There seem to be two types of flight game out there, simulation and arcade experiences. Simulators tend to offer a slow paced, but highly realistic experience that usually falls short in the action stakes. The arcade flight/shooter on the other hand offers all the thrills and spills of edge of your seat Top Gun style action, but at the expense of full control, and realism. So why can’t we have the best of both? Well, Above and beyond does a damn fine job of doing just that!
A sequel to Sci Fly – which to be honest I’d never heard of before! – Above and Beyond sees you piloting a fighter jet in what I presume is a future world where global warming has turned most of the world into ocean. The meat of the game is the conquest mode where you get to fly from island to island conquering them by killing all opposition. No UN here, no negotiations, just plain old kill or be killed. Once an island is taken you can fly to the next. Lights between the islands show you whether they have been conquered or not. Red lines show the way to the next island with opposing forces, and islands covered in red are not yet available for attack. When you choose to start conquest from a saved game you get to scroll around looking for an island to start from. This is a tedious moment in the game as there are 60 islands to scroll around. I would preferred to be launched close to the enemy right away instead of spending minutes looking for island to attack.
The controls of Above & Beyond are the best I have ever encountered in a flight game for the iPhone, and it even beats F.A.S.T. You pitch, roll and steer by tilting your iPhone. The auto calibration is spot on, but if you want to readjust it there is a calibrate button in the pause menu. There are on screen buttons for throttle/engine off/primary and secondary weapons. Depending on your weapon configuration the secondary weapon button is visible or not. If you use only one kind of weapon they fire with the same button. The final button on screen is the camera letting you see your aircraft in relation to the closest enemy.
The main selling point of Above & Beyond is the customization. I find it a bit shallow though as you only get to customize which weapons, shields and thrusters to use. New planes and shop items are unlocked as you conquer islands. As you loose money each time you sell a purchased item it is hard to try out what configuration suits you. I prefer to have the same weapon type fitted as they use the same fire button. For example I used four different bullet based weapons for my aircraft creating a barrage of bullets. There isn’t that many different thrusters or shield, and generally I buy what I can afford instead of trying to save up for the best. Still it adds a bit of incentive to play as you want to unlock new planes and buy new weapons.
Besides conquering islands in conquest mode you can race in two different gauntlets or fight of wave after wave in survival mode. To me those modes are filling out the package without actually adding anything exciting other than letting you fly your own craft in new settings.
The aircraft models look great with a definite shine to them. Environments look good with some nice water, and ground textures. Enemy towers, and carriers are a bit bland and quite frankly I think that the game could have had more interesting enemies then just towers, planes and carriers.
I mentioned earlier that you have to scroll around a map to find a good island to start on that is close to an unconquered island. This map looks great, as it is a zoomed in version of the actual environment you get to fly around. Sadly this is also really tedious, as you don’t know if you scroll in the right direction to find any enemies.
Ok electronic music for the action in the game. The sound effects are nice even though as in all shooters some weapon sounds become grating. You can create your own iTunes playlist from within the game.
Best controls yet for a flight shooter, both tilt and touch work great. The tilt controls work great even when lying down in bed or on the beach playing, nice.
The game can get a bit repetitive, and especially when you try to earn cash for new weapons. I think I have conquered all islands, but I don’t know, as there is no indication of how well I am doing. This also reflects in the fact that I upgrade my plane to become a true killer machine, and my enemies flies around in more or less the same wimpy planes since the first encounters. The level of challenge doesn’t match the upgrades I get. Thankfully there are three levels of difficulty, and I have yet to master the hard ace difficulty yet.
With three different levels of difficulty you get several hours of gameplay out of the conquer mode. Trying out your own aircraft in the gauntlet race mode can be quite rewarding. Above & Beyond has achievements and scores through OpenFeint. No online multiplayer though, which is sad as I would like to take my pimped out ride in battle against other human players.
Above & Beyond Air Combat is a great shooter with top-notch controls, great polish and a bit of addictive customization. The lack of online multiplayer keeps Above & Beyond from flying above, and beyond the four star rating.