Having been out for roughly a month, it’s high time to take a look at one of Gameloft’s most recent endeavors, the iPhone real-time-strategy title, Starfront – Collision. Originally free with an in-app purchase to unlock the full game, the title has more recently been re-released as a fully paid app at $6.99 — likely due to the vast number of user complaints on the matter. But is the iOS strategy game worth the price, especially considering the unoriginal premise.
Strikingly similar to Blizzard Entertainment’s StarCraft franchise, the game still manages to stand out with some quality game-play and an impressive adaptation of real-time strategy control schemes to a mobile device.
Players engage in battle on a planet by the name of Sinistral in which three very different races are attempting to control a rare resource by the name of Xenodium. There’s your typical space marine group called the Consortium – essentially the Terran. There is your “Zerg” group of bug-like critters called the Myriad. And, of course, there is your alien super race (Protoss) of sentient robots called the Wardens. Each group comes with its own unique set of abilities, and truth be told are actually, individually, well balanced. Of course, some of the aspects of units feel heavily inspired by StarCraft.
What is interesting, however, is that once the user gets past this reused premise, the game actually begins to adopt a life of its own. As a whole, the play is nothing drastically pioneering as far as RTS titles go, but with a basic storyline across a respectable number of single player missions, the ability to battle AI opponents in random skirmishes, and multiplayer modes (more on that in a bit), the game can still be pretty fun and challenging.
The biggest praise for Starfront is the adaptation of complex RTS controls to an iOS. Traditionally, these strategy games have been more or less exclusive to the PC simply because of the tremendous amount of micromanagement and control required. Resources, population caps, armies, production, and enemy attacks are all just a few concerns that are standard to this type of game.
With Starfront, everything is a bit more streamlined and contextual. Every UI element is within a thumb’s distance away, with each unit and building hosting a contextual menu (for commands, upgrades, and so on) that appears on the right of the screen. Additionally, units are selected, individually, with a tap and in groups by drawing a square around them with two fingers and can then be assigned to up to three quick selection groups on the left side of the screen. This allows the user to switch between groups of units quickly and effectively.
RTS players may also be familiar with attack, hold, patrol, and move commands for units. Typically, these are controlled via a contextual menu, but with Starfront, two of the four have been made contextual based on tapping. While hold and patrol commands are still buttons that need be tapped, attack movements (meaning the units will move to a point and attack anything in between) are issued by merely a tap, while move commands (moving to a point and ignoring enemy fire) is done by a tap and hold.
Regarding any other control merits, camera controls are done with sliding and can have its sensitivity adjusted; something more games need. Also, many of the UI elements can be collapsed, keeping the screen fairly uncluttered.
The only real downside to the controls is the previously noted drawing of the marquee to select groups of units. It requires the user to basically pinch zoom around them with the opposite corners (e.g. top left and bottom right) which can be a little awkward initially. It’s not a huge deal with the smaller iPhone, but should the game make it’s way to iPad an adaptation of this would be preferable.
All this streamlining also ties into the play as well. All three races collect resources, which consists of Xenodium and Energy, automatically by placing a structure on a corresponding node. Placing the building will consume the worker unit that was set out to build it, and in order to more effectively gather these resources, more worker units must be assigned to it; again, consuming the unit. What this does, is provide an effective means for users to gather resources, without having to continually worry about these units and their population cost (as a side note, further streamlining comes in upgrading the population cap, which can be increased via building upgrades). Additionally, each resource building can be upgraded to hold more workers.
While all the different factions contain the same production methodology, the units, and how they work is what gives them their different flavors. It’s something that is seen most effectively in the game’s competitive online multiplayer mode, which supports up to four players. Multiplayer can be done both locally and online. On top of this, players can also connect to Gameloft LIVE! 2.0 and compete via leaderboards as well. It’s not all perfect though. While the game units are fairly balanced individually, the title as a whole does have a bit of a dominant strategy.
Many players tend to lean towards the “Rush” strategy, which is essentially where users attempt to build up a small force and attack the opponent before they have constructed much of a defense. This is typically done within the first five minutes or less (depending on the game). It’s not that this is a bad strategy to employ, but its effectiveness is so high that it tends to overshadow other potential strategies, effectively turning the match into a “who can build the most units fastest” contest; a result that is far less interesting than a battle that uses all the units the game has to offer.
In the end Starfront – Collision suffers from one of the same issues that plagued its last game, Sacred Odyssey: Rise of Ayden, and that is that the game’s premise is far too similar to that of another, and well known, title. Even so, Gameloft does come through with a fairly different playing core and an excellent adaptation of RTS controls to iOS. There are a few kinks here and there, but nothing terribly dramatic, and with around 20 single player missions, AI skirmish modes, and online multiplayer, there will be plenty for players to do for a long time.