoff is a safe bet.

The guys at LuGus are serious about making a truly great simulator and are constantly updating their game.  Liftoff has transformed tremendously since release.  The constant addition of new features, quads, maps, and tools are a testament to developers serious about growing their community.

We recently interviewed the developers of Liftoff.  If you are curious to learn more about Liftoff, you can check it out here!

Price: $19.99

Levels: 8 standard + track builder allowing for a near infinite course selection

Transmitter binding difficulty: High – many users have expressed difficulty using a Taranis with Liftoff.  Likely a Taranis / OpenTX firmware issue, however the setup process and troubleshooting need work.

Multiplayer: Yes, Steam enabled race and freestyle multiplayer is included in Liftoff.  We also really like the ‘trails’ behind other quads to better see your friends.

Recommended for: Intermediate users who want to race with friends and want a strong community presence.

Props: Usable through Steam, large community support with frequent updates, huge amount of customization options, multiplayer, great feeling of flight.  Recently added 3D flight mode support.

Slops: Multiplayer games can be hard to find.  Transmitter binding can be difficult. UI and options features need work.  Track boundary limitations can be frustrating.  More expensive than other simulators.

 

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