It is not often that I find myself saying this in a review, but the tilt controls of this game are really well done. Tilt controls in action games are usually hamfisted, inaccurate and extremely frustrating, but here the developer has done such a good job that I ended up using the tilt controls more than I used the on-screen option.
It is lucky that the controls are so good, as you will need them with Gravatron because this is a pretty tough game where you will need to be able to react very quickly and perform complicated maneuvers to survive the difficult bits.
Gravatron for Android puts you in the cockpit of a UFO flying around on American soil attempting to abduct humans and cause as much chaos as possible, all viewed from a side on, 2D perspective. The bare bones of the game are similar to Choplifter, but instead of rescuing soldiers, here you grab them and throw them into walls, turning them into a bloody mess.
You tilt to fly around, and a tap of the screen sends your grabatron down to pick up whatever is below you. Once picked up, a quick swipe of the screen will send your cargo flying off in the direction of the swipe. There are no levels as such, as the game takes place on a surprisingly large open world, which you are free to explore at will. Instead of levels there are missions either in plain sight or hidden, that you can choose to undertake, and also a main thread of larger missions that act as the ‘story’, such as it is.
The main thread of missions usually involve allowing you to access new areas, so for example, at the start of the game you must destroy a large power plant to power down some pesky SAM sites that prevented further progress elsewhere on the map.
The real joy of the game, however is in doing all the side missions and generally messing about with the humans and their vehicles. You can pick a person up and chuck them, sure, but how about grabbing a giant doughnut sign, rolling it down a hill to crush dozens of humans, before it rolls over a tank which then explodes, destroying a nearby windmill? Much more fun.
You can grab caravans and throw them at annoying attack helicopters, go on bombing runs with sheep and pigs as your ammo, sit on people to crush them and sling oil tankers at shopping malls. The great thing is that the game rewards your invention. Decide to start blowing up some cars on a highway and a surprise mission will begin, either setting you the task of destroying six cars in thirty seconds, or maybe taking down four local bridges with them.
You can even get bonuses for using special objects, such as using a sign above a casino to crush some local police or dropping a tank on a barn. You get extra points for all this, and for using combos and getting killstreaks, and all this goes towards the all important score, which is good as the game is a score attack at heart. You do get extra lives, but there is no saving your progress, so each game you play is a run at the high score, something that will put off as many people as it will attract. It can be great, starting from scratch and trying to beat your best score, but when you get really far and have to start all over again, frustration and a little despair can set in.
The graphics are really good, with the main UFO looking like it is bump mapped, and a decent amount of detail on all the characters and buildings. The explosions are pretty good, and the little voices of the people you are fighting are really funny.
There are various power ups, such as a stronger claw and extra armour, laying around in hidden caverns, and I would recommend you clear each area of all collectibles to give you a fighting chance on the later sections. There are a few in-app purchases to be had to give you an edge with a better initial load-out, and even one to make the game tougher.
The game is a blast, with tight control, decent physics and hilarious action and violence, so why isn’t the score higher? Well, aside from the fact that the lack of a progress saving mechanism may put a lot of people off, the game as it is now has some major performance problems.
The smallest problem is the fact that the tilting angle needs to be re-calibrated every few minutes, which soon becomes a real chore, particularly as you have to pause and then select another menu to get to the calibration screen every time. An onscreen button in the corner, or at least having it in the first pause menu would be a big help, although if the need to constantly calibrate wasn’t there then this wouldn’t be a problem. The second and biggest problem is the fact that the game, after a few minutes play, suffers from an ugly degree of slowdown. The more you play the worse it gets, and it isn’t because of the Android system being busy. The strange thing is, when you re-calibrate the controls the game actually starts to run smoother.
When it is bad, the framerate is almost non-existent. A real shame and it does genuinely spoil what should be an excellent game.
Overall, Gravatron is a really good game with a lot going for it. Performance issues aside, this is a blast, with nice graphics, a good mission structure that rewards experimental play and a healthy dose of humour. The controls are top notch, and if the developer sorts out the bugs you can add ten to the score below.
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