Liftoff is an FPV drone racing simulator on the PC, usable through Steam. Liftoff has been around since late 2015 and is developed by LuGus Studios, a small company based out of Belgium. The developers have done a great job over the years keeping Liftoff up to date with weekly to monthly patches and have made significant changes to improve the game in this time. If you have never played Liftoff or haven't played recently, this review is for you!
So what does Liftoff have to offer? Here are some highlights.
Tutorial mode was completely redone October 2016 with a much needed overhaul for beginners. Compared to other FPV racing simulators, I believe this has the best combination of video and track experience delivered in one package to get you started. With 10 tutorial videos and 8 tracks, you first start with an intro and learning how to set up your controller. This is followed by learning simple turns, moving up to simple tricks and finishing off with two tracks.
One limitation in the tutorial is the lack of customization on the quadcopter itself which is reserved for normal single or multi player modes. You can however change your camera tilt via the up and down arrow keys which is somewhat of a hidden feature, but can be useful. I found that after playing the game for some time, going back to fly the quad provided in tutorial mode feels heavy and under powered. While this may be good for newer pilots, others may find it discouraging. If you think this is causing you problems, I would recommend jumping into free flight mode with my freestyle build. Completing all tutorials though is still advisable if you are brand new to FPV flying.
Check out the intro video from Tutorial #1:
Pick a level and go flying. If your interested in freestyle, this is the mode for you.
In a recent update, LuGus Studios made some modifications to the level / environment edges which is a common point of criticism for Liftoff. Previously, when you got to a certain height or reached the invisible boundary, you would be given a big "out of bounds" warning across your screen with a short countdown. When this countdown ended, you would warp back to the starting point. Since the update, the boundaries are still there and the countdown still exists, but the height warning has changed in a positive way. You now get a "max height exceeded" warning instead which cuts your motors, letting you gracefully fall back into the fly zone instead of getting reset.
Honestly, I get the hate for this game mechanic, i really do. At the same time though, I believe this change is a step in the right direction and I have to agree with why the out of bounds borders are in place. The developers have designed the game for racing, not free roaming grand landscapes (although freestyle is an option). In a real life race, you have similar out of bounds restrictions, except these are enforced by event rules, regulations and laws. Now with that being said, Liftoff has made an effort to provide larger maps, such as the Hannover level.
On March 18, 2017 in milestone release 0.9.0, the Hannover environment was introduced. Larger than any before it both in land size and height, allowing for building dives and lots of freestyle goodness. They increased the max height to 150m from the normal 75m, allowing you to spread your wings, so to speak. This shows LuGus is trying to expand their audience. Although a race simulator at heart, Liftoff definitely has something to offer the freestyle pilots.
After picking a level and a track, you load into a countdown to begin the race. Fly through the gates as fast as possible for an average of 3 laps, rip through the finish gate and abruptly crash into the ground. Upon completion, you are provided a lap and race time summary, along with your best race times and the option to retry or go back to the main menu.
There are a ton of track options available, from beginner to advanced, wide open landscapes to small indoor arenas. Regardless of what you are looking for, Liftoff should have it. If you are wanting to practice laps, this is by far the best place to do it. You can easily hit "R" on the keyboard to reset or hit esc to tune your quad.
The workbench is where you go to build your quad (Drone). Its recommended to start with one of the 11 blueprints available which you can get flying with right away. If your interested in going further, you can start selecting battery, motors, and props to customize your quad to exactly what you want.
The main edit page lets you name your drone, add a description and view its stats. These stats will change as you edit parts so its a good idea to check back on this as you make edits. With the weight, RPM and thrust values, you can make some assumptions on how well your creation will fly (mind you, its hard to really go wrong). Once you are ready to test, click on "test flight" to jump right in. Another great feature is the ability to modify your flight controller settings (Betaflight) from this menu which are saved individually per drone.
Track builder allows you to build your own tracks and upload them to the Steam workshop for all to enjoy. In June 2017, it was announced that over 1000 tracks have been uploaded and the number continues to rise. Along with this announcement, LuGus Studios released the following showcase video showing just a handful of the amazing tracks some people have designed.
Multiplayer is a great option if your looking to meet others, test your skills or try new tracks. If you're new, don't be scared away as veterans are usually more than happy to have you join up to fly and also provide helpful tips. In a race, if you crash you will spectate others until the race is over. When the first person finishes the race, you are given a 25 second countdown to get past the finish line. Due to this, it doesn't matter if your brand new or are have been flying for years, multiplayer is for everyone!
Along with racing, you can now do free flight in multiplayer to do some freestyle with your friends, no time limits or gates necessary.
Within the multiplayer modes, you also have access to leaderboards which provide the fastest laps and races for the current month. You also have access to the Liftoff Pro League. Described by the developer as "an initiative to help turn the top Liftoff players into professional Liftoff pilots. For those keen on making a name in the drone racing world, racing in Liftoff is as much of a career choice as flying a real drone." Liftoff added this mode back in March and its starting to gain some traction. While its definitively catered towards the pro pilots, it gives people something to strive for if you want something a bit more than race after race.
Standard game options are the norm, but there are some useful settings we suggest to look at. I personally turn off the on-screen display and automatically skip goggle animations (it gets old pretty quick). God mode is a personal preference, and even with it enabled, if a multiplayer host decides to disable it, it will be turned off regardless.
In the controls menu, you set up your presets and can configure custom controllers / radios. This section really is best described in Tutorial #2 in the game, copied below.
What this video does not explain is how to set up a custom controller. As I personally enjoy using the Turnigy Evolution with Liftoff, here is a video another pilot made for just such thing. This method can be applied for pretty much any radio you have, as long as it has a USB adapter (or one of those really annoying audio input adapters that only work when they want to).
March 18, 2017 - Milestone 0.9.0 was released. A new track was added with the addition of Liftoff Pro League (game mode). Although Pro League really caters to the high end pilots, the concept is good and has potential. Currently, Pro League challenges you to be the top of the leader boards with real prizes to the winner. Pilots competing on a specific track with unlimited practice runs and 5 attempts to make your best run.
April 21 2017 - Milestone 0.10.0 was released, including the integration of Betaflight. This release included a massive overhaul of the flight behavior in the game for the better. Since this update, tuning your quad is much more realistic and was a much needed change. LuGus Studios really showed their commitment with this update, proving they want to stay current with the rapid changes occurring in this sport / hobby.
If you are new to drone racing in general, these tips are for you!
New to Liftoff but have pilot experience? These tips should get you going.
With freestyle in mind, this build is smooth and has a good punch out. We opted for 25° camera tilt which is great for getting some good flow. Easily achieve soft and slow aerial maneuvers while still getting up to 160km/h at top speed.
This build is also good for new pilot that are learning to race. As you improve, you can increase the camera tilt to obtain more speed.
Warning: not for beginners
This is the ultimate racing build, designed for top speed and aggressive cornering. Using 50° camera tilt and an increased throttle arc to achieve up to 190km/h at full throttle and 110km/h at mid.
In this review, we went over what Liftoff has to offer, its game modes and some of its best features. We also provided two great builds to use which we encourage you to test out and tweak to make it your own. I personally really enjoy playing Liftoff, especially when the weather just isn't up for flying the real thing. Its obvious that simulators in general are not going to feel exactly like real life, and that's fine with me. Liftoff is an excellent way to improve muscle memory, especially if you use the same radio out in the real world. If you are new to drone racing or fpv racing, a simulator is an amazing tool to help you learn and save a ton of money on broken parts along the way.
As of writing this review, Liftoff is still in development and running update 0.10.7.
Liftoff is available to purchase on Steam for $19.99.
Thanks for reading!
Last updated on July 21, 2017