Skies of Glory is pretty. Really pretty. It's the sort of pretty that makes the world seem unjust.
Skies of Glory is the belle of the ball, but with better reflections, shadows, textures, and draw distances. It's gorgeous and if it's not one of the iPhone's most impressive graphical wonders, then we don’t know what is.
That opening gush of praise suggests a qualifier lurking in the second paragraph, the flaw that causes Skies of Glory to crash and burn. Only, there is none. It's as beautiful to play as it is to look at.
Beauty is as beauty does
The accelerometer controls, which handle much of the business of piloting your way through the skies, achieve a powerfully direct connection to the on-screen action. The pedals, triggers and accelerator button layout, which is unobtrusively mapped to the periphery of the screen, is balanced to a tee.
The result is a game that's immediately playable but with challenge layered into the mastery of all its arcing, loop-de-looping secrets. Even SGN's F.A.S.T., doesn’t quite match this game's responsive and intuitive aeronautics.
But what are those aeronautics in aid of? Saving the world from evil Nazis, of course. Real locations set during World War II are window dressing for the tightly structured 11-mission campaign that comes with the initial download.
The missions themselves offer a mix of air and ground targets, usually in varying forms, and they can last up to 20 minutes or more apiece.
The missions are filled with tensely fought battles against foes that do far more than buzz ineffectually around an invisible set of waypoints, waiting to be swatted. These are crafty aircraft and you need to steadily improve your handling skills if you want to blast them out of the sky.
A good way to do this is through the many separate dogfighting missions, which do away with the pretense of objectives in favour of offering set numbers of enemies to destroy.
There's also the option to add wingmen, though these are strictly computer-controlled and the absence of an online cooperative horde/survival style mode is a missed opportunity.
The multiplayer mode that does exist goes a long way towards addressing this deficiency, though. With such perfectly pitched controls, deathmatch is a dream to play, supporting up to eight players over wi-fi or 3G.
The big surprise is that Skies of Glory a freemium title. The inclusion of 11 single player missions and a robust multiplayer mode is very generous, but the combined price of various add-ons isn't a bargain.
The ten extra mission and dogfight packs cost £2.99/$4.99 each, while the seven extra planes cost between 59p/99c and £1.79/$2.99. There's even the option add local wi-fi or Bluetooth multiplayer for £1.19/$1.99, which is compelling ammo for those not sold on in-app purchases to cry foul.
There's the feeling that the initial free game is more generous that it needs to be, while the in-app purchases are too pricey.
Perhaps if the game cost £4.99/$7.99, and included the extra mission packs with the option to buy more planes, all at 59p/99c each, as well as extra dogfighting missions at £2.99/$4.99, it would feel more congruous.
Ultimately, though, it's a petty complaint and it's definitely worth sinking a few notes on extra content, as it's of a very high standard.
Besides the aforementioned co-op mode, we'd love to see some sort of narrative to hang the fantastic action on. We'd like some dramatic music and we'd like OpenFeint et al support for multiplayer high scores.
These are but unreasonable demands of a game that already achieves so much. Skies of Glory gets the fundamentals gleefully right and it deserves a hangar and a runway on every iPhone out there.