Fans of Gameloft games will not be surprised at all to hear that Star Battalion borrows heavily from established franchises. But unlike many of their ripped-from-the-console efforts, there’s no single game it cribs everything from. The gameplay calls to mind Star Fox and Star Wars shooters from the PC, but the story draws from a wide array of sci-fi milestones. The important thing is that Star Battalion is a killer shooter in its own right.
The basic premise of the game is that you and your fellow Resistance fighters are trying to take down the evil Royalists, a group that has assumed power over the galaxy and preys on the weak to spread its dominion. It’s not exactly original, but it gives you missions to complete and bad guys to blow up, so it does the job.
The missions take place in a variety of environments, including a sandy planet (like Tatooine), a snow-covered planet (like Hoth), and a futuristic cityscape (like Coruscant). But the inspiration doesn’t stop with Star Wars. The mission objectives have you doing things like collecting holocubes (similar to energon cubes in Transformers) and stopping the Royalists from building a G.I. Joe-like super weapon. Then there’s the Battlestar Galactica influence, which brings the word “frak” into the characters’ vocabulary and clearly inspired the game’s hectic dogfighting.
Space. It’s out there.
Maneuvering and shooting is what you’ll spend most of your time doing in Star Battalion, so we’re thankful that the controls are great. You can use the accelerometer or an onscreen analog stick to control your ship. Either work fine, but we found the accelerometer to be a little more conducive for precision aiming. You’ll control four different ships throughout the game, all of which can fly at three different speeds and are equipped with machine guns and missiles.
The enemies are smart in Star Battalion, so it takes just the right mix of defense and offense to succeed. Some baddies will pick at you from afar with machine guns, while others try to lock onto you and strike with heat-seeking missiles. Then there are the buggers who get right on your tail to hit you at close range. To survive any type of attack, you have two evasive maneuvers at your disposal– barrel rolls and about-faces, both of which are easily executed by swiping the screen.
But wait, there’s more. Some levels have boss battles that put you and your team up against frigates and star destroyer-sized battleships. To take these down, you’ll usually have to destroy their shield generators and mounted weapons before going in for the kill. None of the enemies are anything we haven’t seen in other space shooters, but that doesn’t make blowing them up them any less fun.
So detailed, your head will explode.
Both local and online multiplayer are offered in Star Battalion, but there’s a big, neon-lit drawback: it’s co-op only, so there’s no deathmatch or versus mode. This is a major oversight for the company that brought us such an impressive multiplayer experience just a couple of weeks ago with Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus.
That said, the multiplayer experience is a smooth one. You can join up with up to two other people either locally or online to play any level you’ve unlocked in the campaign mode. If you go the online route, you have your choice of using Gameloft Live or Apple’s Game Center to make the connection.
We found local multiplayer to be more exciting than playing online, simply because you can communicate with your partner if he or she is right next too you. Online multiplayer doesn’t support voice chat, so it’s impossible to strategize or exchange insults with the other player, making the experience feel sterile. Really, it’s not very different from playing by yourself, except that you can see who’s killed more enemies.
With Star Battalion, Gameloft once again impresses us with gorgeous, Retina-optimized graphics, pitch-perfect controls, and smashingly fun gameplay. We wish deathmatch multiplayer had been included, but with the rest of the package being so fully featured, we can’t complain too much. If you’re into blowing things up (and who isn’t?) pick up Star Battalion for a grand old time.