Previews

Hands on with StarFront: Collision for iPhone

Collision course

Hands on with StarFront: Collision for iPhone

Halfway during my hands on session with Gameloft's new real-time strategy game StarFront: Collision, I started calling the human faction 'Terrans'.

It was picked up by my PR handler, who thought I was cracking a joke about the title bearing an uncanny resemblance to Blizzard's behemoth Starcraft. But it wasn't deliberate – I really had become confused.

Don't get your hopes up. This isn't Starcraft, no matter what the visuals, factions, campaign design, marine armour, or most of the vehicles may suggest. It is, however, an interesting attempt to improve on a genre that has traditional fallen short on the smaller screen.

Royal rumble

Being the conscientious gamer, I skipped over most of the in-game dialogue scenes to get to the action (and there were quite a few), so my understanding of the plot extends to: there are three factions – Consortium, Myriad, and Wardens - and they all want a substance called Xenodium.

I did, however, get the chance to play the first campaign mission (of 20 in total) of the Consortium/Terrans, before getting stuck in with skirmishes as the other two teams.

The mission was understandably very on-rails for this early portion of the game, requiring the player to navigate around the map with a bunch of marines, blasting small groups of the bug-like Myriads into oblivion. This was followed by a very quick bit of base building near the end.

Controls are fairly typical of the RTS genre on iPhone, with two fingers used for multiple selections, double tapping to select all units of a particular type, and three configurable squad groups reserved on the side of the screen for quickly hopping across the map.

Alas, the squad commands need some serious tweaking. In their current form, a tap on one of the three numbers assigns units to the chosen squad. However, there didn't seem to be any way of adding units to existing squads without deleting the original (by holding down the button for what felt like ages).

There's also no way of producing units to a squad – something Red Alert does well - which is a massive disappointment for serious RTS gamer used to being on the other side of the map when they’re producing troops.

Pocket skirmish

Whereas the controls are lacking a few important features, the rest of the game is positively packed to the gills with things to do. The base building, for instance, is very research-centric, relying on developing techs to enable units and buildings within the unit-producing factories.

Each unit has at least one special ability that can be accessed quickly via the sidebar, available even when grouped with multiple types in a squad.

The friendly AI, too, is decent, with your units stopping to fire on enemies they meet along their movement paths, and coming to help nearby allies if they get into trouble (as opposed to standing still, wondering why their mates are dying around them.)

There’s a full-blown Skirmish mode that supports up to four human players over Gameloft Live, fighting it out either locally or online across five maps at launch, with four levels of AI difficulty if you want to practise your skills.

Interestingly, these Skirmish matches can viewed in a previously unheralded mode called ‘Action TV’, which allows you to see how your opponents beat you/lost so badly. It feels a little under-developed right now, offering up only very basic playback controls, but it’s something that could prove very useful in the long-run.

Unlike the other titles we’ve looked at this week, StarFront is scheduled to launch on both iPad and iPhone in January, meaning that the build we played looked and felt less ready. Indeed, the build crashed on us inexplicably during our second skirmish, just to highlight the point.

If Gameloft can tighten up the controls a little more before release, then we can see this one being a welcome addition to the RTS genre on iOS devices.