iPhone + iPad Gems: Warpgate, Virtual City, Surviving High School, The Sims 3 Ambitions, SimCity Deluxe, Civilization Revolution
In today’s iPhone + iPad Gems, we’re taking a quick look at a collection of popular strategy game titles. The first three are originals for the iOS platform that break new ground in their own right, while at the end we cover the evolution of the popular Sims, SimCity and Civilization franchises on the iOS platform.
Unlike many other iPad games on the App Store, Freeverse’s Warpgate HD ($8) was released for the iPad platform first, only later coming to the iPhone and iPod touch as Warpgate ($5). Both applications provide the same gameplay experience, and thanks to integration with Ngmoco’s Plus+ network, players can actually synchronize their game progress between devices, allowing them to pick up and continue the game on whichever device they have readily available. Free trial versions of the game on each platform are also available, allowing players to explore a more limited area of the galaxy.
Warpgate is a galaxy-spanning space exploration game in the tradition of classic games such as StarFlight and Privateer. You begin as a simple trader with a basic mining ship looking to make your fortune by mining and trading. Following a brief tutorial to get you familiar with the game’s controls you’re pretty much left on your own to explore nearby star systems, making money by buying and selling cargo and mining asteroids, which can in turn be used to upgrade components on your ship, or trade it in for a better ship. Before too long, the storyline begins to unfold and you find yourself drawn into a plot of conspiracy and interstellar politics.
In the main game screen, your ship appears in a three-dimensional space field view, although you’re actually only flying in a two-dimensional plane. Tapping on a destination will fly your ship to that point, or you can swipe in the direction you want to travel to simply continue in that direction. You can pan, rotate and zoom on the screen view by using two-fingered multitouch gestures. The game provides a massive environment for the player to explore, with 35 different star systems and hundreds of planets spread across the territory of the galaxy’s six major races, not all of whom will always be friendly toward you. In addition to buying and selling commodities between planets, the game includes hundreds of quests that you can undertake to either advance the story or simply earn money. Navigating between star systems requires travelling through Warpgates, many of which are initially locked until certain quests are completed, limiting your travels and allowing you to gradually expand your exploration as the story unfolds.
Warpgate is primarily about space exploration and less about space combat. Although you will often have to fight it out with various factions, you will find that you spend most of your time flying around space rather than mixing it up in combat, and most engagements are optional—given a tough or fast enough ship, you have the option of ignoring or outrunning hostile forces rather than engaging them. The combat engine is relatively simplified compared to more traditional space shooter games; combat in Warpgate consists mostly of flying around using either the accelerometer or touch screen to avoid incoming enemy fire while simultaneously tapping on-screen controls to fire your own auto-targeted weapons. While skill does factor to a small extent, the winner is generally determined by whoever has the bigger guns and better shields. That said, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a game like this as it benefits those players who are more interested in getting on with the adventure aspect of the game without being incessantly distracted by interstellar dogfighting.
In the end, however, Warpgate remains open-ended even throughout the main storyline. While the plot is engaging enough to make you want to keep coming back and forging ahead, you are still very much in control—in most cases the story is advanced by completing specific quests which can be undertaken at any time, allowing you to move through the game at your own pace. This allows you to easily take a break from the main storyline to go off and earn a few more credits or just fly around and explore a few more planets. The game has no definitive end, and even after you’ve reached the conclusion of the main storyline, you’re left to continue playing and exploring to forge your own path, be it pirate, lawful trader, mercenary for hire or pretty much anything in between.
Warpgate provides an extremely immersive experience with extensive game play that will appeal to fans of the space exploration/adventure genre of games. This is combined with very intuitive touchscreen controls, stunning graphics and an epic soundtrack that draws you further into the game. This is a game best played on the iPad’s larger screen, and it’s clear that Freeverse made the right decision to focus its efforts on the iPad version; the iPhone version provides the same features but lacks the same immersive feel. That said, the ability to automatically synchronize your game progress between devices allows the iPhone to be useful as a companion to the iPad, although a single universal app would be preferred here rather than making players buy both versions separately. iLounge Ratings: A- (Warpgate HD), B+ (Warpgate).
G5 Entertainment’s Virtual City ($3) follows the more traditional path of iOS games, with the iPhone and iPod touch version preceding the later, separate iPad release of Virtual City HD ($10). In fact, G5 actually started with a free, lite version of Virtual City that arrived on the App Store almost a full month before the full version was available, allowing users to get an early preview of the game.
At its most basic level, Virtual City is a city-building strategy game, and the temptation may be to compare it to SimCity, which has become the standard for such games. The similarity between the two, however, both begins and ends with the basic idea that you’re constructing a city. Virtual City is more about micromanagement of industrial supply chains and related factors, and has more in common with games such as Impression Games’ Caesar franchise.
The premise behind Virtual City is that the player has inherited a company, Virtual City Transportation, which has been contracted to solve and cleanup industrial, environmental and economic problems in a series of cities across five U.S. states. You begin with some simple problems in Colorado which serve mostly as a tutorial to introduce the player to the game, and then later move on to California, Montana, Michigan and finally New York. Each state has ten cities with different problems to solve and include terrain and scenarios typical for that state, such as earthquakes in California and auto industry difficulties in Michigan.
Each scenario has a story and specific goals that the player must accomplish, with bonus points for completing the goals within a certain time frame. In most cases the player will have to construct industrial buildings and setup a supply chain between them by purchasing and routing trucks, ultimately delivering finished goods to either a shopping mall or in some cases using them to complete a special project such as a marina or train station. Citizens’ needs must also be managed by setting up mass transit and routing buses to get them to entertainment venues such as shopping malls, theatres and stadiums as well as looking after health and safety by building hospitals and fire stations. The player must also balance this out with environmental factors including handling waste collection and recycling by purchasing garbage trucks and routing them between industrial and residential buildings and a recycling plant. These factors are measured in the form of monthly income, population, citizen happiness and an environmental rating.
Virtual City HD also includes a Sandbox Mode, which will also be coming to the iPhone and iPod touch version in a future update. With Sandbox Mode, players are free to build their own cities from the ground up in an open-ended play style rather than having to meet specific goals. There are five maps available in Sandbox Mode representing each of the five states in the game; the map for each state is unlocked by completing the scenarios in that state.
Any fan of the city-building and management style of game play will find Virtual City to be fun and engaging, and the fifty included scenarios are challenging and diverse enough to provide for hours of play without feeling repetitive. iLounge Rating: B+.
Surviving High School ($1) by Electronic Arts is a very different style of game from other titles typically released by EA. The game is actually an evolution of a game that began its life as a mobile phone game created by a small developer named Centerscore back in 2005. Centerscore was later acquired by Vivendi and then ultimately by Electronic Arts, leading to the iPhone version of Surviving High School which remains in the hands of Centerscore’s original founder, who now works at EA.
Surviving High School is essentially an illustrated text adventure akin to a digital version of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. The main game puts the player in the role of a new student at Centerscore High who has aspirations of making quarterback on the football team and must work at this while also balancing popularity, schoolwork and dating. The game unfolds as players interact with other characters and make choices that determine the paths they will follow, and how they are viewed by their peers. In addition to making decisions in the game, you will also encounter a few simple mini-games that you must complete to advance further, such as word searches, multiple choice questions, and football plays.
While the main game, Football Season, has enough twists and choices to provide some interesting replay value, what really distinguishes Surviving High School is the approach that EA has taken in providing an ongoing storyline. Each week, a new “episode” is released which puts the player into the role of different characters at Centerscore High. The episodes are presented with a television-style delivery, organized by season with the weekly “Now Airing” episode playable for free and all previous episodes available “On Demand” as in-app purchases for $1 each. The episodes are generally much shorter and more linear than the main game, but still provide good entertainment value on a regular basis, and are interrelated enough with each other to draw the player into the lives of the kids at Centerscore High. Most episodes also include an optional bonus scene at the end that is shown as a reward for making all of the correct choices during the episode. Additional bonus content can also be purchased from the on demand section, such as new, longer mega-packs in the style of the main Football Season game. As of this writing a total of 51 individual episodes and six premium content packs have been released since the game’s debut in November 2009.
Surviving High School is a surprisingly enjoyable game despite its rather basic user interface and limited mini-games. Players who enjoy adventure games with fun and interesting story lines will find a lot to like here, and with a new episode released for free each week, the $1 price tag offers great value. Those who enjoy the story and want to catch up on the plot may find themselves spending a bit more to grab the older, on-demand episodes, which sell for $5 per 20-episode season, or $1 each, but it’s not at all necessary to purchase the older episodes to enjoy the experience going forward. iLounge Rating: B+.
Electronic Arts has built a huge franchise on the PC and Mac around The Sims series of games, with three generations of The Sims that each included multiple expansion packs to add new content and expand these virtual worlds in which players live virtual lives. It’s therefore little surprise that EA has brought the same approach to the iPhone platform, with an initial release of The Sims 3 that was later followed up by The Sims 3 World Adventures and now The Sims 3 Ambitions ($5). Despite in-app purchasing, the iOS platform and App Store still don’t allow for the same type of expandability that can be offered on a PC/Mac, and EA has therefore released each iteration in The Sims series as a completely new title rather than simply an expansion pack on the original. In deference to the fact that players may have built up a character that they like from one of the other versions of the game, all of The Sims 3 games allow you to export and import your character by saving a picture in the iOS Photo Album.
The Sims 3 Ambitions retains all of the same game play elements as the original The Sims 3 for the iPhone and iPod touch (iLounge Rating: A-), and the premise continues to be a relatively simple one: create a virtual person and lead them through a virtual life, taking care of basic needs such as entertainment, rest and hygiene, while also earning income, meeting other virtual people and building relationships.
The Sims 3 Ambitions provides a new neighborhood and three significant new features from the earlier title, bringing the iPhone and iPod touch version more on par with what users have expected to see from the desktop version. In the original iPhone game, your character needed to find a job, but this consisted primarily of a means to earn income and amounted to little more than a place they had to show up each day and get paid. As the name implies, Ambitions focuses more on a career mode where the character pursues an actual career path, taking jobs, visiting locations and playing mini-games to further themselves in their chosen career. Players now also have the option of performing full renovations on their home rather than merely upgrading to a pre-fabricated larger house. A new build mode allows users to knock down walls, add windows and doors and even build whole new rooms onto their homes. The same capability is also added for businesses and workplaces, allowing players to create a business within the game to match their career goals.
Finally, The Sims 3 Ambitions introduces the ability to have babies in the game, a feature that many felt was a significant omission from the earlier iPhone titles. A baby may result from engaging in a bit of WooHoo with another character, whether you want one or not, and much like in real life, having a baby adds an extra dimension to the game, requiring you to balance pursuing career goals with looking after your virtual infant. Sim babies will grow into Sim toddlers with additional needs that the player must take into consideration, but don’t seem to grow beyond that into teenagers, which may be a good or bad thing depending on your point of view.
The Sims 3 Ambitions continues the tradition of being one of the most ambitious and sophisticated games for the iOS platform; EA has pushed the envelope even further with this latest release, which manages to deliver what many users felt was missing from the earlier titles when compared to the PC/Mac platform; that said, the new content might have been better suited to a Sims 3 expansion pack and lower price rather than a second full game download. iLounge Rating: A-.
SimCity Deluxe ($5) by Electronic Arts is essentially an upgraded version of the company’s earlier SimCity for the iPhone and iPod touch (iLounge Rating: B+). The game remains very similar to the original with improvements to the graphics and controls, support for seasons, and new season-specific disasters that can befall your city. SimCity Deluxe also adds seven new starter cities that you can begin with rather than building from scratch.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in SimCity Deluxe is the support for actually modifying terrain for your city—a feature that was conspicuously missing from the original title. Unfortunately, the new terraforming feature is available when starting a new city only; once you’ve finalized things and gone into “Mayor” mode, you’re stuck with whatever you laid out originally, which means you’ll have to plan ahead. This is in contrast to the PC/Mac versions of SimCity, which have always allowed for minute terrain adjustments after the fact, albeit at a price. On the upside, however, many of the construction projects that may have previously required manual terrain adjustment, such as building bridges, now handle this automatically as part of the construction process.
The iPhone version of SimCity Deluxe remains a very enjoyable game for fans of the genre, and some of the new enhancements make it even more fun: the new disasters, scenarios and starter cities do add some new flavor to the game, and the graphics improvements are also definitely welcome. However, some may question whether a whole new separate “Deluxe” edition was really necessary for what is essentially the same game with new graphics, a bit of new content and what amounts to bug fixes from the original. It’s also worth noting that the game does not provide Retina Display art, and still feels a bit cramped on the smaller iPhone screen. An iPad version is scheduled for release in November, but will likely be sold as a separate title, so users who own both devices may be best off waiting to see what that version brings to the table. iLounge Rating: B.
2K Games’ Civilization Revolution for iPad ($13) is primarily an iPad version of the acclaimed iPhone and iPod touch title (iLounge Rating: A-). Added screen size alone makes the upgrade worthwhile, as this genre of strategy games benefits greatly from the larger display area and higher resolution available on the iPad. However, the new version goes beyond this, adding a World/Scenario Creator to allow players to generate customized maps and adjust game parameters to create their own scenarios and game types.
Otherwise, game play remains much the same as in the iPhone and iPod touch version, although there’s not only more detail on the maps, but also user interface improvements that provide a better play experience. As with the iPhone and iPod touch version, the game is based on the console version of the same name, which was inspired by the original PC/Mac Civilization series. The primary objective of the game is to build your fledgling civilization from a group of nomadic settlers into a world power by pursuing diplomacy, war, culture, trade and science. Players can choose from one of sixteen historical civilizations and can either play on an open-ended random map with multiple possible victory conditions or choose from one of the same ten built-in scenarios found in the iPhone and iPod touch version.
Although Civilization Revolution for iPad is essentially the same game as its iPhone and iPod counterpart, the higher resolution and larger screen makes it feel entirely new in many ways, and provides a much more immersive gaming experience. That said, at $13 it is easily one of the most expensive games on the App Store today, and is sold separately from the $7 iPhone and iPod touch version, rather than being offered as a universal app. Die-hard Civilization fans may consider the price tag to be reasonable enough even for both apps when compared to the normal $30 asking price of the console version, but the price of entry for the iPad version alone may also discourage more casual gamers. iLounge Rating: A-..
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