Prior to now, did you wish you could play StarCraft on your iPhone? Of course you did. But apparently Blizzard was too busy working on the PC end of things to bother with iOS, so Gameloft swooped in with one of their most thinly veiled lookalikes yet, called Starfront: Collision. But what they’ve come up with is an extremely impressive real-time strategy game that works amazingly well on the small screen.
Similar to the source material, in Starfront you can play as three different factions– human miners called the Consortium, an insect-like race of aliens called the Myriad, and a band of robots called the Warden. The troops and equipment available to the factions are similar, but each one has a few special features and abilities.
I’ll bet $40 on blue.
The opening tutorial does a tremendous job of acquainting you with the basics of the gameplay. It tells you everything you need to know about constructing buildings, placing equipment, mining for resources, upgrading your gear, creating and deploying troops, and attacking enemies. It also shows you how to zoom, pan, and quick-shift the camera across the map, along with all of the other things you’d expect to be able to do in a fully-featured real-time strategy game. The big achievement here is how easy to grasp it all is, even for RTS newbies.
A big chunk of the game is the Campaign mode, which is made up of 16 levels that walk you through the storyline. As you mosey through the missions, you’ll spend time playing as all three factions. Each level gives you certain objectives, like ‘survive until the rescue team comes,’ or ‘sneak through enemy territory,’ or, simply, ‘wipe out the alien bastards.’ The objectives vary quite a bit, keeping the campaign from feeling like a grind.
In general, missions go like this: you start off with a few members of the worker class, and you’ll use them to build the infrastructure that lets you populate your side of the map with as many troops as you can, from soldiers, tanks, and helicopters if you’re playing as the humans, to grubs, banekites, and flame aphids if you’re the playing as the aliens. Seasoned players will send scouts into the fog of war early on to get an idea of where the enemy is hiding out and how much fire power they’re up against. Once you have a big enough army, the assault begins.
I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.
Each level contains several checkpoints that you can re-boot from if you meet an untimely end. You can save your progress at any time– something that comes in handy when you’re playing on the go. And if you close the app, you’ll find yourself exactly where you left off when you open it back up.
And that’s just the Campaign mode. Next up is the Multiplayer mode, which is sure to be a major time-suck for the serious RTS crowd. You can play multiplayer matches locally or online, and you can customize them to your heart’s content. Seven maps are available, all with suitably distinct geography. You can play one-on-one, two-on-two, or free for all matches. You can even save videos of your matches and watch them back later, with the ability to fast-forward at will. But like any online game with matches that can span well past the half-hour mark, your opponents can and will drop out in the middle of play.
There’s also a single-player Skirmish mode that lets you play multiplayer matches against the computer. Here you can pick from four difficulty levels– which is great– but for some reason you can’t do two-on-two matches.
Don’t pee on the electric fence.
One very important aspect of RTS games is faction balancing. As far as we can tell, the different factions seem to be on equal ground, mostly because they’re technically pretty similar to one another. Once players get a better feel for the game, the abilities that make the factions unique might boost one faction ahead of the rest, but for now they seem to be on an even keel.
Presentation-wise, the game looks and sounds very good overall. Some of the text appears pixelated, as though it it’s not optimized for Retina display devices, but most of the game looks sharp. With all of the information they fit on the screen, it feels a little cramped, but less than you’d probably expect. Still, if you have an iPad, you might want to wait and get the HD version when it comes out.
From the sheer amount of content alone, Starfront is a heck of a bargain even at its premium (for iOS) price. Add to that the friction-free controls, appealing presentation, and mobile-friendly details, and you’ve got a very impressive package indeed. You wanted StarCraft on the iPhone. This is as close as you’ll get for a long time to come.