Final Armada
| Final Armada

Although Final Armada does have a story – generic aliens and artifacts stuff – we can't help but feel that a vital cut-scene has been removed from the introduction.

Int. Two grizzled space marines are playing poker and drinking gin at a rusty table. Suddenly, the power cuts, emergency lights spin, and a robotic voice lilts through the tannoy: "Hostiles approaching." The marines leap to their feet. "Shotgun spaceship!" bellows one. "Sh- " the other manages to say, too late. The first marine laughs triumphantly as he makes his way upstairs, while the other hangs his head and trudges down to the garage.

You play as him.

We can't quite fathom developer I-Imagine's reasoning, because although there are flying vehicles in Final Armada's dour sci-fi universe, you spend the game behind the wheel of a car.

Admittedly, it's a hell of a car, even in its most unmodified form. By pressing right on the D-pad you can lock your sights onto an enemy, and with the R shoulder you can batter them with your laser cannon till they explode and shower vanishing parts into the air, while with the L shoulder you can deploy a limited number of heat-seeking missiles to the same effect.

Pressing down on the D-pad rotates your wheels towards the ground and turns them into thrusters, enabling you to hover and strafe from side to side at the expense of your automatically regenerating shield, which prevents you from sustaining damage while it's active.

You even have a flying accomplice, whom you can set on your enemies by locking on to them and pressing up on the D-pad. This comes in useful during big skirmishes, when the extra firepower makes it possible to attack two enemies at once, or concentrate several guns on an intractable villain.

Appropriately, the driving in Final Armada is one of its strongest elements. Your vehicle barrels along at a satisfying lick, bouncing and powersliding invincibly across the bare landscapes of copses and rocks. The problem is, you only get to enjoy it en route to the battles that make up the vast majority of Final Armada's gameplay.

And these frantic skirmishes aren't nearly as good. In each of them, you and your winged accomplice face off against large groups of enemies in a sort of automotive homage to the blunt-witted thump-fests that characterised early beat-'em-ups like Double Dragon and Golden Axe.

It's not the only reference to other video games. Like an increasing number of modern first-person shooters, Final Armada uses a system of shields and health points in which it's impossible to lose energy until your shield is depleted, which adds a dimension to the melee combat as you scurry for shelter when your shield runs low, and target particular opponents whose shields are at zero so that you can get rid of them before they have time to recover.

In wireless multiplayer mode, the depth that this two-tiered system of health adds is even more evident: as fun as disassembling AI polygons is, there's something exultantly fun about chasing down a shieldless friend.

However, this pretty much describes Final Armada's entire tactical range, and while there are things to think briefly about as you screech around its miniature battlefields, each battle is largely one of attrition – of chasing down enemy after enemy as you absorb the firepower of their comrades and hope that they all die before you do.

And the variety of enemies is miserly, with only three appreciably different unit types to overcome: ones that fly, ones that fly and then hover, and ones that trundle about on the ground.

Occasionally you'll come up against some turrets or a boss of sorts, but these don't really add any meaningful variety to the game. The bullets still come streaming out of them; you just have to send more back.

A system of power-ups enables you to bulk up your shields and your firepower, and bestow your wingman with additional powers like spinning attacks and bombing runs. As you progress through the game, the pleasure of combat increases with the steady growth of your arsenal, and at some of the more coruscating flashpoints, when the screen turns hazy and the speakers thunder with gunfire, Final Armada has its moments.

It isn't a bad game, exactly, but it is a mediocre one. For example, the cut-scenes are not only boring but compulsory, and if you replay the level you have to sit through them again. It just doesn't try.

The only really good thing about Final Armada is driving fast, and if you do this during a skirmish you'll miss everybody and get pecked to death by stray missiles, or leave the arena of combat and be forcibly redirected by your chastising commander, as if the game is trying, for some reason, to stop you having too much fun. Go figure.

Final Armada

Set in the future on an alien planet, Final Armada is pure sci-fi boilerplate, and while it doesn't make any major mistakes in its execution, it doesn't do anything very new or interesting either