Have you been missing a Warhawk, Starfox, or Rouge Squadron-like game on the iPhone? Gameloft has delivered by bringing out Star Batallion recently and surprisingly without much hype, to our touch devices. The title is a solid 3d space-shooter arcade-sim with 360 degree freedom-of-movement. It is a game that takes many inspiration from sci-fi shooters such as Starfox, Warhawk, and Rouge Squadron, among others — but comes out unique in its own way and should satisfy the 3d-space shooter itch mostly lacking on the iPhone. The gameplay shares similarities to Starfox in the sense that you have some wingmen along with you going through various missions – luckily two instead of three. The wingmen are just as useless, if not more so, than they were in Starfox, and they also ask you to rescue them from time to time. On the other hand I haven’t seen any of them die in any of my missions yet. In terms of movement of flight and exploration however, Star Batallion is more similar to other more open ended games like Rouge Squadron or Warkawk — because, although you are restricted to operate in a perimeter neat the mission objectives, you have 360 degrees of freedom to fly in.
The game will take players right into the story of an inter-galactic war being fought as a Resistance fighter, and squadron captain, Sonan, of Orion Force One. Two forces at war are the Resistance, and the The Royalists, and as you may notice, the story borrows a lot from the Starwars franchise of light vs dark. Some of the missions and planet layouts also share similarities, but are unique in their own right. The graphics are truly amazing with the Retina display, and there is usually a lot of action happening on screen with voice narrations and cut scenes before, after, and sometimes during missions. I only experienced some slowdown during heavy battles, but what Gameloft accomplished is still pretty amazing in terms of visuals and presentation.
There are various missions in the campaign ranging from escorting ground forces and protect their flanks, to taking part in large dogfights where you end up having to take on an enemy capital ship, and to collecting square energy fields in space. missions take place over vast areas, and planets — ranging from ice and snow, deserts, and cities. There is never shortage of action and intensity right from the get go.
Gyroscope controls are enabled with tilting and turning as the default control method. Although the sensitivity is a bit jerky at times and may need to be tinkered in the options menu, the tilt controls allow very fluid motion without the need to concentrate on a lot of touch inputs. I found them better than the alternative touch controls as my finger would slip from the control input and I had to take my eyes off the action to place it back. Barrel rolls with the swipe of the finger are used to escape enemy missles and lock-on, and there is also a Starfox-esque U-turn that you can do with a vertical touch-input and both these touch inputs work real well.
There are also two views you can choose to fly in. A cockpit view and a third person perspective view where you can see the plane in front of you. They offer almost two completely different experiences but both are made pretty well to control.
GameCenter support: There are various achievements to unlock and co-op online play is offered through either GameCenter or Gameloft’s service.
Graphics: Retina display is amazing, with great use of color and backgrounds. The landscapes in the background are usually very interesting to look at and very detailed. Examples of this are objects such as large spaceships to shoot down or cities located on the landscape, and far away planets or moons in the air. The polygon look very anti-aliased or with a lot of nice filtering because they are very smooth, moreso than I’ve even seen with other Gameloft titles. There is a wide range of terrain throughout the game overall and all the areas you explore are interesting.
Overall-presentation: The presentation is excellent overall, with mission briefings taking place explaining the background and story of the game between mission chapters. There are also very nice cutscenes present rivaling console titles, and often they take place even after completing one mission objective and getting ready to start another in the missions. Sometimes unexpected turns and twists occur inside missions. The voice acting is very good overall and each character seems to have their own personality carved with character.
Intensity: The combat is very intense and literally made my adrenaline spike to the point where I stood up playing some missions.
Movement and Controls at times: Although there is a fair amount of freedom of movement offered I would have liked to be able to fly higher and lower than my default plane at times as there were many obstacles I kept hitting that I should have been able to fly over or under.
Target lock-on system: The targeting or aiming also needs fine-tuning, as you can’t choose who to target but the nearest enemies, and sometimes they are not even located in front of you but behind some object blocking your path like a piece of debris. I usually take out auto aiming in games such as this but the hit detection system and aiming is quite difficult in this title without it, almost too difficult as some laser shots seem to fly right past or through the enemy unless auto aim is on.
Sometimes you have to destroy small enemy forces like drones in the game or locate objects, and the automatic targeting system doesn’t always pick these out — assist stays on the enemy whose path you are nearest or across from. Finding these small enemy ships or objects to destroy can be difficult.
No online battles: Although there are multiplayer co-op campaign missions to play, I think games like this are truly designed for competitive dogfighting sessions if played in multiplayer.
Speed and acceleration adjustment: I was confused for a while between adjusting my speed in the game before figuring out there are only three options. There isn’t an actual throttle slider but you have to tap each of the three icons — one of which is a square signaling the mid or neutral speed and the other two are arrows signaling fast and crawling slow. I originally thought the square is where the speedometer is set and you have to adjust it either up or down — but instead of it being a slider, it acts as one of the buttons.At least the game allows some speed control as you can accelerate to catch enemies and later slow down when you want to target them for a clean shot. There is also an acceleration that occurs when you switch to the fastest speed from either of the slower once that sometimes causes your ship to fly further than aimed.
Overall, despite some minor gripes that can be fixed with updates such as deathmatch multiplayer, or lock-on controls, Star Batallion is a great flight-sim package that is very arcade-like in execution at times, but offers solid twitch-gameplay and challenge, with great presentation and graphics. I recommend it to any gamers looking for some dog-fighting action on their iPhone.
Star Batallion was developed by Gameloft, and I played through version 1.0.0 on my iPhone 4. The price is $6.99.