Thruster-based navigation games have been frustrating gamers since the early 80’s, but seldom have they looked as beautiful as Gyro13. The game uses the Unreal Engine to create an old-school cavern crawl through detailed and refined looking mines. For those unfamiliar with classics like Lunar Lander, however, the difficulty level and initial learning curve might prove too steep.
In Gyro13, players take the role of the gruff pilot of a steampunk helicopter who patrols deep and deadly mines. Unfortunately, disaster has struck, leaving the miners stranded in a maze of mines that are rapidly filling with gas. As the only chopper pilot around, it’s your job to rescue them.
Get to ze choppah!
There’s a fully vocalized mission briefing before each level, and a specific time limit to stay under if you want to get the miners out alive. Miners are usually stranded near helipads, but as the game progresses, the poor fellows will be waiting in terror on top of buildings and other obstacles. Time is of the essence in Gyro13, and setting down to pick up miners costs precious seconds. Since injured miners move much more slowly, there are times when the player must make a hard choice to leave the slow movers behind in order to save the bulk of the miners.
Despite the Choplifter-like rescue elements, the real challenge is actually just flying the helicopter. Fans of SF Cave and the more recent adaptations like Jetpack Joyride will have some idea of the physics at work here. Hold down on the thrust icon and the copter moves up. Let go and it falls. Add in a slider bar for steering and you’re left with a game that’s difficult to get the hang of without plenty of trial and error.
Slide the steering bar to the right, and the copter noses down, causing it to head forward when applying thrust. Sliding left noses the copter up, which reverses the thrusters. There’s a whole range of gradation between the two extremes for fine steering, and learning to thrust and steer just enough to avoid the winding passageways is a significant challenge.
The helicopter is painfully fragile and the various landing pads in each level act as waypoints to start from after a crash. Unfortunately, respawning at a check point adds seconds to the timer. Too many restarts mean that while the pilot– who is safe from the gas in his cockpit– might survive, all the miners in the craft’s unprotected cargo hold will have died of asphyxiation. Adding to the overall challenge are gas clouds, explosives, rock walls, and plenty of other obstacles to circumvent.
Thankfully, as frustrating as Gyro13 can be, it’s also a lot of satisfying fun once you get the hang of it. A big part of the appeal is the sheer level of graphic detail. This is a universal app, but optimized for the HD screens of the iPad 2 and latest iPhones, and it shows. The mix of such basic, challenging controls with a state-of-the-art presentation helps keep players going just to see what other wonders the game might show off.
While the variety of backgrounds isn’t vast, the animated details (especially of the helicopter) are terrific and the levels tend to be short enough to not overstay their welcome. Still, the learning curve is certain to be too steep for many casual gamers. Gyro13 requires a real investment in time and effort just to beat the initial levels. Also, the gameplay doesn’t really vary. So, if the early levels don’t appeal, neither will the rest of the game. Such shortcomings aside, this is a great looking game with a significant challenge level and fun retro gameplay.