iOS has had something of a love affair with pirates, romanticizing the freewheeling exploits of the whiskey-drinkin’, treasure-trawlin’, Captain Blackbeard variety. Hitting a little closer to reality is Bane Games’ Battle Group (Out Now, $1.99), which depicts an international alliance’s near-future struggle to protect shipping routes from unjust plunder. Something particularly fishy is happening in these waters, though. The pirates suddenly have fighter jets and big boats at the ready to back up the dinghies and rafts normally associated with their ilk. The full story behind these souped-up marauders is murky at first, but the Allied Nations at least know enough to send in Commander Kelly — a veteran skipper whose patrol ship appears to have the fastest-reloading missile tubes in the fleet.
If previous releases haven’t done so already, Battle Group amply proves that rail shooters have a bright future on iOS. In case you’re not familiar with the genre, the formula goes like this: the player’s in-game avatar (in this case, Commander Kelly’s flagship) moves along a predestined path, leaving the player to pick off enemies and especially inbound munitions before they hit home. The most important skill required for success is knowing how to get a proper lead on moving targets; the flagship’s missiles have to travel a distance before detonating where the player’s taps have indicated, so tapping directly on enemies does little good unless their distances from the flagship are negligible. Bane Games did an exquisite job mixing in enemy types that move with varying speeds and in unpredictable formations. A good kind of chaos reigns in Battle Group’s missions, making for an experience the genre fan should find utterly satisfying.
Battle Group wouldn’t have earned its name if the player had only one ship to work with; in addition to the flagship, he or she can bring in a support ship for extra fire power. As long as the support ship survives, the player can call upon its specialty by holding on it and directing its fire before releasing –perhaps summoning a spray of helpful artillery or deploying submarine-busting helicopters. What’s really neat is that both the flagship and the support ship fall into different size categories, and the large ships each get two weapons systems. This gives the player up to three “special attacks” to work with in addition to the flagship’s standard missiles.
Unlocking the first support ship is more or less automatic by design, but the player has to earn the rest. As the Allied Nations Secretary General explains to Commander Kelly, the better this campaign proceeds – the more enemies taken down and the less damage received – the more willing member states will be to contribute new ships. Battle Group uses the typical three star system to rate the player’s performance on each level, and these merit stars may be exchanged directly for ships between levels. This gives the player plenty of incentive to revisit missions that had less-than-stellar outcomes the first time around — and there’s nothing like a good carrot dangling in front of the player to make him or her care about that friendly vessel that’s supposed to survive an escort mission unscathed. Achievements also have a role to play in unlocking the more advanced ships before they can be purchased. Battle Group may go down in history as being a darn good rail shooter first and foremost, but it’s the solid integration of story, player performance, and gameplay rewards that I most admire about it. Players will be tempted to mix and match ships frequently, but it’s important to stick with them long enough to earn upgrades that unlock with use in battle.
Battle Group’s tap interface and complete lack of screen-cluttering HUD is an ideal few games have managed to achieve as cleanly on iOS. This does come with a slight downside: the player has to hold on a certain area of the screen for about a second in order to pause the action and wastes a missile in the process. The one visible UI element is a tracker that lets the player know what level rating he or she is headed for, and this is much appreciated when revisiting a mission to pick up that last merit star.
As we learned in our interview with Bane Games earlier this month, the development team had quite the aesthetic ace up their sleeve in audio engineer Mick Gordon. The results are incredible! There’s a certain simplicity about an overhead perspective and clean-cut modern military hardware that would give a game like this something of an uphill battle for attention, but the garbled radio transmissions and alarms constantly filtering through one’s earbuds mercilessly draw the player in. Even when navigating the main menus, the player might get the feeling that he or she is sifting through documents piled somewhere in the bustling bridge of a frigate. Very compelling voice acting rounds out Battle Group’s presentation, making it obvious that serious production values went into this one.
Battle Group is chock-full of pirate blasting missions that should last the average player five to six hours, and a little more for perfectionists. There’s also plenty more content in store according to a tantalizing updates teaser that lists co-op multiplayer, new levels and ships, and even plot extensions as being very much on the way!
iFanzine Verdict: A perfectly crafted rail shooter, Battle Group is a must-have for shoot ’em up fans in general thanks to its harrowing mission designs, significant depth, and the way it fully embraces the platform. And if you’ve never tried a rail shooter before, this is a golden example to start with!