Angry Robot

Ace Patrol

It’s on iOS. It’s a turn-based strategy game. With flying. From Civilization creator Sid Meier. Adding giant robots and hamburgers would be unnecessary at this point, as it’s already a must-buy for me. Er, if it wasn’t free… more on that later.

Ace Patrol is a hex-based strategy game of WWI dogfighting. You have a squad of four procedurally-generated pilots, and you play through a procedurally-generated campaign, adding maneuvers, bonuses and planes as you advance. It’s not the grim-swamp-of-death-and-malaise WWI that inspired the dadaists, it’s more the “spot-on flying, good chap” jaunty cap-and-scarf WWI of… other WWI games. The graphics are slick yet board game-ish, a bit of accessible 3D gloss on 2D gameplay, much like Civilization Revolution.

It’s a fun, easy-to-pick-up game that nonetheless has a fair amount of complexity lurking petulantly under the surface. Depending on a few key variables (your altitude/speed, angle of approach, enemy’s angle and speed), your attack may do 4% damage, or 90%. Learning these variables is key, as is making use of anti-aircraft batteries, and clouds (which hide your position from the enemy). In general, the gameplay feels true to the real-life activity it is based on, while being abstracted enough to make it easy to get into, and with short enough feedback loops to make it compulsively playable.

On the downside, it’s marred by a far too cursory tutorial that hides the aforementioned complexity altogether. That’s all well and good until you get to later, harder missions where you start dying all the time and don’t know why. And dying: no pilot ever really dies (“well done, old chap!”), but depending on the circumstances of their would-be demise – injured, crashed, behind enemy lines or not – they are taken out of commission for anywhere from one to six stages. You can’t replace them – why not? Insurance reasons? Union rules? The fading morale of a populace drowning in death? Who knows, but every lost pilot means one less you can choose for your next mission. This can potentially be catastrophic as this game auto-saves and doesn’t let you try a level over again. You can free up all your pilots and have them ready to fly by paying $1. This isn’t the only IAP play, but it is the sleaziest. If it wasn’t an actual business model, it would seem like something that should be fixed in an update. Or at least you could respect the policy of risk-mitigation and pretend-human-life-valuation it would seem to endorse.

So that’s a bummer, but other than that, the IAP is quite reasonable. You unlock the full British campaign for $1, and $2 for the other nations piecemeal (France, Germany, US), or $4 for everyone. You can also buy “pilots” which are really packages of skins and skills tied to each nation. Note that the procedurally generated campaigns are different every time, so even paying just $1 for this game gives you a lot of potential gameplay. All in all, probably worth the pocket change you flip at it – just fly safe or you’ll wind up in a spot of bother, old chum.