There's nothing wrong with paying homage to the heavyweights of science fiction. It's impossible to play a sci-fi shooter like N.O.V.A. without remembering the gruff drill sergeant in Aliens or engage aliens in Mass Effect Galaxy without immediately thinking of the multitude of species in Star Trek.
Yet Star Battalion practically rehashes George Lucas's Star Wars space opera - and the (voice) acting isn't the only thing that's hammy.
Straightforward action is marred by problematic level design and technical performance quirks. While the online co-operative multiplayer ought to pique your interest, larger concerns regarding quality make it difficult for Star Battalion to take off.Rebel alliance
The game predictably starts with a rebellion. As a hotshot pilot in the Resistance's Orion Squadron, you're sent on sorties against the far-reaching Royalist Empire.
Mix in a battle on a frozen planet, a daring covert operation in a city that covers an entire planet's surface, and even a ravine run on a desert planet and this iPhone saga is set.
Originality has been cast aside and what Star Battalion gives up in story it pledges to make up in action. Unfortunately, problems with the controls and level design prevent that pledge from being fulfilled.
Piloting a ship is done intuitively by tilting your handset. If you own an iPhone 4 or fourth-generation iPod touch, the gyroscope ensures precise steering.
Oddly, lateral movement (yaw) is noticeably more sensitive than vertical movement (pitch). You can tweak the sensitivity options, though that only dampens the overall responsiveness of the accelerometer/gyroscope instead of balancing yaw and pitch.The trouble with trifling flaws
Regardless, getting used to the controls is less troublesome than learning to love the gameplay. The scenarios into which you're thrown - battles against massive frigates and swarms of drones, tricky dogfights with elite pilots - are definitely exciting, but too many rough edges wreck the experience.
One particularly annoying mission on the urban planet Drodoor tasks you with flying through the bowels of an experimental weapons facility, yet little to no navigation is provided. Bump into a wall or bay door while trying to find your way around and it's Game Over.
Never mind that in other levels you bounce off surfaces. On Drodoor, contact with a wall means instant death.
Such inconsistencies abound. In another level littered with space debris you can watch enemies fly right through objects that tear your ship to bits. During one sequence in which a character is speaking, the game doesn't register attacks, even as you pummel an enemy with gunfire and missiles.Three's company
These oddities combined with regular lag make for an underwhelming game. When the action gets intense and the screen becomes crowded, the game chugs.
While it doesn't destroy the experience, it contributes to the overall lack of polish. It's more common on an iPhone 3GS and older iPod touch handsets, though a drop in performance was noted several times on iPhone 4.
Online co-operative play does have a way of lessening the blow of so many flaws. Being able to link up with a couple of friends via Gameloft Live! or Game Center is compelling. However, it's not enough that you can disregard the game's glaring deficiencies.
Some enjoyment can be extracted from Star Battalion, but getting to it requires putting up with unpolished, inconsistent gameplay.