Life must be aggravating for people who don’t like Star Wars. It’s been over three decades since the first film hit theaters, and the franchise is still popping up everywhere you look. Its most recent outing is called Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner, an iPhone game that puts you in the gunner seat of the Millennium Falcon and asks you to fend off waves of TIE fighters.
And somewhat to the game’s credit, playing Falcon Gunner feels like what it depicts: Being trapped in a ship you can’t control while being shot at by swarms of Imperial fighters.
The enemies come from all directions, and your job is to find and destroy them. You do this by tilting your device to shift your view, and using your thumbs to control the gun’s crosshair and rate of fire. What’s weird is that the controls seem great, but when you actually try to shoot at enemies, precision goes out the window. Why? Because the crosshair doesn’t actually show you where your shots will end up when you fire the gun. Instead, you have to look at the bullets as they stream out and adjust your aim accordingly.
Fightin’ words from R2D2.
Which would be fine, except that the TIE fighters move around and are often very far away. So instead of relying on your aiming reticule, you actually have to predict where the enemies will be when your bullets arrive at that distance. It’s no easy task, and it takes a lot of practice to get used to. There’s an auto-aim feature that you can enable in the options menu, but that doesn’t make for fun gaming either.
Making matters worse, you have to tilt the device severely to follow the enemies as they circle you– so severely that you’ll often find yourself holding it above your head and looking straight up as you play. This means that you won’t want to play the game near other people, because you probably look like an idiot.
But at least you get to see a variety of sites from the Star Wars movies, right? Not exactly. Only three backdrops are provided in the game, with several missions based in each one. Any game with only three environments would seem lacking, but it’s especially true for one set in as fertile a territory as the Star Wars universe. Sure, you can use your iPhone’s camera to make TIE fighters swirl around whatever room you’re in; but unless you’re looking at a major city’s skyline like in the video below, the game’s augmented reality gimmick just seems weird.
Annoy your roommates.
And last but not least is the game’s sound. We love their use of music and clips from the movie, but the rest of the audio in the game comes off as annoying. For instance, they use sound clips of voice actors imitating the characters from the movie, but these clips repeat way too often. If we never hear the phrase, ‘Don’t worry, she’ll hold together!’ again, it will be too soon. Also, the ear-piercing alarm that sounds when your health gets below 20% is like the worst alarm clock you’ve ever heard going off continuously until you die or earn a shield boost.
Falcon Gunner isn’t all bad. The graphics are great, and everything is animated smoothly. As you complete missions you earn credits that you can spend to upgrade the ship’s guns and shields. These upgrades go a long way toward giving you a feeling of progression as you advance through the missions. Also, you’re awarded up to three medallions for your performance on each mission, so there’s a decent amount of replay value if you finish the game and want to get a perfect rating on every mission.
The concept is solid, too. Sitting in a gunner seat and firing at TIE fighters would be a lot of fun if the game had tighter controls and offered a larger variety of environments from the movies. But as is, Falcon Gunner feels like an undercooked cash-in. Even Star Wars fanatics will want to think twice before purchasing this one.