The app store has recently suffered no lack of top-down shooters. Unfortunately, most of them have sent my running back to Space Invaders Infinity Gene like a hurt child to his mum. Happily, Art In Games‘ Air Attack ( iPhone / iPad ) is not one of those games. Instead, it’s a genuinely good top-down shooter — good without any need for qualifiers — and the game that 1942: First Strike probably should have been, but wasn’t.
Air Attack takes place in fictionalized World War II era setting. Players pilot a fighter through a series of stages combatting enemy fighters, tanks, boats and other combat machinations including Nazi-esque UFOs. Wha?! Yeah. Bonuses and cash can also be earned by bombing ground targets such as towns, bridges and installations during combat.
At mid-level checkpoints, cash can be spent upgrading your fighter with enhanced cannons and bombs, wingmen, an auto-targeting turret, a lightning attack and more. Most upgrades are locked at first, but become unlocked by scoring in-game achievements, and remain unlocked thereafter for subsequent games.
Presentation: Air Attack is built on Unity’s 3D engine, and sports excellent visuals. The planes and other crafts look great, as do the landscapes, bosses and visual effects. The sound also is appropriately epic for the setting and serves to enhance the experience.
Action: Air Attack is an engaging shooter and gets rather hairy in later stages. Enemies attack in diverse formations and patterns, enter the field of view from all directions, and generally provide a good variety of opposition. The air is ever full of bullets, and there’s no downtime during play; you’re pretty much always gunning.
Upgrades: The shop offers an excellent array of upgrades for your plane, and plays fair in its handling of power-ups. When killed, your cannon will be downgraded one point and you will lose your wingmen, turret, missiles, etc. But they don’t knock you back to point zero; power-ups are priced fairly, so you can usually build up again within one or two checkpoints.
Life-bar: While most top-down shooters are one-hit kills, Air Attack isn’t so cruel. Your plane has a health bar and you are able to take a few hits before going down. To wit, one stupid mistake isn’t going to cost you all the power-ups you’ve accumulated.
Control Options: Air Attack includes several control options including tilt, touch and relative touch. Dropping bombs is as simple as double-tapping the screen, and — however you choose to steer — the motion controls are tight.
The Little Things: The way the water looks and the fact that you can see sunken ships beneath the water’s surface. The way your plane rolls when you flick backward quickly. When shot down, the way that some planes will explode in mid-air, while others will plummet to the ground in an uncontrolled dive. How the camera shifts every so often to give the impression of changing altitude. Air Attack features lots of cool little touches that take the game that extra mile.
Blatant Disregard for Physics: Aerodynamics? Gravity? Momentum? Phooey! Hoo-ha! Throughout the game, occasions will arise when your plane with stop flying forward, and will begin to strafe in circle around a large enemy as if it were instead a helicopter. In several battles against larger airplanes, you will blow off both wings and the tail section of the enemy plane, and yet they will remain airborne and keep fighting. Just how does an airplane continue to fly without wings, I’d like to know?! And how does a World War II fighter plane maneuver like a helicopter?! It’s utterly ridiculous, of course, but doesn’t really stop the game being fun.
Bombing is More or Less Optional: Bombing ground targets it entirely optional, and bombs don’t really play any key role in progressing through the game. Your fighter’s cannons are capable of striking opposition both in the air and on the ground at range, and so bombs are relatively pointless in combat. Bombs can be used to damage enemies on the ground, but they will usually be blown away before you’re closing enough to make a bombing run. I would have liked for the bombs to have been tied into combat in a more significant way.
Vague Narrative: Like a Bruckheimer film, Air Attack is high on action, grand in scale, but shallow when it comes to the plot. The stages are all given operational names — Green Fox, White Storm, etc. — but there’s no narrative to set the stage for these operations. Likewise, it’s never clear just who you’re fighting. The setting is reminiscent of World War II era and many of the enemy craft bear swastika-like markings, but then you also find yourself battling flying saucers, lighting turrets, and laser-wielding fighters unlike any plane I’ve ever seen. So, are the bad guys technologically advanced Nazis, or are they fascist alien invaders with a taste for Germanic fashion? Does Mars belong to the Axis of Evil, or did the Fascists find spaceships buried beneath the Egyptian pyramids? And when the hell did World War II spread to the Egyptian Front?! Just what is going on here?!
Another odd point, as careful as the game is to not to portray the actual Nazi swastika, it seemingly has no qualms displaying the Japanese flag on enemies later in the game. Hm.
Overlooking the fact that the game doesn’t make any sense and is, at times, utterly ridiculous, Air Attack is a superb shooter. It’s definitely one of my new genre favorites, and a game I see myself returning to play down the road, either at higher difficulty levels, or simply for the sake of enjoying it again. With both the standard iPhone version and an HD iPad version going for just $0.99 each, picking this one up is really a no-brainer.