When evil galactic empires rise to power through corruption and terror, you can always count on a small group of determined rebels to thwart their plans at every turn. Seriously, you'd think that they'd have taken out rebellion insurance by now. The ragtag band of do-gooders du jour is Orion Force, an elite fighter squadron under the command of ace pilot Sonan who have to liberate the galaxy one system at a time.
Star Battalion is an arcade flight sim with a heavy emphasis on accessible dogfighting and ground offensives. The vast majority of the stages involve taking down multiple spawning enemy units, weaving through incoming fire and frequently taking on multi-stage bosses by targeting their weak points. It's a tried, true and tired formula to be sure, but Star Battalion succeeds at revitalising the experience by absolutely nailing the fundamentals. A selection of ships packing different stats and armaments provide markedly unique combat opportunities, and a surprisingly capable storyline ensures that players will remain glued to their handsets.
Shooters ultimately live or die based on how effectively they marshal the iPhone's unique motion control capabilities, so its lucky that Star Battalion features one of the most responsive gyroscopic inputs I've ever encountered. Tilting the device to pitch and yaw soon becomes far more intuitive than the virtual thumbstick; leaving players free to trigger barrel rolls and quick turns by swiping across the screen. Convenient throttle controls and weapon icons lie readily to hand- and to be quite honest, Star Battalion leads a masterclass in how iPhone apps ought to handle. Intimidating dogfights and precision bombing runs become child's play after only a few minutes of practice. You'll feel like a Top Gun in no time!
Gameloft are no slouches when it comes to presentation, and Star Battalion is no exception. The iPhone 4 and iPad versions look fantastic and exhibit a stable frame rate, though the SD edition frequently chugs during pitched battles. Luckily the eyecatching art design helps to alleviate this problem. Ambient backgrounds, especially those set in space itself, are beautiful and worthy of special mention.
It's difficult to fault Star Battalion on a technical level, but it's a shame that a level design isn't entirely up to scratch. Most stages take only a few minutes to complete and display extremely similar objectives. Kill a wave of bad guys. Kill another one. Then a boss... and back to base before the kettle boils. It's also important to note that invisible walls, overly scripted events and other similar videogame nasties sometimes make an unwelcome appearance. This would be a major concern if Star Battalion was a boxed release on the PC- but since it's an app that's designed for short and sweet sessions, I can't really judge it too harshly. Replaying levels for higher scores and shinier medals is much more important than the first playthrough.
- Responsive gyroscopic controls
- Excellent presentation
- Accessible and addictive action
- Short stages
- Unstable frame rate during large battles
- Inconsistent level design
Summary: Star Battalion consistently delivers high-octane thrills; complimented by a control scheme that's little short of perfection itself. Whilst the short levels may frustrate genre veterans, the vast majority of gamers owe it to themselves to give this cracking shooter a try. Orion Force needs you!
- HD Version compatible with iPad. Requires iOS 3.2 or later.
- SD Version compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.2 or later.
Score: 4/5 stars