33rd Division Hands-On Preview

We have prepared for landing in Flight Control and been anchored by Harbor Master, but we have yet to draw a path to put the lives of our sprites in grave danger. 33rd Division, the latest from Blimp developers Craneballs Studio, puts you in the shoes of a commanding officer during World War II. Your goal is to help direct your soldiers past enemy lines, and it really hits home when you’re the one inflicting the casualties.

If you have played one of the numerous path-drawing games available on the App Store, the gameplay behind 33rd Division will feel like second nature. However, some major tweaks really shake things up for the iPhone’s trademark genre.

Enemies with cone-shaped viewing radars patrol the levels, looking to shoot down any army men they can find. They generally move in set paths, but occasionally they’ll pull a fast one on you and change directions. In case you get sighted, tapping on your unit will force him to crouch down, leaving their line of vision. This keeps the pace and frantic micro-management interesting.

In our preview build, there were two of four areas available to play. Both are based on cities in the Normandy region of France: Reims and Caen. Each has its differences which force you to adapt to new strategies. For example, in Caen one of the enemy soldiers has a watch dog, extending his view. There is also a safehouse where the occasional third Axis member will pop out. Reims is very different, with a soldier in a trench, plank bridges to cross over the gap, and a tank.

33rd Division has three kinds of units, each of which act quite differently. The soldier runs at a normal speed and gains you one point. The medics are quicker, gain you more points, but appear less frequently. You always want to save sergeants, though, who may seldom appear and run slowly but garner three points. Powerups such as score boosters, invisibility, extra speed, and a cold front that freezes enemies can be collected by running over them. There are also great voiceovers, and we got a kick out of the sergeant’s serious voice.

There are also two distinct game variations to play. Life Mode gives you five lives, which can be added to by picking up extra lives with your men when they appear. The harder of the two is Time Mode. Here, you start off with 30 seconds to get as many soldiers to their stations as quick as possible. Successfully saving one of your men and picking up a time power-up gains you ten seconds. Sending hordes of men on a death march is not the answer, though, since getting killed costs you 10 seconds.

Unlike your average path-drawing game, crashing soldiers into each other does nothing. Also, you don’t need to have more than one out at a time. Once your soldier is either killed or saved, another will automatically appear. However, additional soldiers can be added to speed up the gameplay, which is extremely important for Time Mode.

What high-score game would be complete without online scoring? 33rd Division is OpenFeint enabled, with high score tables for each mode/level combination. We do hope the developer adds achievements before launch.

We almost wrote 33rd Division off at first glance as ‘just another Flight Control clone’, but the truth is that there is the potential for some serious substance here. The game will be submitted to Apple soon, meaning we should see this out within the next month.

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