The gigantic, bipedal war machines known as mechs have long been a staple of my gaming diet, and the App Store has lately been a cornucopia of mecha battling tastiness. Brisk Mobile‘s 2360: Battle for Cydonia is the latest course in the meal, following hot on the heels of December’s MetalWars and January’s Heavy Mach 2. And in this clash of titans, Battle for Cydonia definitely holds its own.
Apples to apples, or in this case mecha to mecha, each of these titles plays variations on a theme and occupies its own niche in the greater architecture of iDevice mecha gaming. I can’t imagine tossing any one of these games to the side in favor of another, and easily see them all coexisting harmoniously on the same device. For the first part of this review, I will discuss 2360: Battle for Cydonia as it compares to both MetalWars and Heavy Mach 2; the second part of the review will focus solely on its virtues as a standalone title. The reason for comparing these titles is simply that it’s impossible to ignore the recent, coincidental monthly serialization of mecha titles, and the fact that in still shots, the games look very similar despite providing very different gaming experiences in play.
All three of these titles play from the top-down perspective, and allow you to customize the payload of your mech, outfitting your war machine with various types of weaponry, armored plating, legs, bodies, etc. Over time, such options for customization have become synonymous with the joy of mecha gaming.
Goorusoft’s MetalWars was a dual-stick, arena shooter focusing on action above all else. Stage-to-stage, your singular goal was to wipe out a prescribed number of opponents. The most novel addition to gameplay was the inclusion of a wingman to whom you could issue simple orders during combat. Unfortunately, the game was visual repetitive, offering drab grey arenas for most of the experience. In his NoDpad review of the game, Jeff rated MetalWars Worth A Look.
Indie Apps’ Heavy Mach 2 was my favorite release of this past January. Favoring an Action RPG model of play, the game offered an open world of progressive difficulty, with bases acting as hubs for exploration. Missions issued from these bases provided the primary motivation for play, and while the game’s story was almost nonexistent, its unique combat mechanics more than made up for the weak narrative. Navigating your mach either by tapping or drawing a path, dashing to avoid enemy fire, and targeting endless swarms of opponents with your increasingly destructive salvos made for great fun. In lieu of wingmen, players could purchase up to three combat or salvage drones to follow them into the field. Combat fields were large open spaces, mostly non-interactive but gorgeously detailed, and made for excellent scenery by which to wage your war. Enemy tanks and turret designs were pretty nice too. In my NoDpad review, I rated Heavy Mach 2 a Must-Have title, and named it the App Stores best mecha title to-date.
And now comes 2360: Battle for Cydonia gunning for that title. Cydonia’s gameplay is most similar to Heavy Mach 2, though plays from the other side of the coin. In Heavy Mach 2, enemies were targeted with a tap, and all other input was for maneuvers. In 2360: Battle for Cydonia, movement is performed by drawing a path out from your mech in the direction you wish to travel; all other device input is for guns. Shooting — not moving — is the emphasis of the game, and it’s this that helps to set the game apart from its nearest predecessor. Cydonia’s main gimmick is the ability to fire in two directions simultaneously, using multitouch input.
Unlike its peers, Battle for Cydonia places a welcome emphasis on story, its missions being extensions of the narrative. The year is (obviously) 2360. For five years, the battle for Cydonia has raged between Imperial forces and those of the New Earther colonies. Driven nearly to the brink of destruction, the New Earther forces have made a last desperate bid for survival, stealing the Imperials’ top secret weapon, the Datalus-5. You have been selected to pilot this state of the art war machine against overwhelming odds. Early missions task you first to establish an HQ, then to defend it against Imperial siege before taking the offensive.
At the start of each mission, you will be tasked with objectives such as recovering resources, destroying specific enemy targets, etc. Your base plays an important role in missions. You can return to base at any time to purchase upgrades or repair the Datalus-5, though frequent repairs will eat into your savings, hindering your upgrade potential. Your radar during combat is also tied to your base, and can be knocked offline as your base takes damage. Thus, it behooves you to complete mission objectives quickly, before your radar crashes or other misfortunes befall you. Enemies constantly respawn during missions and usually at a higher rate when directly attacking objectives. You might meet only light resistance en route to a mark, but will be under constant assault while trying to destroy it. Most missions also require you to return to base after completing objectives, so you’d best be sure you have enough strength to make it home again after meeting your goals.
Unit Designs: The Datalus-5 looks fantastic, and so do the various enemy units. All units animate well, and are easy to identify which helps you to mark some opponents as greater threats than others. Enemy trucks, artillery batteries and the like are also nicely drawn.
Controls: Line-drawing makes yet another triumphant return, here used to direct the Datalus-5 around the battlefield. A nice touch is that the Datalus-5 will continue to move in the last direction it was moving, so that you can keep going towards objectives while focusing on your guns, without having to micromanage your travel. Tapping anywhere on the screen away from the Datalus-5 will fire your guns in that direction, and you can drag your finger around the screen to lay down a barrage of suppressive fire. With rockets equipped, you can tap to target enemies. The controls are well-suited to the ensuing, often frantic action and definitely place the emphasis of the game on gunplay.
Nonstop Action: The Imperials never let up. From the gates you will be under assault with rarely a moment to catch your breath. Action fans will revel in this. Running and gunning is the order of the day, every day on Cydonia. Whether being shelled by tanks, slagged with lasers, pelted with machine gun fire or leapt upon by kamikaze, exploding spiders, you will always have something shooting at you, and will always have something to shoot.
Ambidexterity: Being able to attack in more than one direction at a time is awesome and adds to the intensity of battle as you try to direct fire all over the damn place. And with action as frantic as Cydonia often becomes, the game would be impossible if you couldn’t shoot in multiple directions.
Armaments: You’re given lots of options for sinking your accumulated spoils into upgrades for the Datalus-5. There are various types of weapons to be purchased including upgraded machine guns, shot-guns, rocket launchers and lasers. You can also upgrade your engines (movement speed), rotation (aiming speed), standard armor (defense against bullets), anti-tank armor (defense against tank shells), shields, health, shield energy and cargo capacity. Finally, you can also purchase auto-targeting machine guns and lasers that target incoming enemy fire, helping to protect you. So long as you have the funds, the possibilities are endless: will you focus on building your firepower, or your defense?
Narrative: The missions make good sense in the context of the story, and that really makes Cydonia a standout title. It’s not literature, but the story really helps to provide compelling reasons for why each mission is important, and why one thing leads to the next. The game just flows, and that makes it eminently more enjoyable to play.
Difficulty: At normal difficulty, missions are challenging. Not impossible, but challenging. And beyond the first few missions, you’re not likely to complete them on your first go. Cydonia will kill you. But if you get tired of dying or would like to die some more, every death provides you the option to adjust the difficulty setting before restarting a mission. There are three difficulty settings in all: Easy, Normal and Hard.
Soundtrack: Pounding rock guitars and throbbing bass lines drive the action. The soundtrack is spectacular, and perfect accompaniment to the game. All that’s missing are taiko drums and sitars.
Bland Locales: Falling into the same pit as MetalWars, too much of the game is spent fighting on drab grey metal. It doesn’t hurt the action in the least, but the backdrops for your missions are pretty lame to look at. One has to wonder whether a world this dull is really worth fighting for, and why the New Earthers had bothered to colonize it at all.
All or Nothing Repairs: When you hit the garage mid-mission for repairs, it’s all or nothing. Repairs are expensive, and there’s no way of recouping money spent. Oftentimes, when I’ve needed a partial repair to muscle through what’s left of a mission, I’ve had to sink funds into equipment — dropping my cash on hand to less than the total repair cost — to avoid flushing the full repair amount down the drain. At that point, I have the option either of keeping the new gear or reselling it for 75% of the purchase price. Better than losing all my cash when I only needed a small health boost (not a full repair), but it would be nice if you had other repair options.
Brisk Mobile has done an excellent job with 2360: Battle for Cydonia. I’m not going to tell you that it’s better than Heavy Mach 2, nor vice versa. The games offer two very different experiences that may not be immediately apparent from looking at still shots. I will tell you that both titles are better than MetalWars, though, and that both titles are worth owning.
Put simply, 2360: Battle for Cydonia rocks. The game will compel you to play; because you want to complete just one more mission, because you want to purchase that next upgrade, because the action never lets up for even the brief moment it takes to think about putting the game down. Blending narrative, mission objectives, frenetic combat and in-depth character development into a complete package, 2360: Battle for Cydonia is February’s first Must-Have title.