A Star Wars game that involves dogfighting against TIE fighters is nothing new - in fact, it?s not even new for the App Store. But Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner is nonetheless a very unique game featuring a style of gameplay you may well have never seen before. Although Falcon Gunner isn?t exactly an all-time classic, it is nonetheless a pioneer in the emerging genre of augmented reality gaming.
Augmented Wha...? So what is this augmented reality thing, anyway? In Falcon Gunner, you are (what else?) a gunner on the Millennium Falcon. Someone else is piloting the ship, but it?s up to you to fend off waves of TIE Fighters, Bombers, and Interceptors, as well as the occasional wayward asteroid. So how do you aim your laser cannon? By aiming your iPhone!
That?s right, augmented reality means that the game aims to make holding your iPhone feel just like holding an actual firing mechanism. Rather than just using a virtual joystick, if you want to point your guns upward, you literally raise your iPhone upward; to fire downward, point your phone downward. In fact, if your device has a camera, you can choose to replace the built-in background images with a live view of whatever you are looking at, making it feel like action is really taking place right in your home or office. Spinning your iPhone around as you try to shoot down TIE fighters is a truly immersive experience, although it doesn?t work so well for casual gaming on the bus.
An epic battle in space.
An epic battle in my office.
While using the augmented reality control scheme, we did experience some problems with the ?Compass Interference? method displaying onscreen, which sometimes refused to go away no matter how many ?figure 8s? I waved my iPhone 3GS in, and this interference message inexplicably does not automatically pause the game. However, other than that, augmented reality is impressively accurate, and it really is an effective way for you to aim and fire.
Eight! Eight! Eight!
If you don?t have a camera or don?t want to use your own location as the backdrop for your adventures, simply turn AR mode off, and you?ll instead see familiar settings such as escaping the Death Star. You still point your phone upward or downward for vertical aiming, but instead of spinning around to make lateral movements, you tilt your phone left or right.
Falcon Gunner is divided into levels, and each level is divided into three waves. Survive all three waves and you move forward to the next level, earning points and medals depending on your performance. Fail, and... you blow up. (Fortunately, that part is not simulated in reality.) Once you rack up enough points, you can use them to buy enhancements for the Millennium Falcon, such as faster guns and better shields. If you find that your gaming skills aren?t good enough to earn all the upgrades you want, you can also buy the upgrades using In-App Purchases. As in, real money. That?s one element of realism I could?ve lived without.
When you bring all the elements together, Falcon Gunner is a lot of fun to play. Fending off Imperial spacecraft is exciting, although the gameplay could use a little more variety. Whereas most games give you a ?remote control? for the events of the game, augmented reality makes you feel like you are actually in the middle of the action. The game also includes Game Center integration for its leaderboards, although there is no multiplayer mode. The game is compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, fourth-gen iPod touch, and the iPad (although it doesn?t run as an ?HD? app).
Graphics Falcon Gunner?s spacecraft graphics are on par with games like Star Wars: Trench Run. It?s not exactly breathtaking, but ships are nonetheless accurately detailed and smoothly animated.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Falcon Gunner?s graphics is the augmented reality. I must admit that I was expecting the camera integration to be something like, ?stutter, stutter, stutter, crash.? However, using the real world as a backdrop actually works just as well as using the game?s built-in backgrounds, with gameplay still running smoothly and remaining easy to see.
As an added bonus, a few short clips directly from the movies are also included.
Sound All the classic Star Wars sound effects are here, and the soundtrack also features classic music from the films. While you?re battling, you will also hear voice clips from Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, R2D2, and C3PO giving you feedback on how well you are doing. The voice feedback is a nice touch, but the game plays them a little too often, which causes the sound bites to become repetitive pretty quickly and can also be a little annoying since there is almost nonstop chatter while you?re trying to survive the battle.
Falcon Quest Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner is the kind of game where, once you understand the premise, you can probably get a pretty good idea whether you would like it or not even if you haven?t played it. If you prefer more casual games or games you can play in public, Falcon Gunner probably isn?t what you?re looking for. Likewise, if the idea of lots of movement and physical activity being part of your gaming doesn?t appeal to you, you probably wouldn?t enjoy the game. However, if the concept of augmented reality gaming intrigues you, Falcon Gunner is a solid and fun game that succeeds at putting this concept into practice.
Dragon Ratings Graphics: Decent game graphics are fused amazingly well with live images from your own camera. 4.5/5.0 Sound: Sound effects and music are great. Voices need some tweaking. 4.0/5.0 Fun Meter: Successful implementation of augmented reality provides a unique gaming experience. 4.5/5.0 Addictivity: More varied gameplay might have pushed the game to a whole new level, but the thrill of fighting epic space battles in order to earn upgrades for your ship is enough to keep you coming back for more. 4.0/5.0
Tips & Hints
You will probably want to enable Auto-Aim under Settings when you are first starting out, even though it is disabled by default.
When playing in AR mode, you may want to try sitting in a chair that can rotate... just be careful not to spin yourself sick!