StarFront: Collision iPad Hands-On Preview

The last new game we played at Gameloft today, in addition to N.O.V.A. 2, Shadow Guardian, and Eternal Legacy, was StarFront: Collision. This real-time strategy game has a sci-fi theme, with three different races: Humans, bug aliens, and noble, energy-based cyborgs. Sound familiar?

StarFront: Collision (sorry, no screenshots yet) borrows more than a page from Blizzard’s landmark RTS StarCraft– it borrows the whole book. Instead of Terran, Zerg, and Protoss, you play as the Consortium, Myriad, and Wardens. Fortunately, in StarFront each race seems about as distinct as they are in StarCraft.

Scenes from the cinematic trailer.

We played both the single-player story campaign and a few rounds of the skirmish mode, to try out each different race. The Consortium are the heavily armored humans, stomping around in mech suits with tanks and artillery for backup. Their storyline starts with a squad stumbling on a decimated base. You then have to find a working headquarters, begin producing “drudges” to collect gems and energy, and build up your army.

The two alien races, the insect-like Myriads and metallic, priestly Wardens, represent opposite ends of the resources vs. strength spectrum. The Myriad are weak, but you can hatch a brood very quickly and rush your opponents. We loved the way their worker grubs move around by flopping end-over-end like a Slinky going down the stairs.

The Wardens require a lot of resources to produce, but just one basic fighter can stand toe to toe with a single Myriad or human Consortium fighter and win every time. They’re technologically advanced, expensive, and effective.

Scenes from the cinematic trailer.

Gameloft has done an admirable job of cramming a full RTS interface onto the iPad’s touchscreen. You can zip around with a minimap, assign squads to one of three groups, and give commands to patrol an area. You can also select a group with multitouch, or by hitting a group button at the bottom of the screen.

While the user interface we used was obviously a placeholder, with low-res text and menus, the rest of the game looked quite good. You can zoom in and out slightly with a slider on the left side, and we were impressed by environmental details like vapors emitting from a glowing crack in the ground.

In addition to the single-player story and skirmish modes, you’ll also be able to play with up to three other players in local and online matches. Gameloft Live is the matchmaking service for now, but by the time the game launches in January, Game Center might be integrated as well.

There are a lot of great RTS games already available on iDevices, like Command and Conquer and Armada – Galactic War, but this is the only one we’ve played that actually feels like StarCraft. Why wait for Blizzard to get on the iPad, when StarFront will be here in January? Both the launch date and the RTS gameplay are close enough to count.

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