Review: Air Strike
We're all too familiar with the 'huge-production-budget game that plays like a turkey' - Air Strike is just the opposite, a labour of love by the developers that's clearly produced on limited resources yet has gameplay that's both insistent and addictive. Ultimately, it just falls short of mass recommendation, but that doesn't mean I didn't have a blast during my review period, blowing up enemy fighters and warships.
In fact, production values look quite good at Air Strike's start, with a super glossy splash screen, plus a promising couple of animated intro pages:
So you've got a carrier-based fighter bomber (which means the action all takes place out at sea) and are despatched to find and blow up as many enemy fighters and warships as possible. The missiles at your disposal are seemingly both infinite and equally effective on planes and boats - one hit and both are goners. Not terribly realistic, but this simplification keeps the gameplay manageable, as you'll see.
In further simplifications, your plane flies at constant height and constant speed and you just have two controls, rotate anti-clockwise (the down icon) and rotate clockwise (the up icon). In between is a large, somewhat satisfying 'FIRE' button, each tap on this launches a pair of missiles. Having both directional and fire controls right next to each other means that your right thumb has to operate both - a system which works acceptably in practice but isn't quite as fluid when the game hots up as if controls had been split across both thumbs. I suspect the reason for the 'one thumb only' controls is because the developer hadn't mastered (or was unable to optimise performance for) full multi-touch.
Around the screen we have various score readouts, a 'radar' display showing roughly (from a strictly 'screen up' perspective, thankfully) where planes and boats are in your vicinity, readouts of health and fuel, and controls to get back to the main menu (sound off/on, Help, etc.) and to adjust the game's animation speed. This last control is a bit redundant, though I guess could be useful if you're playing on an older, slower phone.
Come to think of it, the radar's also somewhat redundant, in that enemy planes will seek you out mercilessly - you don't normally need to go looking for them. At least the radar gives you an idea of which direction they're coming in from, ready to launch a few salvoes to ambush them.
In practice, gameplay involves wheeling in circles and figure of eights, breaking the arc to loose off missiles when needed. The enemy fighters try to lock on, especially when you travel in a straight line for too long (so best not do that then!) and generally swoop around until you've managed to either shoot them all down or get shot down yourself.
The latter happens when your plane runs out of 'Health' - each missile hit knocks a bar or two off the reading and if it gets to zero then you crash into the sea. Rather nicely, the more you get hit, the more your little plan sprite shows damage, by way of glowing parts and then increasing amount of smoke. Happily, every 300 points you get a complete health and fuel top-up, so getting to multiples of 300 is your main objective when playing. In practice, I was getting well into the thousands after half an hour of practice.
Air Strike is well paced, in that there's rarely a dull moment - there's always something to shoot at, something to dodge. Other than the obvious limitations (a single 'sea' backdrop, no new 'bosses', weapons or power-ups to keep things exciting), my main complaint was that the aircraft depicted are too similar, all looking like F-16s to my eyes. At the very least, your airplane should be a different colour, surely? As it is, when you're surrounded by eight swooping, wheeling enemy planes, the centre of the screen gets ridiculously confusing because you can't often tell which is your aircraft amidst the mass of gleaming metallic silver.
I was also disappointed not to have at least a basic 'high score' table - you just get a top of screen 'hi score' reminder while playing. Having lasted for a good 15 minutes and got several thousand points before dying (thanks to a lapse in concentration), I expected at least a confirmation screen, a congratulations, or a place on a high score table somewhere.... anywhere. Instead, it was just back to the main menu and 'Start' all over again.
Limitations and minor complaints aside, Air Strike is well worth £1.50. It makes absolutely no pretense at flight simulator realism - it's an arcade game pure and simple and, as such, works surprisingly well. Great for a ten minute blast on your way into work?
Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 7th Feb 2012
Reviewed by Steve Litchfield at