Retro arcade games have found a real renaissance on the iPhone. Their short, addictive and time-tested gameplay is a good fit for a portable platform, and the iPhone’s touch and tilt controls are an opportunity to spice them up with a few new tricks. First Contact borrows the concept behind the classic game Missile Command and takes it to the next level by bringing it into three dimensions. Unfortunately, First Contact doesn’t offer much to compliment the core game, and it doesn’t stay interesting for long.
Missile Command is a game from 1980 that challenged you to defend a few cities on the bottom of the screen against an onslaught of missiles raining down from above. First Contact basically wraps the two-dimensional original around a globe that you have to defend against attack from all angles. The planet has five cities spaced pretty evenly around its surface. The camera sits in orbit facing the planet, giving you a view of the surface of the planet as well as the space behind it. You play the game by swiping the screen to rotate the camera around the planet and tapping on incoming missiles. When you tap an enemy missile, another missile is fired from your closest city to intercept and destroy it.
Each level of First Contact brings a fresh wave of enemy attacks. At first, these waves are composed of simple missiles that are easy to spot and shoot down. If you allow any of these missiles to get through your defenses, they will damage your cities. In the later rounds, you also have to deal with nukes and flying saucers. The nukes destroy your cities in one hit, while the UFO’s can sustain multiple hits as they hover over a city and gradually wreck it. Every five waves, you earn a nuke which you can use to destroy all the enemies around your planet by shaking your iPhone. You get points at the end of every round for each city that you have kept alive, and once you run out of cities the game ends.
So, the controls work well and the gameplay is easy to get ahold of. The problem is that once you’ve played the first few levels of First Contact, you’ve basically seen it all. Every time you play, you have to work through the same easy levels until your inevitable demise amongst a frantic flurry of tapping and sliding. You might find some initial excitement in trying to improve your score, but this won’t last very long, since most games play out almost identically. We have seen other arcade retreads like Dropship extend the usual formula with stuff achievements, level selection and additional game modes. Similar dressing would have made First Contact a more compelling package.
First Contact’s graphics aren’t bad for a 3D iPhone game, but they’re not really notable either. At least the camera movement is always smooth, and the mid-space explosions look good. The sound effects are a little understated, if anything, and you can’t play your own music.
First Contact definitely makes a good impression on the first few playthroughs. It’s a neat idea for a game, and the basic spinning and shooting actions are very solid. However, without anything else to freshen up the experience, we didn’t find much of reason to come back for more. First Contact isn’t bad, but it needs a few more things for the player to do before we can wholeheartedly recommend it.