It could be argued that there are very few, really good space operas on Apple’s iOS platform. Galaxy on Fire may care to argue, but aside from that, and a couple of other notable games, the space opera genre has been quite limited on iPhone.
Gameloft, the master of creating new franchises based on old genres and rehashing them for modern smart phones, has decided to have a crack of the whip and create a Wing Commander for a new generation.
You take to the skies as Sonan, a pilot in the Resistance (Rebels?) fighting against the might of the Royalist(Imperial?) army as they fight for control of the galaxy. Yes it is all a bit Star Wars, but we will forgive the game that, as the story is actually pretty good, if a little predictable and at least keeps you caring until the end.
The game plays a little like the Rogue Squadron games, but pulls off the controls far better than the Star Wars games recently released. You have a choice between tilt or touchscreen movement, both work well but the more precise option is the virtual analogue stick on the touchscreen controls. Gameloft have really nailed the touchscreen here, with every movement followed perfectly and you won’t be pining for a real analogue stick after the initial learning curve.
I was really surprised by the quality of control Gameloft have provided. Sweeping around asteroids, zipping under arches on planets and dodging through canyons all feels natural and fluid. Really, really good feel to the game.
There are a couple of advanced maneuvers available, the first of which is handy; a quick swipe down the screen makes your ship perform a vertical loop, which is needed to get out of tight corners. The second trick, a barrel roll, which is performed with a quick left/right swipe, is also handy, but can also prove irritating.
You see, when an enemy ship has a lock on you, you have to use a barrel roll to avoid a hit. On some of the tougher encounters, it’s possible that you will have to use the barrel roll as many as twenty times, which becomes tiresome, especially as the game insists on repeating the ‘Do a barrel roll! Do a barrel roll!” speech sample at you far too often. It would have been far better were it possible to know which direction the missile was coming from and have the option to turn past it, or dodge naturally at the last second. The barrel roll solution feels forced, and is kind of a reality breaker, reminding the player that this is just a game, with set rules.
Enemies can also get locked in behind you, again like Rogue Squadron, and the camera zooms out a little, and you can dodge to shake the enemy from your tail. This is great fun, and feels very natural.
There are two attack buttons, one for basic laser fire, and one for a limited supply of missiles. Holding down the missile button automatically locks onto targets in range, and releasing the button launches the missiles on their way. Laser fire is handled quite cleverly. knowing that tiny, precise movements to track enemies with a cross hair would be tough on an iPhone, Gameloft wisely gives the player a little assistance, the amount of which depends on the difficulty of the target. It works well, but i would have liked your cannons to have overheated after a while, as it’s possible to just hold the fire button and spam kill many targets with little effort.
The graphics are fantastic, with genuinely incredible levels to play in, from spaceship graveyards to canyon runs to watery worlds and asteroid fields, the graphics are never short of stunning. The players ship looks equally great, although some enemy ships lack details and have the tendency to all look very similar, and are actually pretty forgettable in themselves. Capital ships are quite good, although none of them(save one…) are what you would call enormous. The use of both third person views and an in ship view is welcome. It also has to be said that there can be bouts of slowdown, but it doesn’t ruin the game, and the amount of craft the game is throwing about on some of the levels almost justifies it. If you have a device with a Retina display, the game is enhanced for it, and also includes gyroscope controls.
Sound is good, with an excellent soundtrack that is suitably space operatic, and the chatter between the pilots as you dogfight is good, although there are one or two sayings that are repeated too often. You will see what I mean when you are on the level where you have to find a train.
The game will last most players three or for hours, which is pretty disappointing. There appear to be enough levels, but they all seem to end too quickly. Many times I was just getting into the feel of the level and environment and looking forward to the next part of the battle when the level abruptly ended.
There are a few strange instances where, if you die, the game will continue on as if you didn’t die. For example, there is one boss that has to be chased down a spiraling corridor. If you die, you are taken back to the start of the corridor and you have to fly all the way down alone, without the boss, who magically appears at the end.
Multiplayer extends the life of this game massively, as it has both local and online play, which is defiantly good, but the part that will fulfill many a Star Wars fantasy is online co-op. Fighting the fight and dogfighting between carrier ships is many times more fun with a buddy or two. Using either Gamelofts own Gameloft Live or Apples new Game Center, you can partake in two and three player online missions, selecting any of the levels you have already played in. There is a running score to keep things a little competitive, and in my experience online play is smooth and so far lag free. It’s a blast, and makes the game so much better.
It would have been nice to have had an option to join any open game, but as it is you have to select a level and hope there are others waiting to play that particular level. If you have friends with the game you can just invite them to negate this problem.
The local Blutooth and WiFi play works as expected. I just wish Gameloft had included a deathmatch mode, but it wasn’t to be. The addition of achievements is a welcome bonus.
All in all this is a smooth playing space shooter with great battles, but that also has a predictable story and some frustrating elements. Online co-op makes this almost unmissable if you have friends inclined to this kind of game. The fact that the campaign is far too short is offset by the inclusion of multiplayer and achievements.
Overall, a great shooter that comes highly recommended if you plan on playing online, and a fair bit less so if you are playing on your own.