Douglas Adams really knew what he was talking about when he said space is big. Galaxy on Fire shows us that no matter how big space really is, it can still fit inside the smallest gaming platform when the right programming team is on the task.
It’s easy to see how Galaxy on Fire could build up the universe as our playground, populating it with worlds, life forms, war and a plethora of opportunities for off-the-cuff macho banter. But that's all that's easy in this unexpectedly difficult iPhone adaptation.
Disgraced star ship captain Keith T. Maxwell is back to relive his original mobile adventure inside the glorious vacuum of the iPhone, and the action picks up the moment he’s chucked out of the fleet and forced into a life of a galactic mercenary.
There’s a war going on in the background, but like all good mercenaries Keith’s loyalties are now available to the highest bidder. A gauge shows his position on the sliding scale between the human allied forces and those of the evil invading Vossk Empire.
Positioned between the two massive opposing forces, there’s a universe of profiteering opportunities for the skilled soldier of fortune. The game begins as Keith gets behind the yoke of his new fighter and accepts his first job. At this early stage, however, things are kept linear to ease you into the plot and the eponymous burning galaxy.
It’s also at this early point that Galaxy on Fire hits its first stumbling block. While missions actively enroll you in the exciting life of the galactic mercenary, it takes some real perseverance to push through these often aggravating missions.
Clearing space debris and escorting wanted aliens to their home worlds is pretty exciting stuff, mainly because the Vossk are waiting around every corner. Before long, you’re running a mission to backup a couple of human fighters as they attack a convoy of enemy freighters, though the promise of group combat unfortunately never manifests.
The Vossk fighters could have been trained by Napoleon and Sun Tsu, they’re so well positioned and schooled in synchronised flying. Your own comrades, however, use you as a distraction so they can fly around in circles to get a good view of your ship being blown up.
The auto-save takes you back to the last space station, and since you can’t turn these missions down, you get to spend another two minutes of uneventful flying in a straight line to go through the aggravating exercise of providing target practice for a bunch of psychic space acrobats all over again.
Not only are the enemies far better equipped than you, but they’re apparently a lot more manoeuvrable. The accelerometer controls do Galaxy on Fire real justice, as a steadying mechanism has been put in place to ensure that a slightly quivering handset isn’t registered on screen. As such, getting a target in your sights is easy and accurate.
That is, until your target turns on a hairpin the instant you have a lock with a grace you can only dream of and burns a laser into the back of your head.
As if this constant barrage of enemy fire weren’t enough to make your head spin, Galaxy on Fire exhibits a terrible graphical glitch. The backgrounds, which are otherwise stunningly beautiful space-scapes, judder, stretch and shake the whole time, as if the system is unable to properly scale them as your ship flies through 3D space. This quivering glitch sends your eyes off spinning, and is almost enough to have you reaching for the in-flight vomit bag.
Not the game we’d hoped so far, but (and this is an important 'but') if you can bite down hard on your lip and push past the first three, maybe four hours of aggravating gaming endurance, Galaxy on Fire finally begins to deliver.
Once you’re given proper control over Keith’s career, you can begin to explore, engage, trade and upgrade in the most entertaining ways. The annoyances are still there, but you at least have the option of side-stepping the missions that make you want to smash your iPhone, concentrating instead on the jobs that pay well and keep you entertained.
Although it’s difficult to say for sure, this feels very much like one of those iPhone games that’s been rushed to the App Store, with the intention of fixing it after a prolonged public testing period. There's a bright star shining behind an asteroid field of flaws, but getting there requires both skill and patience.
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