Stratosphere was one of a kind. Imagine C&C in the sky. Or Star Trek: Starfleet Command with the starships replaced with floating islands and phasers with conventional artillery. Stratosphere was these games and something more and, to this day, I've yet to see anything quite like it.
Your resources consisted of three types of "floatstone", which could be spent to increase the size of your island, boost its defences or ramp up its armaments. You could position the upgrades however you liked, for example, placing all your guns upfront to maximise the damage from that angle, but making yourself vulnerable from other sides.
In terms of gameplay, it shared a lot with the Star Trek: Starfleet Command. You had weapon arcs and ranges so you could see how effective your weapons were and positioning was critical to success. Where it differed was that in Starfleet Command, your arcs were fixed, whereas Stratosphere allowed for massive amounts of customisation. It wasn't just about weapons though, you could build shields and defensive walls and add thrusters to improve your speed and manoeuvrability. To this day I have yet to find a game that offers the same level of control, packaged in the Starfleet Command-like framework.
I remember spending hours trying to build the ultimate flying fortress; my strategy was to stick ramming spikes on the front of my island, along with the biggest weapons I could and just charge into my enemies, weapons blazing. This didn't work later in the game and sadly, I failed to finish because I couldn't find an effective way to defeat opponents using my admittedly single-minded tactic.
The developer, Kodiak Interactive, didn't go on to do much else — which is a shame — and the game did not review strongly in its day. Still, it was deliciously original (in its way) and it would warm the cockles to see someone give it another go. Can you imagine a multiplayer game where players race to build their floating islands, using Minecraft and Stratosphere as templates? There's something good there, surely...
Image: Small Games