Hollywood learned long ago that “cool explosions” were easy tricks to excite audiences, and the perennial popularity of military-themed video games has been due in equal parts to impressive visual effects and compelling gameplay. Today, some of the most popular console games are Call of Duty, Gears of War and Halo—first- and third-person war-based shooters that are far from being available on the iPhone, no matter how much we might enjoy playing them.
But there are ways to wage war within the confines of your iPhone’s screen. This edition of iPhone Gems looks at six different war games, though we’re using the term broadly to include five separate genres of titles that different types of players might find interesting. While none of these games qualifies as “great” in our book, our favorite of the bunch was a free game from the Discovery Channel called Cannon Challenge; skip straight to that one if you want something fun to play at a better price than the rest of these titles.
Tank Ace 1944
There are two reasons that Chillingo’s Tank Ace 1944 ($6) might appeal to iPhone and iPod touch gamers: first, it’s one of relatively few games on the platform to use a legitimate 3-D graphics engine, rendering tanks, trucks, ground, mountains, and water with textured polygonal shapes. You can actually control a tank as it rolls through European countryside, tilt its cannon, and destroy other tanks; three total third-person views, two behind the tank and one above it, are available, one only for the purpose of precisely aiming your turret and cannon for elevated shots.
The other draw, for military buffs at least, is being able to play in somewhat familiar surroundings. Depending on the army you choose to fight for—Allies, Germans, or Soviets—you get a different tank and start in a different part of the continent, with either winter or summer artwork. Your goal is to destroy tanks, keep yourself good with fuel and ammo by smashing supply trucks, and basically to continue advancing on your enemy’s capitol city. Drive your tank into the water and you die. Get hit too many times and you die. That’s pretty much it.
Unfortunately, Tank Ace 1944 is as dull as nails—only a little more evolved in gameplay than the old Atari VCS/2600 game Combat, which similarly had players rolling around maze-like environments and blasting at enemy tanks. While photographically appealing, the environments are in practice very sterile, and the presentation of the art is non-dynamic; you roll through a series of fixed camera scenes rather than seeing the world move smoothly around you. Sometimes, enemies fire at you from off-screen, and vice-versa; controlling your tank is also not especially fun. The only saving grace is that the title has apparently dropped in price from Chillingo’s original asking price of $11 down to $6; pretty pictures aside, we think it still has a ways to go. iLounge Rating: C-.
To be clear up front, we’re not going to say that Discovery Communications’ Cannon Challenge (Free) is a breakthrough iPhone game, or even that it’s especially deep. It is, however, both a smart little time-waster and a novel form of advertising for the Discovery Channel’s TV show Future Weapons. You’re placed in command of a “Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon,” a tank with the ability to fire rounds on arcs to hit targets scattered across a landscape. With limited ammo, you need to judge your cannon’s elevation and power to make sure that all of the targets are neutralized. Other than these adjustments and a firing button, there’s nothing more to do.
As simple as the gameplay may be, the colorful and visually varied 15 stages in Cannon Challenge kept us playing from start to finish—admittedly, a half an hour or maybe an hour, tops. It’s based upon a web-based Discovery version and appears to share downsampled art and the same powerful cannon sound effect, with the benefit of smoother touch-based controls and pick-up, put-down convenience. Great? No. But fun for what it is, and modestly educational on the NLOS Cannon concept? Sure. iLounge Rating: B.
Battle at Sea and ChartFight
The classic board game Battleship has been remade numerous times, with Gameloft’s Naval Battle: Mission Commander standing as an especially good $5 version for Click Wheel iPod fans. Until the company gets around to re-releasing it for the iPhone, however, people will have to make do with a couple of overpriced but somewhat interesting alternatives. The first is Pelted Software’s Battle at Sea ($5), which uses fairly boring ship artwork against a sonar-styled backdrop for presentation of the “pick a square to fire upon” action.
Where Battle at Sea engaged us a little, however, was in its single major setting option: the game has a one-shot-per-turn “classic” mode and a default mode where you get up to five shots per turn, speeding up the pace of the game. Neither this nor the inclusion of a wireless multiplayer mode make up for the lack of any number of great features that were in Naval Battle, justifying the $5 asking price, but this is a decent start at a complete game; we may consider looking at it again if the developer finishes making it compelling enough to pay for. iLounge Rating: C-.
Mutant Piano Software’s ChartFight ($5) takes a slightly different slant on the same Battleship theme. Here, the fleet is presented symbolically on top of an old world paper-styled map, you’re given 11 ships to destroy, and you set an on-screen slider before taking your shots. A split-screen feature also lets you see your own map as it’s being fired upon; as with typical Battleship titles, you get one shot per turn.
As with Battle at Sea, there’s a multiplayer mode that depends on you to be on the same wireless network as your opponent, and the premise of having more ships to destroy increases the density of hits relative to misses. However, Chart Fight doesn’t include the sound effects found in Battle at Sea, its presentation is a cute idea but not all that visually interesting, and the lack of settings to revert to more traditional or more expanded gameplay also bring it to a lower overall rating from our perspective. It’s a little better than a pure demo, but certainly not worth paying $5 for. iLounge Rating: D+.
Most of the games we’re looking at today are based on historic or contemporary battles. PHD Gaming’s Alien Invasion (
$2 $1) is one of those “future war” titles—you know, the “what happens when aliens attack Earth” kind. While not exactly worthy of the developer’s name, Alien Invasion falls into the “not a bad time-waster” category once you know what you’re doing.
The screen is filled with an image of a city. Red flying saucers appear. You touch the screen to blow up the saucers… but not the ones with tiny abducted people at their bottoms. You rack up points every time you blow up one or more ships at a time without hurting captured citizens, who for whatever reason are left unscathed so that the aliens can enjoy them. Hit a few ships with captives and you die. Hit the occasional green ship to replentish your life, or a glowing ship to trigger a massive explosion. It’s all simple, and probably not worth the original $2 asking price, but for $1 it’s not bad; there’s even simple music here. Better ship artwork and more precise firing controls would make Alien Invasion a lot more fun. iLounge Rating: C+.
Battle of Waterloo
Our final title today is TouchTomes’ Battle of Waterloo ($4), which takes a completely different angle from the rest of the war games here. There’s no action. There are no explosions—well, at least not animated ones, and that’s not an entirely bad thing. Instead, Battle of Waterloo is a Choose Your Own Adventure book, providing a narrative story of the famed British battle against Napoleon on land that’s now in Belgium. You’re supposed to defeat Napoleon, and there are apparently 27 different ways to reach endings other than losing to him.
We use the word “apparently” only because this title isn’t worth playing 27 times, or for that matter, even once given how poorly it has been structured. Five or fewer choices can lead to one of the official endings, as the story is presented through extremely lengthy narrative passages rather than real interactions on behalf of the player. They’re occasionally accompanied by art, but much of the game is spent just reading through a storyline that’s supposed to be educational, and may well inform someone who needs to be versed in the Battle, but isn’t really compelling for anyone else. One gets the sense that the story and illustrations were whipped together, a very simple forking structure was devised to move through them, and a pricetag was picked to try and see what people would pay for something so simple. Unfortunately, the price is too high for something so mediocre; it could have been made, and better, with Hypercard on the original Macintosh. Our advice is to read the Battle of Waterloo Wikipedia entry; it’s free, more interestingly illustrated, and far more educational. iLounge Rating: D.