Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy Claims Immersive Flight/Arcade Sim Flag

Posted: March 16, 2012 in Arcade, Sim

The Apple iPad was designed for the casual consumer in mind with its minimalistic design and easy to use iTunes store.  So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy by Namco was featured in Apple’s keynote announcing the newest iPad.  From a marketing perspective, SGAS is a sleek, eye grabbing flight sim/arcade combat game that shows off the HD quality of the device while tapping into the casual gamer’s primal need for intensity and excitement.  From an actual gaming perspective, SGAS is a top-notch experience that should grab iPad and iPhone gamers across the board.  The game doesn’t offer anything that gamers haven’t seen before on the platform, but retina-supported graphics, varied content, and hybrid arcade/sim gameplay should incite the gaming masses with a highly immersive experience.

At its core, SGAS has a 10-mission campaign mode complemented by a variety of different game modes: Dogfight, Survival, Free for All, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Defend the Base.  There’s also a multiplayer mode allowing for local wifi and online gameplay which allows you to play the following:

Survival—tests skills against waves of enemies

Free for All—battle against up to 7 others

Team Deathmatch—4 on 4 air battle

Capture the Flag—battle for the enemy flag while protecting your own

Defend the Base—destroy enemy facilities while protecting your own

If you’re a novice or really haven’t played flight sims, SGAS has a good tutorial section that covers everything from basic controls and maneuvers to takeoff/landing and squadron commands.

SGAS has a storyline, but honestly, it’s almost non-existent and certainly non-essential for a game of this type.  The game has a good set of controls and customization options—simulator, casual accelerometer, casual control pad, and fixed control pad.  From the option, the simulator control option gives you full control of the aircraft by using roll, pitch and yaw controls.  In general, all the control options with exception of casual control pad are tilt-based meaning steering relies on the device accelerometer.  The tilt controls work fairly well, and you’ll want to adjust your accelerometer sensitivity to suit your preference.  For iPhone gamers, some of the buttons may be a little on the smallish side.

Weapons are displayed as their own set of icons on screen with a count of what’s available, and tapping on them will fire as needed.  A set of flares is also included which can used to divert enemy fire.  In addition, a camera option allows you to choose from a number of views including an inside-the-cockpit view.  Last but not least is the Auto-pilot button which ensures the plane stays level, allows for evasive maneuvers and avoids crashes into objects.  The only hitch is that you won’t be able to fire weapons in this mode.

Graphically speaking, SGAS looks fantastic on both the iPad and the iPad 2, and one can only assume that the HD screen of the iPad HD will only further enhance the visuals.  Currently, the marketing term “console quality” probably isn’t the most accurate for SGAS, but that’s not intended to disparage the great animation that is there.  From the reflection over water to the shadows of aircraft on mountainsides, this is a high-quality production for the platform.  On the other hand, graphics can appear jagged and rough around the edges especially when it comes to buildings and other structures.

The game runs smoothly on early generation devices, although there can be some stuttering and lag when flying through clouds or smoke.  I noticed this on both generations of iPad, but overall, a minor issue in the scheme of things.

The soundtrack has a decidedly Kenny Loggins without-the-lyrics feel to it from the movie Top Gun.  It certainly helps get you pumped for action, but I found it annoying after a few missions.  Fortunately, an option exists to turn off the soundtrack which I recommend.

SGAS’ is what you would expect—intense with a good mix of variety and chaos.  The missions take you through different environments from the desert to the sea with adequate supply of battles taking place over metropolises.  One of things with the game is that it requires a bit of practice and ultimately selecting the right set of controls.  Personally, I use the casual control pad with the accelerometer sensitivity set below the halfway mark.  Accelerometer-based controls tend to come down to personal preference, but I couldn’t imagine a better approach for SGAS.

The battles can be hectic, and SGAS does a good job of creating that immersive experience that can make or break this type of game.  There is a good feeling of speed as you perform maneuvers, and accounting for the high quality graphics and animation, SGAS is a good example of what is possible on the iPad.

Early missions focus on dogfights where you command a squadron that gradually evolves into base defense and the destruction of enemy convoys.  Commanding a squadron is accomplished by tapping a button located within the HUD.  It’s a simplistic approach, but one that allows you to choose from three commands: stay in formation, defend me, and attack.  Also, a radar tracks friendlies and enemies, while guide markers identify checkpoints and point in the direction of other aircraft.

Eventually, missions also involve locating and destroying secret bases and communication towers so there’s a bit of variety.  And, as you destroy enemy targets and complete missions, game points are awarded that will promote you through trainee, combatant and ace ranks.  In addition, additional aircraft (more than 40) are unlocked that you can also for online play.

While the game is marketed as a flight sim, one of things that you’ll notice with SGAS is the arcade-like feel.  Planes are overly flexible in their abilities, and some of the swipe gestures take away from the complete sim experience.  This is not intended to be a slight of SGAS at all, but you’ll notice it if you’ve played other flight sim games

As for the level of difficulty, the missions may be less than challenging for more experienced players.  Each mission has a number of objectives from something as landing at a designated site to destroying specific location sites.  Typically, enemy aircraft are not particularly good about defending sites.  Then there is the occasional occurrence where you can destroy enemy aircraft just as they spawn in view.  Of course, the great thing about SGAS are the chaotic air battles where there are swarms of planes in the air, and avoiding missiles is more reactive than planned.

Where most will get the biggest bang is in the multiplayer mode which I consider one of SGAS’ big strengths.  Playing either a quick game or entering an existing room and regardless of what mode you decide on—Survival, Free for All, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Defend the Base—each one offers a unique experience which I found extremely enjoyable.  Skill level is not a requisite so you’ll find gamers of all levels present, and you can choose to use any plane already unlocked.  Playing online, SGAS is terrific because it highlights the varying skill levels of others.  And the explosions help add to the overall feel as you destroy an online participant…yes, there’s no other way to put that.

Completing the missions of course doesn’t automatically guarantee you the highest rank so there is a good amount of replay value to score game points both in mission mode and online.  In addition, SGAS is GameCenter supported with numerous achievements for completing missions to enemy-related milestones.

Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy is a fantastic flight/arcade sim that delivers a chaotic experience, one that novices and advanced gamers should enjoy.  The content is varied and plentiful and multiplayer online is a blast.  The high-production graphics and animation already pop off the screen on older generation iPads so it should be even better on the iPad HD, although it’s still a small notch below console quality.

Albie Meter: 5 Stars (fantastic graphics/animation for the platform delivers an immersive experience; mission mode tends to easy, but most will get the biggest bang from multiplayer online play; controls work well but mostly tilt based; plenty of content, but turn off the soundtrack; GameCenter support)


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