In his latest Ovi Gaming review, Ewan takes to the skies in Polarbit's strangely realistic WW2 aviation shoot 'em up. With Armageddon Squadron often being sighted in the Ovi Store for free, this is definitely one to snap up, even if you'll need decent flying skills and plenty of patience to progress all the way to the end.
Armageddon Squadron has to be one of the coolest names for a game that I've seen in a long time. Put together by Polarbit, this World War Two-based shooter has the looks to go alongside the cool name, with some of the best 3D graphics on S60 in a long time. Ask it about realism though, and you might get a different answer.
This is squarely in arcade game territory - no matter that I think the graphics engine could easily cope with a full flight simulator, the controls that are available on the touch screen S60 devices mean that controlling a full flight model would just be way too complicated. Rather than compromise, I think Polarbit have made a smart decision to go for fun rather than 'real life'.
Because this is a fun game – hurling fighter-bomber planes around the sky, with massive bomb-loads to take out ground targets, cannons to shoot anything that moves, and guided missiles to take out enemy aircraft. So what if your regular WWII fighter could carry about 15 seconds of ammunition, a handful of unguided rockets and maybe one or two 100lb bombs? I can see where Polarbit have made the concessions and it's a smart call.
What of those controls? Without a great big joystick or yoke, they've gone for the control system du jour, using the tilt sensors built into modern devices. Mimicking your actions on the screen, you turn your aircraft by physically turning your phone left and right – the game is played in landscape mode – climbing and diving is done by twisting the phone towards and away from you. Let's forget about the rudder...
The controls aren't particularly crisp, you're going to have to think ahead and flatten out your turn in advance of pointing towards where you want to go; visibility is quite poor, especially when you switch to bombing mode and are looking down for your target; the throttle is awkward to alter; and trying to find enemy fighters is either looking for a tiny dot in the distance or watching a wing pass under your own.
To be honest, the controls are the most realistic thing in the package – take it from someone who has flown in light aircraft in the past, mushy controls and thinking far in advance is one of the key skills. So while you might think something is wrong, it is in fact just right. Strange that Polarbit have kept this part of Armageddon Squadron feeling more like a simulation.
Because flying around is the main part of the game – two out of three of your weapons (namely the cannon and the air to air missiles) will lock onto the targets automatically and you just need to mash your thumb in the red circle on the side of the screen to fire. The third weapon, bombs, will just drop and you get a handy circle showing where they will land. Just move yourself so this flies over the target (handily in a larger green circle) and let the explosives rain down.
Assuming you can get the hang of the controls and are still enjoying the game (I suspect there will be some of you that just give up with the tilting interface), you'll find a pretty decent game under here. With twelve missions to undertake, each one taking a good few attempts to actually finish, this is not going to be a few days of combat, this is going to takes weeks, or even months to finish. Partly because there are no mid-level checkpoints.
Is it fair to have to restart a level from the very beginning when you've spent 10-15 minutes and are almost there before getting shot down? Frankly yes, it's nice to have a hard game in which you can actually lose for once. This isn't a pick up and play for a few minutes title, this is a game you will need to spend time with.
The missions themselves have good variety – starting with straight ahead 'kill everything in sight', to more prosaic actions such as defending a village or blowing up a dam (although with torpedoes, and not the bouncing bomb that skips over the historical anti torpedo nets). It's unlikely you'll get bored because of the challenges.
Armageddon Squadron is a weird one – all the elements that should make it a bad game actually add to the challenge and make it worthwhile, yet the exciting elements that would normally lift up a game seem to drag down this title back down. There is a game here though, and there will be a fanatical crowd that will love it. Others will not be able to forgive the sluggish controls or will be comparing the 3D graphics to what they can find on their Xbox.
That's good in a way – games should create strong emotion in those playing, and Armageddon Squadron clearly does that. There'll be no converts to this style of gaming, but the faithful should be sated.
-- Ewan Spence, April 2010.