Games currently playing:
Global Agenda
Star Battalion

A Battalion of excellent knock-offs?

This week as finals raged on and the rush to complete and clean up projects intensifies, I’ve once again had to fall back on portable game systems to get my moments of relaxation in. But after analyzing the anything-but-casual Infinite Space early on, I decided this time I wanted some lighter-but-quality fare, so I fired up my iphone and checked out the latest offerings from Gameloft.

Gameloft is hard to categorize as a company. They are mostly known for essentially grabbing high profile console games, adapting them to the iPod, and substituting slightly more generic but still recognizable characters in place of the licensed ones. In the case of Modern Combat, a blatant ripoff of Modern Warfare, since the theme is generic modern soldiers, they don’t even have to do that. It’d be easy to dismiss them as disgusting producers of Transmorpher-style mockbuster shovelware, except for two things: first, they are genuinely performing a service by making these play experiences available on the mobile device and second, the games they produce are genuinely of the highest quality yet sen on the iDevices.

Want to play Halo on the go? Grab NOVA instead. Gran Turismo fan? GT Academy. God of War? Hero of Sparta. Diablo? Dungeon Hunter. The list goes on. As someone with interest in the industry as a whole I’m not sure what to even make of it. Should they be applauded for their technical and artistic prowess, or shamed for their lack of originality and mercenary business sense? Or both? I have to admit though, when NOVA 2 comes out I’ll be there waiting.

Star Battalion

This time, however, I found a pleasant surprise waiting for me at the app store. Gameloft has released a space shooter/arcade style flying game for the iDevices that I can’t actually pair up with a specific recent blockbuster game. If anyone can, actually, do let me know. Quality shooters of its type have been absent from consoles for too long. I suppose the nearest analog would be the Rouge Squadron series of games or maybe Starfox 64; 3D shooters that are primarily action games (not space sims) but they do retain full capacity to fly in every direction (in other words, not “on rails” like the original Star Fox). The characters and tone, however, certainly don’t match either the anthropomorphic animals of Star Fox nor are they a blatant ripoff of Star Wars. They remain well within the boundaries of generic sci-fi, though there is an accompanying free comic in the app store; there is a real attempt here in Gameloft’s part to create a bit of political intrigue and characters as backdrop. Still completely one-dimensional and generic from what I’ve seen but I respect the attempt.

The same can be said of the gameplay. There is nothing really new here but what is here is all very well done. And I suppose that shows its still very much the Gameloft I’ve come to accept and even respect. Nothing inspired or groundbreaking or even risky here, but all is accomplished to the highest technical and artistic standards the device will allow. The game is definitely fun as you perform the usual missions of protecting ground targets, engaging enemy aircraft, protecting transports, and attacking the weak spots of larger vessels. It is not, as many would love to see, a next generation version of those classic sci-fi staples; this is the iPod after all. Those of us waiting for a cutting edge HD version of Wing Commander or Freespace will have to wait a little longer. But it is nice to get a solid if generic example of the genre in portable form. This is one I’ll definitely be playing til the end. The game can be controlled with the accelerometer or the gamepad; I appreciate the inclusion of both as the accelerometer needs constant recalibration if you have to be moving around (or fidgeting) and Gameloft makes as good a virtual joypad as any; which is to say not fantastic, but serviceable.

And at the end of the playing session I was right back where I started, trying to decide what to think of Gameloft as game developers.

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