Like any colonist, The Settlers seeks the riches of a new frontier. Conquering the expanse of the App Store is not without peril, however, and the demands of the touchscreen make squeezing such a complex game onto iPhone and iPod touch a serious challenge.
No one expected the migration from PC to portable to be easy, yet The Settlers arrives in surprisingly good form. While establishing that deep, multifaceted strategy can be accomplished, it does run into native resistance with minor control oversights and a limited selection of modes.
Romans, Vikings, Mayans, and Dark Tribe - you control these civilisations as they attempt to expand their empires by developing new land and conquering rival nations. Across 21 missions divided unevenly among the four races, you're in charge of building economies and raising armies.
former proves more important than the latter, as The Settlers plays as more like an economic simulation than hawkish real-time strategy game.
Intricate micromanagement ensures this is not for the faint of heart, the number of steps required to manufacture a simple hammer enough to scare the red out of a casual Command & Conquer player. Instead of tanks, you direct the flow of resources within your colony. Rather than targeting an enemy base for a bomb drop, you're sending geologists to scout out mineral deposits.
The first three missions of the Roman campaign act as tutorials, guiding you through the extraordinarily steep learning curve. To say that The Settlers is friendly to outliers would be a stretch, but the trade-off comes in the form of rich, multifaceted gameplay. Like the American colonists who braved the bitter winters of New England, you have to stick it out to see the game spring to life.
Much effort has been made to streamline the controls and network of menus as a way of simplifying the game's interconnected economic systems. The results are largely positive.
Although icons dominate the screen, tool tips for some icons and a full Help section in the pause menu combat confusion. Nonetheless, these don't prevent you having to squint at the screen to figure out if your geologists uncovered iron or coal, or noting the difference between a weapon-smith versus a tool-smith.
Tapping a building does the job of identification, but you often have to play the role of detective to figure out where the hitches are in your economic machine when something goes awry. Each tool, weapon, and specialised unit requires a slew of components; as such, missing any one of these holds up the creation process.
If your barracks aren't producing the swordsmen you ordered, for example, you can touch it to see what resources it needs. Sometimes, fixing the supply line is as simple as redistributing resources within your colony, whereas other times more involved solutions are needed like moving a building or establishing a new economic queue.
Situations like these can be frustrating, until the satisfaction of having solved the problem washes it away. A better notification system that informs you of gaps in your economy or prevents access to buildings, tools, and units outright until you have the requisites would eliminate this issue.
In terms of controls, the game fares well despite needing a wider range of zoom. Hot keys for unit groups would be nice as well, even if there's a menu for selecting settlers by profession and you can rope units using multi-touch.
More than anything else, the lack of alternative modes of play - specifically Skirmish and Freeplay - prevent The Settlers from conquering with overwhelming force. Value isn't the concern since there are hours of fun to be had advancing through each of the campaigns - in fact, the game isn't well suited to portable play due to extremely long missions.
Instead, it's a matter of the style of gameplay. Competitive skirmishes via Bluetooth or at least against the computer outside the campaign should be here.
Without these modes, The Settlers still stakes a claim as the deepest strategy game to date on the App Store. It just needs to work with the locals to deliver multiplayer and assorted improvements to truly conquer.