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Hands on with Galaxy on Fire 2 on iPhone

Planetary

Hands on with Galaxy on Fire 2 on iPhone
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| Galaxy on Fire 2

If you're new to the world of mobile gaming, you may be wondering why sites like Pocket Gamer are so interested in 3D space-trader Galaxy on Fire 2. Here's why.

Fishlabs, founded in 2004 to create technically impressive Java games, is among the most dependable developers working on mobile. Galaxy on Fire and its sequel each took a Pocket Gamer Gold Award at review.

More importantly, we've already seen Galaxy on Fire 2 – “not a port”, in Fishlabs's words - running on an iPad.

That version will arrive in November after the iOS 4.2 Game Center update goes live (both versions also support OpenFeint, incidentally) but Fishlabs has already submitted the iPhone version to Apple.

We've been lucky enough to get some hands on time, and having seen both versions the first thing to note about Galaxy on Fire 2 on iPhone is this: it's smaller.

The aesthetics are still beautiful, with lens-flaring stars, sharp and detailed 3D graphics, plausible atmospheric clouds, and sound whose tenor is conducted by the action, but Galaxy on Fire 2 definitely feels more at home on a larger screen.

The space basics

The story, starring series protagonist Keith Maxwell, opens with a dogfight in Terran territory. Here you learn the basics of controlling your craft.

By default, a joystick sits in the bottom-left of the screen, and a 'fire' button sits in the bottom-right. Attached to 'fire' is a peripheral rear-view button. It's a bare setup to begin with, but more controls appear as the story unfolds.

If you prefer you can switch to accelerometer controls at any time, though the joystick is preferable. On the build we played the vertical sensitivity was very low, even at 100 per cent, making it necessary to tilt the screen almost out of view to significantly steer your craft up or down.

Joystick control, on the other hand, is fluid and precise.

Your radar takes the form of a thin ovoid line on which enemies appear as red dots. When you get an enemy ship in your sights a health bar appears below it. Double-tapping the 'fire' button triggers auto-fire, leaving you to concentrate on manoeuvres during battles.

After another couple of tutorial missions in which you learn how to mine - hold asteroids in your reticule to lock on, then use the joystick to keep the drill bit in place - you get access to Space Lounges, situated at each of the game's space stations. This where the game really opens up.

Space bob-a-job

Space Lounges give you a choice of paid missions, ranging from refuse collection to assassination. Or, if you want a break from freelance work, you can cruise around mining asteroids for minerals.

Every space station has its own stock of ship upgrades in the shop area of the hangar, and at these shops you can buy and sell equipment and other commodities.

The value of commodities varies from system to system, so it's possible to profit by buying up explosives, for example, at one space station and selling them at another. The game handily keeps track of the historical price range of each item. It's also possible to buy blueprints, which allow you to create commodities of your own from raw materials.

All this means that you can take Galaxy on Fire 2 as quickly or as slowly as you like, lingering to build a huge bankroll or doing the bare minumum in order to advance the story.

The central mechanics of trade and freelancing work well and the menu system at the space stations – comprising Hangar, Space Lounge, Map, Missions, and Status – is slick and intuitive. If the impenetrable interface of EVE Online has put you off space traders, Galaxy on Fire 2's interface will bring you back into their fold.

Space trash-talk

Fishlabs started out with the aim of bringing console-quality experiences to mobile, and Galaxy on Fire 2 comes close to fulfilling that brief. The only evidence of its mobile heritage is in the voice acting, which is patchy at best.

An early stretch of dialogue that sees Keith Maxwell talking to an alien called Mkkt Bkkt – whose face is covered in tentacles as a consequence of neuro-algae abuse – is particularly cringeworthy.

The voice acting doesn't necessarily detract from the experience – science fiction is not a genre noted for its high dramatic standards – but it's a notable rough patch in a game that's otherwise been polished to a high sheen.

We've only played through the first few missions, so we can't say how well Galaxy on Fire 2 will pan out – whether, that is, the space trading elements will be properly balanced and the gameplay interesting throughout – but so far it looks like it might just live up to the hype.

Galaxy on Fire 2 is due out on the 27th October, when we'll have a full review.