I first read about Sky Rogue over on RPS, where the happy talk of SEGA blues and the promise of fwooshiness was enough to get me downloading the current alpha. Seconds after firing it up, I had discovered the Kondor light bomber, and, well, life has never really been the same since.
The Kondor's the tank of the game's initial line-up: slow and durable but somewhat lacking in manoeuvrability. It doesn't look like a tank, though. It looks like a glorious blue manta ray, screaming down out of the ether and turning sinuous arcs as the air fizzes with tracers and shredded enemy aircraft spill from bubbling red clouds. This is what dog-fighting would be like if it was designed by Sonic Team circa 1992 or so: sky meets surf as elegant, almost delicate hardware unleashes pinpoint devastation. Speed and fury and wide open space: sat inside a Kondor - or even better, parked just behind it as it loops and snarls - air combat doesn't get much better.
As the name suggests, dogfighting's only part of the cocktail on offer here. The islands you fly over are procedurally scrambled - thrown together from hexagons and studded with military installations to take out. On ground or in the clouds, the game presents a target-rich environment. It's a wonderfully jarring mix, actually: it's such a dreamy business to put the Kondor through its taut turning circles, and then ENEMY LOCK - INCOMING pops up to shake you out of your reverie - and leaves you boosting to stay alive.
The Kondor's not your only option, of course - although, if you ask me, nothing else can quite match the retro-futuristic romanticism of its design. It's joined in the hangar by a selection of other craft that juggle speed and power and hardiness to interesting effect. You can tweak your load-out, and spend any scrap you earn in combat on weapon upgrades and new parts. They lie at the heart of what developer Nihilocrat refers to as a "feel good" flight sim, and it's hard to argue too much with that appraisal. Life in Sky Rogue is short but extremely sweet - at least it is if you handle the controls like I do. You launch from a wonderful Eggman-style hovering aircraft carrier - I read an article a while back that suggested military designers genuinely tried to build these once - and a minute or so later you're in flaming bits and pieces. It actually feels like a roguelike as you take risks, earn upgrades, cash them in back at the base and then make a mistake and lose everything.
Sky Rogue is currently available in a pay-what-you-want alpha for WIndows, PC and Linux, and you must check it out. Maybe clear the afternoon before firing it up, though.