Remember Harebrained Schemes? They made a whole lot of hub bub about a little game called Shadowrun a ways back on a tiny site called Kickstarter. Well lest you think they’ve been rolling in piles of money since then, they’ve been working their fingers to the bone to produce a game loosely based on the Ender’s Game universe. Strikefleet Omega puts you in charge of a fleet of starships in a battle for survival against the Hive Queen and her brood. These buggers attack from all sides and it’s your job to manage the fleet properly to stave off waves of attacks from all variety of enemy ships.
The gameplay in Strikefleet Omega is tower defense mixed with resource management and air control. You warp in ship types which can do anything from gather crystals, used to warp in more ships, to launch fighters, interceptors, and lob bombs. The fighters are directed by dragging your finger from the launch point out to a point where they will turn around and head back in a loop until you direct them elsewhere. You can send them in defense patterns or direct them specifically to intercept incoming enemies. Both patterns have their flaws and strengths and the different waves require different levels of attention. Make no mistake, at no point can you just sit back and let the fleet run itself. You will constantly be managing your attack forces in an attempt to bat back the enemies in wave after wave. You start with your command ship and slowly build up your available forces as you play the game. You have six available warp points and each ship you warp in costs crystals that you mine while fighting. Think of it as about as resource heavy as Starcraft. Just enough to make you think about it, but not so much that you get mired in the details while trying to fight. As you warp in your ships their abilities become immediately available to you.
Freemium – done right.
So freemium games, otherwise known as pay to progress, are all the rage right now. In the last episode of Rated NA we talked about Besieged 2 and all of its shortcomings. The freemium model can be broken easily, preventing you from ever finding out whether you enjoy the game in the first place. The idea being that much like crack in the eighties, if you give a little away for free people will get hooked enough to come back and pay for much more than you may have gotten from just selling it in the first place. This works wonders in games like Triple Town or Hero Academy. Where game play shines through and the idea of being able to have more of that is enticing enough for you to throw money at it. In Besieged 2, you couldn’t get far enough in the game to even want to throw money at it. The more challenging parts of the game become frustrating because there’s a pay wall in front of the things you need to progress.
Well I’m happy, very happy actually, to say that Strikefleet Omega nailed it. The game lets you progress happily through the game at a great pace. Giving you upgrades as you earn them and giving just enough of the things you need away for free. You can play this game happily and never pay a dime for it. It will get to a point where you may have to grind a little bit to get past the harder points, but you can. Which is what makes freemium work. If you want me to pay for it, then let me get far enough to understand why I would want to. Then make the things I pay for bonuses for supporting the game. The things you are able to buy in the game allow you to buy new and better ships a little faster, or get more buffs and upgrades during the fights. They are by no means required, but they are available to those that want them. I never get frustrated while playing, knowing that the thing I need is sitting behind a $2 charge. Instead I get the option of using the freebie one or buying the better one. The freebie one will work, but may make it slightly more challenging. I may run out of buffs because I used all the free ones up. You can earn the fake money you use to buy those buffs, but you can also just throw a dollar or two down and get them. The system is rewarding and passive in all the right ways.
No bones about it, this game is gorgeous. The art style feels perfect, I love the character interaction screens. The ships are highly detailed and fit an awesome style. All of the colors and icons have meaning and are quickly and easily understandable. I don’t struggle to wonder what the difference between yellow and red arrows are (avg to hard enemies incoming). I understand that my green ships launch fighters or interceptors, my orange ships lob bombs and my blue ones gather resources. The launch pads are easy to grab hold of and are bright on the screen. Every detail from the explosions to the gun fires feel amazing and tactile. The screen shimmy’s a little on big explosions and everything looks bright, gorgeous and fitting in the universe.
These graphics come with a cost. When gameplay is at its height, my poor Droid X started to crumble under the weight. It seems all those explosions, lasers, and ships cost quite a bit of processing power. Now the phone didn’t lockup completely or shutdown, it just slowed, sometimes to a halt. It hindered the game but didn’t make it impossible to play. To be fair to Harebrained Schemes, it’s not as if my phone is the height of tech possibilities. It is about 2-3 years old now, and the fact that the game runs on my machine otherwise almost flawlessly, is a testament to the amount of work that probably went into making this game gorgeous but as light as it could be. These graphical hiccups only happen when I had A LOT going on at a time and usually reared it’s ugly head in the later levels, when combat becomes frantic.
Well beyond the graphical slowdown, the only other problem I had was on rare occasion I would click the launchpads and swipe to launch fighters and instead it would recognize it as a drag and move the screen. This usually happened during the graphical slowdowns and probably had more to do with my phone limitations than faulty programming. This was annoying because it would take a while to get my screen back and sometimes I would have lost some precious time during it, but it’s an annoyance and by no means a deal breaker.
My poor old battery isn’t super in love with the game either, but again, aging phone. If you are on an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4s or one of the newer android offerings, you’ll probably be fine. The game is graphically intense though and the drawback for all of that awesomeness is pain on your processor and thus your battery.
Strikefleet Omega has completely consumed my mobile gaming life. Harebrained definitely knocked it squarely out of the park with this one and I highly recommend it on any platform. The setting is great if you are an Ender’s fan, and the graphics and gameplay put this beyond a trifling time waster game and more into the moderate to serious game category. I loved managing my money to buy the right ships and warp them in at the right time to squash the threat of the buggers. I loved the design and think about what I did wrong when it all falls apart on me. You can pick this game up on the iOS App Store or in the Play marketplace now for $0.00. (although you should probably expect to throw some dollars down later…the first hit is always free).