It’s clear to see that the Real Time Strategy genre is heating up in a major way as of late. You’ve seen extensive coverage here on a variety of solid games like Uniwar, Quantum Collapse, and Command & Conquer Red Alert to name a few. Thanks to Gameloft, another RTS franchise with a rich PC lineage has come to the iPhone. While many people will be discovering The Settlers for the first time here, there’s a huge fan-base that’ll be interested to see how faithful this game is to the franchise.
There’s a reason why The Settlers has remained exclusive to the PC for years: it’s not exactly the most accessible game out there. Whereas you can get a good feel for the progression trees on both units and buildings on other entry-level RTS games, The Settlers demands your attention with its myriad of options. This iPhone edition is fundamentally developed in that spirit, but there is an extensive three-level tutorial designed to gradually build up your proficiency. It does an adequate job, but we can see folks still being overwhelmed if they don’t have the right disposition going in.
Missions are sorted out across campaigns for four groups – Romans, Vikings, Mayans, Dark Tribe – and objectives are of the typical sort. Create this, explore that, vanquish foes, etc. Nothing revolutionary, but solid stuff all around. The major commonalty we found throughout the game was that resource management is much more emphasized over blitzkrieg tactics. So remember that if you’re repeatedly failing missions.
The UI and controls are solid, yet extensive. Using icons in all four corners of the screen, it’s easy to pop in and out of various actions. The bottom-left home icon is what your thumb will be banging on consistently. A clean view of your army’s resources always lives at the top of the screen, and it’s easy to reference levels of your gold, coal, and troop levels amongst several other considerations. That’s the jump-off for building military structures, food depositories, and expanding your army’s capabilities. When selecting the area to place structures, the ground has color-coded dots indicating the best area to build in. Any problems or confusion with the controls come from the reality that there are a lot of commands being shoehorned into a 3.5′ screen. There will be some stumblin’ and fumblin’ with your thumbs, but Gameloft gets high marks for effort.
The Settlers biggest sin is the lack of any skirmish (no even against the CPU) or multiplayer modes. Once you’ve banged through all 21 levels, there’s no reason to load it up again. It’s a damn shame, too, because this is a game that dedicated players could dial into and have some epic, strategic battles. Even an online connected leaderboard would have been a tasty consolation prize.
Gameloft has again delivered a ‘Gameloftian’ style game that’s refined in nearly every respect. They took a hardcore RTS game and made a faithful iPhone edition that only features a subtle nod to the casual crowd. Hopefully, The Settlers will see an update that’ll make it less antisocial. Until then, it’s just a good game flirting with the edge of extraordinary.