Space!… the final frontier! Well, not really… particularly in video gaming, where space games flood the market with shoot’em ups, real time strategy, first person shooters and platformers… space it seems, is far from empty!
So amongst all this clutter and, indeed, space junk. It’s good when a title comes a long that can remain fresh and exciting. Cue Galaxy on Fire, Fish Labs sprawling Space opera, a 3D adventure where you play as Keith T Maxwell, a Han Solo-esque space pilot with the Galaxy as his playground.
The universe of Galaxy on fire has many different civilisations, or un-civilised in some cases, but the main two are Humans (Terrans) and the Vossk (alien). These two are in a long and brutal war with each other… it’s up to you to decide where your allegiance should lie.
The game begins with you taking on a simple task of clearing some space junk… a perfect time then to get acquainted with the controls. You have two options available: accelerometer and touch. The accelerometer option has you titling the device to move your ship in 3D space. Much like a flight simulator you tilt forward to dive and tilt back to climb, tilting left to right steers, or banks, the spacecraft in that direction [you can also invert the controls, but I don't why you would want to do that]. The touch option gives you an on screen analogue stick, which handles the movement. Both options handle firing and speed boosts via the same touch controls on the right side of the screen. You should choose the option you are most comfortable with, both work extremely well, but I prefer tilt for it’s more realistic flight feel.
Forward motion is automatic, with you travelling at a constant speed. A boost is available, but only for a short time until it is replenished. Weapons feature an auto fire mode, which can be turned on or off in game, and is very useful in longer battles. Ship to ship fighting is pretty straight forward, when to far away to see, an enemy ship appears as a red dot on your screen. When it nears a small bounding box appears around the ship as well as a health bar. When viewed from the side, a cross appears in front of the ship indicating where to shoot for damage. As long as you shoot in that general direction you’ll land successful shots, just as long as you can keep up and not get out manoeuvred.
Once you have cleared your first janitorial-like mission, things begin to get more interesting as you are swept up in the galactic war and sent on missions against the Vossk. These include: shepherding a space convey safely to its destination; search and destroying the enemy; and make important deliveries. As well as these missions for the Terran fleet, you’ll take part in the occasional dodgy-dealing with an assortment of Alien scum, but these do tend to pay better! As with life, money is important in GOF. You start out with a basic ship, but it can be upgraded with more powerful weaponry and equipment between missions at spaceport hangers. Eventually, you can purchase more powerful ships, but for now these simply tease you in the space showrooms. As well as buying, you can also sell equipment and any loot you may have picked up along the way.
The opening twelve missions serve as an introduction of sorts, setting the scene and introducing the characters, civilisations and worlds you will encounter through a brief but enjoyable storyline. Once past these, GOF opens up into a much larger, sandbox style game, and it’s here where the game really begins to shine, so you try your best to stick with it up to this point. I won’t ruin the story, but you are given a hyper drive for your ship, which lets you visit the far, reaches of the Galaxy. The galaxy is split into four quadrants, and from a map that appears, you can select a quadrant, and zoom-in to be presented by smaller systems to visit. Tap on a system and it zooms in once more to present you with that system’s planets and spaceports, which you can visit. On arriving at a destination you can buy or sell equipment and loot, and most importantly view the list of missions available.
Depending on where you visit, these missions can change your allegiance, especially if you decide to only accept missions at Vossk outposts and worlds. The further out you go from the centre of the galaxy, the more money you can earn in missions. However, you must balance this with the cost it takes to travel to that destination. The further out, the more it costs. Once you get to the stage where you are earning the big bucks, you can outfit your existing ship with weapons and shield upgrades… or even better, buy a new ship, such as the terran fighter or vossk fighters… these are generally faster, more manoeuvrable and can be upgraded with super powered weaponry, capable of destroying enemy ships with one or two shots.
Note: This is a review of v.1.1.0, which fixed the following issues from the original release
- Graphics wobbling bug fixed
· Difficulty level adjustable
· In-game loading times reduced
· Lead (aiming ahead) support
· Some gameplay improvements
· Some minor bugs fixed
· Some minor improvements
Galaxy on fire is a beautiful looking game. The ships are well modelled and come in a variety of sizes and shapes from small fighters to large freighters and giant warships. Each one emits an energy trail, which twists and turns with the ships like a dancer twirling a ribbon on a stick! Space can be a barren looking place, but Fishlabs have created some great space backgrounds with giant clusters of stars and a variety of planetoids. As you move, space dust rushes past which gives a good impression of speed, as well as the planets slowly moving towards you. If you boost the entire background zooms towards you and then settles back as you your boost expires, which looks great. As well as the main game, the menus are easy to navigate with in the main menu, and when you are visiting spaceports and planets.
The controls, as mentioned before, work a treat. Piloting your ship is great fun thanks to sharp touch and tightly integrated accelerometer controls. Many missions are on the short side, for pick up and play gaming, but sometimes I’d like to simply kick back and fly around endlessly and engage in a tussle with space pirates.
The game feels epic in scope, thanks to the star map, with many star systems to visit it will be a while before you have completed every mission and earned all the cash you can carry. Yes the game does require completion of those early missions to allow you to see what the game has to offer, but that is all part of the journey [you can always set the game difficulty to easy on the fly, if you get stuck... I did!]
As good as it looks, it does have some frame rate issues. Earlier versions had many bugs, these have pretty much been fixed but the frame rate still seems to suffer with slow down occasionally. It’s not a huge problem, but it does impact on the smooth controls now and again. Not necessarily related, but a more important problem, is the games stability. The game will crash mid mission, or in some cases just as you completed that mission. The game does have an auto save function, so you might be lucky to return to a completed mission when you restart the game, but all to frequently you must start that level again. As with most high-end iPhone games, it is important to reboot the phone before play to free up memory, but even then it doesn’t guarantee stability.
The music and sound is good for the most part, but the music tends to get repetitive, featuring only a handful of signature scores. It would be nice to have more variety in this area, but don’t get me wrong what is there sounds great and has that space opera feel to it.
The missions themselves, as mentioned before are short. This is good for iPhone’s pick and play attractiveness, but some players may long for deeper missions that games like Tie fighter and Wing commander offer. There are hundreds of missions to play, but they do tend to follow the same formula such as destroy pirates here, make delivery there, protect this convoy… etc etc.
The storyline is fun, but once you are past those early missions, it disappears, leaving you with the odd brainless dialogue with characters. And your character Keith’s one-liners are little lacking in depth, and instead of loveable rogue, he comes off as a bit of a twit!
The bottom line
When Galaxy on fire was released, it looked to punch above its weight, but with all the bugs it couldn’t quite deliver. In the latest version most of those bugs are gone, a few remain, but the overall experience is much improved. It’s a shame Fish Labs couldn’t wait and release the current build as version 1. Even still… it’s a fine example of how to balance great graphics, with great controls and the all important portable style gameplay to keep you coming back for more. I would heartily recommend picking this game up right now, to any serious iPhone gamers out there, especially if you are a fan of the genre. Galaxy on fire is out now for $5.99 (3.49)
Stunning space views, and great ship models. Space sure is purrrty!
The music is top notch, it’s just a shame there isn’t enough of it. Sound effects are good too, though lack of voice over for key characters is a shame.
Great controls make flying and fighting a breeze. There’s something for everyone, flying, fighting, selling and customizing. The story lacks a little but when you are behind the wheel of your Nivelan Wraith fighter, it all fades into a distant memory anyway!
Once you get past the opening missions the game opens right up. With around 500 planets and space ports to visit, each housing a variety of missions and trading, you won’t run out of things to do any time soon.