If you want to take to the skies in an advanced aerospace fighter, frag noobs with missile clusters and join a massive battle against a hulking enemy mothership, but your gaming budget is spread a little too thin, then you should check out Air Rivals. It's a spaceship dogfighting MMORPG that's easy to jump right into, but has some interesting depth as you level up your pilot. Best of all, it doesn't cost a dime to play.

You can download Air Rivals, create an account and play the game completely for free. Like Exteel, the giant robot fighting MMORPG we talked about a few weeks ago, you can spend a few bucks to buy better weapons and cosmetic upgrades, but you can also earn credits to buy those things just by completing missions.

The in-game graphics are not stunning, but at combat speed you don't really notice. The ships and characters are anime influenced - between missions you leave your ship (called a Gear) and walk around a spaceport. There you can meet other players or select new missions. The loading screens feature some truly awesome sci-fi art.

Your craft is controlled through simple mouse movement, and the dogfights can be pretty exhilarating. As you advance in levels, you'll be asked to select a faction in a galactic rebellion. You can then compete in battles that will earn points for your faction. When a faction hits a certain point threshold, the game automatically sends a massive mothership to attack the other side.

The game can seem a little off-beat at times. Much of this can be chalked up to its origins with a German developer (Gameforge 4D), like this description of weapon upgrades:

Legend system is for upgrading weapons and armors to upper-class with virtue and wickedness vigor.

But some things are just plain weird, like the sci-fi trollop who guides you through the tutorial. The game is worth downloading just to hear her explain weapons systems in a voice that sounds like a bored flight attendant going over pre-flight safety procedures. Is Air Rivals as good as EVE Online? Of course not. But if you're a gamer with both eyes on the bottom line, you won't find a better space dogfighting game for your (lack of) money. (Thanks to Schwarzwald for the tip.)