Crackdown meets Urban Strike in this ambitious Helicopter action title from one man team, Brainphant…
This game shouldn’t work – a sprawling top down action game with elements of GTA, but with a helicopter instead of a car, and a control scheme that on paper doesn’t seem like the best option – but it does!
You play as an ex-fighter pilot who has wound up in the pen. Intent on changing your ways and providing a new start with your 5 year old daughter, fate strikes and you are embroiled in a gang war. Your daughter is kidnapped, and so you must work for the mob, undertaking helicopter missions to take out rival gangs and anyone who stands in your way.
Many will compare it to GTA, but to me it feels more like Crackdown. Where, instead of making a living, you move from one gang to the other and taking them out.
The game is presented in top down 3D, so, much like GTA China Town Wars and Car Jack Streets, the environments reach out towards you. Graphically it does a good job and rests somewhere between those two titles, not quite GTA standards, but better than CJS. The city is huge, and is where you’ll spend your total of 38 missions. Huge skyscrapers tower up towards you as you duck and weave your chopper from city block to city block. It’s a busy city too, with many pedestrians, cars, boats and even the odd aircraft happily minding there own business like busy insects in a micro world.
I mentioned earlier the controls, it’s the one thing that will make or break this game. They are a bit like Marmite, you’ll either love them or loathe them. It took me a few hours to get them down, and even now I struggle from time to time. Having said that, they are good, just not perfect… particularly for combat.
Much like the controls of a tank, you use two sticks for momentum and turning. Pushing your left and right stick forward with your thumbs dips the nose of your chopper and propels it forward. Pull back and you’ll slow, pull right back and you’ll go backwards. To turn, you alternate both, so to turn right you push your left stick forward and your right stick back. you can also strafe by dragging both stick left or right. Height is controlled by, you guessed it, pinching! Much like resizing a photo in your image camera library, you pinch out to elevate, and pinch in to lower, until you eventually land. There is plenty of height to the game, allowing you to fly high above the city and watch the vehicles scurry about like ants.
So, these controls sound pretty good right? Well, yes and no! While they are near perfect for getting around, when engaging the enemy it can get tricky and sometimes frustrating. Eventually you get used to it, but there is a definite learning curve. Slower targets are not a problem, and heat seeker missiles will eliminate some of the frustration. But when tracking a fast moving vehicle with only your trusty sniper rifle, the screen can become a mess of fingers and thumbs.
Luckily, you do have a strong arsenal of weapons available to help. There’s the sniper rifle… good for picking out slow or still targets. The machine gun is better, allowing for continuous fire as you concentrate on flying. Missiles, both regular and laser targeting are a joy to use, bombarding targets and taking them out far quicker than guns alone. Big bombs and proximity mines allow you to take out more enemies in one hit, and a strange but fun oil barrel lets you create oil slicks on the streets to cause havoc with the enemy cars. It’s fun to just watch from above as innocent cars skid into each other and create large pileups, often culminating in a crescendo of explosions.
The sniper rifle is with you by default and slowly re-fills with infinite ammo should you run low. The other weapons require pickups to replenish them, which can be found around the city. Fuel can also be acquired, which will run out the longer you stay in the air. You can also get a power-up which repairs you after taking damage from enemy fire.
After a lengthy text based intro, the game begins with you escaping from prison in your new airborne toy. From here you progress through the game by taking out the required gang members in any mission, before unlocking the next. The AppStore description of the game states that it is a non-linear experience. This is not exactly true, as while the city is large, it only lets you play one mission at a time, and not at your leisure. You can play any mission with in a chapter, but you cannot play all chapters until you unlock them in order, which, is by definition… linear!
What grabbed me about this game is how fun it is. It’s really hard to put down. While the missions themselves are not particularly inventive, typically requiring you to track down an enemy/car/boat etc and destroy it… it’s incredibly satisfying when you do. I would have liked to see more variation, and despite the odd encounter with another chopper and even a Joint Strike Fighter, it would be good to see more action take place on the rooftops and not in the streets below. Navigating the city, without the map is very easy, thanks to off screen icons which move around the game border, pointing you in the right direction.
The creator should be commended for pulling off such an ambitious game, and for the most part it’s done very well. But there are some things that are less impressive. A good story is important in a game, but here the story elements are too much. Reams of text must be read before starting a mission, especially at the very beginning. They are well written, but a little contrived. You can fast forward them with a cool effect, but without a proper skip button they do begin to grate. The general presentation is a little lacklustre too. The menus and presentation of the story elements are poorly implemented visually and don’t sit well with the in-game graphics. Nor does the music, a slow and repetitive easy listening track that just doesn’t fit with the action. Thankfully, you can turn it off.
Despite these faults, the core gameplay is still a blast. If you love GTA, Crackdown and the classic 16bit top down gunship titles like Jungle Strike and Urban Strike… you’ll love this. Just bear in mind that patience will be required when getting to grips with the controls and you’ll have a great time. No word yet from the developer on updates or new content, but from what is on display here, I look eagerly await to seeing what comes next from Brainphant.
Vertigo Rogue is out now for $4.99 for iPhone and iPod Touch (get it from )