Panic Flight takes players up in the clouds, though expect to pay for extra baggage

Panic Flight is a simple little game that lets you fly the unfriendly skies by simply dragging your finger across the screen of your Android device. Collect gold coins, dodge obstacles, keep the passengers happy and above all else, stay out of the clouds! It’s all in a day’s work for a touch-screen pilot.

Panic Flight features plenty of unlockable aircraft, bonuses, “secret missions” and more, but the actual gameplay requires nothing more than a finger with which to trace a path for your plane to follow through masses of roiling dark clouds. Different types of planes, from tiny single-props to lumbering passenger jets and even jet fighters, are on the tarmac, although anything beyond the tiny EZ-01 starter must be unlocked, and each can be upgraded in numerous ways, making them faster, more maneuverable, more fuel efficient and so forth.

The game offers a few flight modes, including a tutorial “Academy,” various city-to-city missions and “Infinite Flight,” which lets you stay in the air, collecting coins and performing stunts, for as long as your fuel holds out. Fuel tends to run out quickly, but things don’t get really problematic unless you fly through the great, grey clouds that dominate the Panic Flight skies, which slow your plane to a crawl and chews through the fuel at a vastly accelerated pace. Skimming cloud surfaces provides a quick burst of speed, however, which means better times [and better scores] on missions, and there are plenty of in-flight power-ups to collect that restore fuel, make the plane bigger or smaller, or give it a quick burst of turbo power.

It’s certainly challenging and there’s enough meat on the bone to keep dedicated players busy for a good long time, but the trouble is that Panic Flight just isn’t all that terribly much fun. Gameplay is very repetitive and getting to the bulk of the content requires grinding for “Aerocoins” and “flight credits,” which of course can also be purchased for real money. That’s not a criticism in itself – somebody has to pay for this stuff, and I have no issues with free-to-play games doing what they need to bring in a few bucks – but I just don’t see anything here that’s likely to hook anyone for very long.

That’s made even more problematic by the fact that it seems very difficult to earn flight credits within the context of the game. You can pick up a number of them by signing up for other games, like Dream Heights or Majority Feud, but doing so by actually playing Panic Flight is a lot trickier. A 700-mile flight in the Unlimited mode, for instance, earns a single flight credit, but so far my absolute best record is 330 miles, just a wee bit off the mark.

Panic Flight

Panic Flight

Maybe I’m not a very good pilot, but it strikes me as counterproductive to effectively bring players to a complete halt at a relatively early point in the game. And while it’s possible that I’m just missing something, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the game to make itself clear, which Panic Flight fails to do. Its interface is poorly laid out and not particularly informative, and various functions often take several presses of the on-screen buttons before the game responds.

Panic Flight looks and sounds reasonably good, although the sound of the Aerocoins being collected at the end of each mission is incredibly grating, and I found it occasionally difficult to tell the “bad” clouds apart from the background window dressing. It also suffers from some rather serious crash issues, at least on my phone [an HTC Incredible S], where leaving it running in the background for any length of time inevitably resulted in “force close” errors.

That’s really Panic Flight in a nutshell: It’s okay, but doesn’t feel quite fully baked. It’s free, so there’s not a whole lot at risk if you take it for a test flight, but there are a few too many bumps and blemishes to make this game a standout.