Anyone who has played Insaniquarium or The Simpsons Game has undoubtedly realized by now the following universal truth of video games: Any time things start getting too easy or too stable, it's only a matter of time before you are invaded by aliens. In Pangea's new shoot-em-up for the iPhone and iPod touch, it's a cowboy named Billy Frontier who becomes the latest the learn this lesson the hard way. Your job is to help Billy fend off the aliens through four different types of levels. Although it's not as much fun as some of Pangea's other titles, Billy Frontier is a unique game that can provide some entertainment for you and your iPhone - at least for a little while.
The "Shootout" levels are arguably the game's centerpiece; these are the levels in which you walk around an area, first-person shooter style, in an attempt to outgun your alien enemies. Although you do have a health meter to worry about, Billy Frontier is different from most shooters in that your primary concern is actually your ammunition. Not only do you need bullets to kill aliens, but you also need bullets to shoot (and pick up) boxes containing bullets, health, or other items. That means that if you run out of bullets at any point, you lose.
The game's graphics look great, surrounding you with a detailed, three-dimensional environment, and the aliens are also animated well. However, it's not quite as close to a true first-person shooter as it initially looks; for example, you cannot actually control Billy's walking. You can rotate him to face any direction you want, but the only way to make him move around is to finish off all the aliens in the area, which causes a button to appear that will make Billy walk along a predetermined path. Besides that, there is only one type of gun throughout the entire game, and the money you earn during Billy's adventures isn't good for anything other than putting you on the high-score list. These limitations make the shootout levels feel a bit shallow and may leave you wishing that the gameplay lived up to the high standard set by the graphics.
The second type of level, "Target Practice," is a shooting gallery in which a variety of objects fly onto the screen, and your goal is simply to shoot down as many as possible. However, by default in both the Target Practice and Shootout levels, the game uses a rather strange setting in which your gun's crosshairs appear slightly higher than wherever you tapped on your iPhone's screen, rather than appearing at the actual location of the tap. I think Pangea probably did this because it's hard to see the crosshairs if they are directly under your finger, but moving the crosshairs above your finger really only makes it more difficult and confusing to aim. You can disable this setting so the crosshairs will appear directly under your finger, but this option doesn't "stick," so you'll have to set it every time you load the game, which is not very convenient.
Third, "Duel" levels involve entering sequences of codes, a theme that seems to be appearing in more and more video games. Two buttons with two icons appear on screen, and you have to match the patterns displayed in order to enter the codes in time for a duel between Billy and several aliens. If you get through every code in time, Billy shoots down his adversaries; anything less and they shoot you. This is not a very original premise for a level type, but it works about as well in Billy Frontier as it does in other games.
The fourth level type is called "Stampede," in which you use the accelerometer to maneuver Billy while trying to outrun a herd of Kanga-Cows (a Kanga-Cow is... exactly what it sounds like). I found it slightly confusing that the accelerometer controls Billy's left-to-right motion but doesn't actually influence his speed; instead, you can make Billy speed up by collecting the right items on the track while avoiding other objects. Still, the stampedes are a fun and fast-paced way to put your reflexes to the test.
Billy Frontier provides two of each level type, for a total of eight levels. You can play the levels in any order, and you can save your game any time you're on the main screen. However, Pangea still insists on giving you a limited number of lives as well, so you'll probably find yourself saving after every successful mission attempt and reloading your saved file after every failure, in order to avoid hitting the dreaded Game Over screen. It would've been nice if the game had more Shootout levels; since they are the main attraction of the game, having only two of them just isn't enough.
Billy Frontier's graphics are definitely one of its strong points. The 3D environments are impressively detailed and varied, and it's clear that Pangea put a lot of effort into designing not just the foreground but the entire landscape. Meanwhile, the different types of aliens have different nuances that give them unique personalities. Overall, Billy's visuals are on par with Bugdom 2 and other recent Pangea games, which are some of the most impressive we've seen in iPhone gaming.
Pangea's reputation for audio is equally strong, although Billy's audio is not quite as impressive as its graphics. The music is catchy, but there are really only a few different tracks (unlike Bugdom 2 and other Pangea games, which feature numerous different melodies). The background tracks are accompanied by basic but effective sound effects for guns, explosions, and splattering, but there isn't any dialog or other audio beyond that.
I want to like this game - I really do. The ideas of a cowboy's ranch getting invaded by aliens, and of creating a first-person shooter for iPhone in the first place, are bold and creative thoughts. Unfortunately, Billy Frontier has enough drawbacks that many gamers will find that it only provides short-term thrills at best. Pangea's own Bugdom 2 was one of the first games to prove that the iPhone platform should be taken seriously for action-adventure gaming, but Billy Frontier is not quite as convincing for the first-person shooter genre. Still, since the game is relatively inexpensive, "cheap" thrills may be enough for some folks to decide that Billy is worth the purchase price. If nothing else, Billy Frontier gives you an opportunity to learn about another one of the universal truths of gaming: Just keep shooting!!
Tips & Hints
-Don't even try to fire your gun while you're walking to a new destination - it is almost impossible to aim. Wait until you are no longer in motion.
-Often, you will find yourself in a shootout against an alien that is hiding behind an object - but no matter how well you time it, it is almost impossible to hit the alien when it pokes its head out. Instead, destroy whatever the alien is hiding behind - pretty much all objects of this type can be destroyed, even if it isn't immediately obvious.
-Always collect all the supplies available in an area before pressing the button to move forward.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Pangea has a reputation for creating detailed, colorful, three-dimensional worlds... and Billy Frontier lives up to that reputation.
The music and sound effects are good, but in both cases, the selection provided is pretty small.
With only two of each level type, you simply cannot get addicted, even if you want to. By the time you really start to enjoy any particular type of level, you are probably already almost finished with it.
Billy Frontier is fun in the short-term, but since it is a short game that also has quite a few disadvantages, you will almost certainly either finish it or get tired of it within a day or two.