Surface to Air Mayhem is pretty awesome. What, you want more subtlety? Well, you won’t find it here. Save your Military Industrial Complex conversations for the coffee house, and go debate the role of the military in society in school. Surface to Air Mayhem doesn’t waste its time with these conceits, and the game experience is all the better for it. This Missile Command clone is fast, violent, fun, and a great value at $2.99.
In Surface to Air Mayhem, you play as a antiaircraft missile pod at the bottom of the screen. Flanking you are your barracks and supply houses–buildings you need to protect, in other words. Above you are planes dropping bombs, helicopters shooting missiles, kamikaze pilots steering into your safe houses, and many more airborne threats you have to shoot out of the sky. When the buildings to your sides are destroyed, you are finished. If S.A.M is to have a motto, may we suggest: Just shoot, baby. Your ammo supply is limited, and running out will leave you defenseless… but if things get too hectic, you can bail yourself out of trouble by quickly turning or shaking the iPhone to activate “Mayhem Mode.” This is a 5-second rampage for your missile pod that allows you to shoot an unlimited number of missiles at top speed. As the game’s difficulty increases, learning when to use Mayhem Mode becomes paramount to success.
The physics work extremely well. As in Missile Command, shooting a missile through a plane won’t kill it; only explosions produce results, and you tap on the screen to set the detonation point. The default missiles are on the slow side, so you have to lead your targets carefully. You can upgrade your missiles to produce bigger booms or fly faster by killing the cargo planes that occasionally fly across the screen. The game starts out very easy and quickly increases its difficulty, but the scale is gradual enough that we never got angry when we lost the war–we just wanted to play again. We’ve all played games that seem to bend their own rules or otherwise screw the player out of victory. S.A.M. is not one of those.
Surface to Air Mayhem’s presentation complements the gameplay. The graphics are beautiful. There are multiple painted backdrops behind the moving sprites, from the first light of dawn to the dark of night. Planes, ordinance, and everything else that flies across the screen are clear and distinct, without a hint of slowdown. The game offers other kinds of feedback, too: it vibrates slightly to let you know when you’ve sustained a hit. The snippets of music are unobtrusive and not unpleasant.
Surface to Air Mayhem’s biggest flaw is its lack of a save feature. With 65 (!) levels, this is a game that can go on for a while, so being able to save a game or pick up where you left off would have been nice. We should also say that the game exhibited some stability problems. It quit out on us four times during the course of our review. In addition, we noticed that S.A.M. can really eat your batteries if you play it for a sustained period– even more than 3D games like Raging Thunder and Clusterball Arcade. The game also includes a global online high scores board, but it doesn’t seem to save your scores locally, which is odd.
Put simply, Surface to Air Mayhem is a lot of fun, and it’s challenging enough to last a good long while. We’re big fans of the accessible gameplay, as well as the little touches, like confirmation screens that yell ‘YES SIR!’ If you’re looking for a frantic, action-packed arcade game, you won’t go wrong here.