Although the political situation these days isn't quite as sticky as it once was, America and Russia could still be described as the best of enemies. The ideological differences that have separated the two nations have fuelled an endless stream of books and films about their relationship, and few would deny that modern culture has been enriched by classics such as Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove and John Le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
Now, with Urban Attack, we might just have our first genuine mobile-gaming Cold War classic.
The plot? In 2007, the US strategically places long-range missiles in Europe, causing relations with Russia to deteriorate and the start of a new Cold War. In the resulting arms race, the illicit trafficking of nuclear weapons thrives on the black market, allowing certain mafia organizations to become extremely powerful. Eventually the Russian government is overthrown by the Red Mafia, which wastes no time in demonstrating its power by bombing Canada senseless.
By 2037, the two nations are embroiled in a bitter conflict. On May 20th, hundreds of uniquely intelligent children are abducted and never seen again. A journalist investigating the disappearances dies suspiciously in a car crash; his notes are never recovered.
In an interesting twist, you play as a cyborg called Yuri in the employ of the Red Mafia's shadowy UCCK organization, which has been set up to operate covertly in the United States. Your identity is a mystery even to you but as you work throughout the objectives you are set more becomes clear.
It's a substantial backstory that entirely befits the deep play mechanics on offer. The action is viewed from a first-person perspective and the chief gameplay element is the shooting gallery mould.
Here, the screen is divided into a grid that corresponds with the keys on your phone. When an enemy appears in a specific section of the grid you have to hit the relevant key to shoot them with the standard pistol. For example, if an enemy appears in the top right hand corner, you can blast them by pressing '3'.
There are different weapons available that have genuinely different effects (something often lacking in this style of game). For instance, with the sniper rifle, you have to zoom in on your target by pressing '*' and align your shot manually with the thumbstick or the '1' to '4' and '6' to '9' keys, again pressing '5' to shoot. Similarly, the chain gun is toggled on and off with '*' and aimed according to the grid system.
There are various other weapons available throughout the game, and as the enemies can move between sections of the grid, matching the right weapon for the right attack formation is vital. There is a further tactical element introduced in the form of civilians you need to avoid and characters that you need to capture alive.
Throughout the main action there are some fantastic mini-games. Within half an hour of starting the first level we had cracked a lock in a code-breaking mini-game, resuscitated Yuri with a timed click-to-fix mini-game and navigated a runaway train through a series of tunnels, avoiding oncoming traffic as we went. It's high octane stuff and it is all seamlessly integrated into the main action.
Perhaps the most impressive individual aspect of this game, however, is its visual flair. Despite being a Java game, Urban Attack is played out in 3D via some very stylized black and white vector graphics that are impressively animated.
Colour is splashed in a minimal retro style on enemies and other characters (all of which are colour coded to make shooting the right ones easier). Cut-scenes and certain in-game effects such as explosions and zooming with the sniper rifle are also highlighted with bold blocks of colour. The combined effect is mesmerizing and we seriously had to pinch ourselves while playing.
But this game takes things one step further. Sure, it has great gameplay, it has great visuals but what really makes it special is how well paced the action is. Moving between set-pieces (even if on rails) has a sense of fluid progression and the developer should be commended on its success in building towards a climax both within each level in an immediate action sense and throughout the game as a whole, with the clever narrative that threads together the entire experience.
Urban Attack is as polished and accomplished a mobile game as you're ever likely to see. It has style, brains, depth and looks – truly this is the zenith of Java gaming. We may not want another Cold War, but we're hoping for plenty more sequels to this astonishing title.
Want more? Check out our growing collection of Urban Attack articles!