Galaxy on Fire

   02/04/2009 at 08:36       Phil May       36 COMMENTS. - Score 3/5
[THUMB1]Load New Commander Y / N ?

Ever since I sneaked a BBC Micro out of a skip at work and got it working just to play Elite, I've been wondering if anyone will ever be able to recapture the level of immersion I experienced tootling around the galaxy in my Cobra Mk III trading ores and goods as well as laser bolts with various planets and races.

Elite is one of those games that people are always clamouring about whenever a "Top Ten Games of All Time" list is wheeled out. Quite rightly so, because Braben and Bell's original space trading and combat game has never really been bettered, even with its various sequels.

Galaxy on Fire is a brave attempt to bring the same base game model of taking a rundown claptrap ship and a few credits and trying to turn them into a successful intergalactic trading empire to the iPhone / iPod Touch. Does it succeed? Or is it another pretender to the mighty throne of Elite that really can't hope to match up in any way, shape or form. Read on...

[THUMB2]A wretched hive of scum and villainy

Galaxy on Fire puts your character firmly in the pilot's seat from the outset. After a bit of scene setting using the game's stunning 3D engine, you're taken out for a series of tutorial missions to get you used to the controls and weapons of your basic ship. Whether you choose to go with the accelerometer-based flight model or the virtual joypad the game offers, you're in for a bit of a treat because both methods are very responsive and nicely thought out. Weapons can be controlled directly or shoved onto autofire mode, which saves a lot of fiddling around during heated battles and leaves you free to concentrate on the job in hand - lining the enemy up in your sights and letting 'em have both barrels of your plasma cannon.

We're getting ahead of ourselves here, me and my dark passenger. Galaxy on Fire may feel a lot more linear than Elite at first because it gently leads you into the action, with the first few missions being low-paid and pretty easy. As soon as you're let off the leash though, and have the galactic map at your disposal, things start to get a lot more interesting.

The main protagonists in the game are a nasty nefarious lizard race known as the Vossk. Our hero, Keith Maxwell (At last! A hero called 'Keith' in a game!) begins the game as a sort of mercenary gun for hire, but soon joins the Terran cause, ultimately to rid the galaxy of the Vossk thread.

Trading routes are under threat from the nefarious aliens, and you'll soon encounter their graceful and deadly ships on your first run out from the space station.

As mentioned before, the controls are tight enough to give you plenty of options in combat even with low-end weapons. Like any good space combat game, you get a target reticule and red highlights track around the edge of the screen to tell you where the nearest enemies are. Not quite as genius a design as Elite's "lollipop 3D map" but nonetheless functional and useful.

It's not quite as simple as just lining an enemy up in your sights and letting rip. You have to lead your targets just like you do in games like Freelancer. Each enemy has a set amount of shield energy (as do you), and once you've whittled that down to zero, you can deliver the final blow and smash 'em to smithereens.

Usefully you can also harvest any bounty they had in their holds at the time, so often after a battle you'll find you've snagged yourself some space-going flotsam which can then be sold or traded at the next space station. This is the sort of design element that really endears Galaxy on Fire to the player who really is searching for a portable Elite.

Every time you finish a mission, you wind up back at a space station and can start to delve into the trading and ship upgrades side of things. It takes a while to accrue credits at first, but when you start notching up a nice tidy profit from clever trades, you can start to splash out on bigger and better ships - or more importantly bigger and better offensive and defensive measures for your space-going crate. Fish Labs have obviously seen this as an important and integral part of the game, and seem to have improved things a lot since the game first appeared on mobiles a couple of years back so there's a whole wealth of options on offer while you kick your boots around spacedock.

[THUMB3]Should've sent a poet, so beautiful

Galaxy on Fire slowly starts to suck you into the central plot of the game, and you soon find out that Keith Maxwell doesn't just have the Vossk to deal with. Without giving too much away, GOF is a little more story-heavy than Elite, where most of the narrative took place in your own head (well, mine anyway!) Cartoonish dialogue scenes are interspliced with in-game-engine cut scenes which really helps to set the scene and tone for each mission and drag you further and further into the twisting turning machinations of Maxwell's universe.

The game's graphical engine certainly more than helps too. Galaxy on Fire is beautifully smooth, with visuals improved beyond all recognition from the original. Gorgeous and sumptuous starscapes are interspliced with cool ship designs and characters. The whole thing runs like an absolute dream even in busy battles, with graceful movement of the ships and impressive weapon effects. Now and again you might notice things look a little juddery or low-res but on the whole it really is one of the most visually impressive iPhone / iPod games seen so far.

Ultimately though, Galaxy on Fire should really be judged on its depth and variety if anyone's going to start stacking it up in comparison to something as mighty as Elite. Fish Labs have promised that the main campaign should last a seasoned gamer a good 20 hours plus, which is a hell of a lot for 3.50s worth of portable gaming. That is if you basically concentrate on the campaign alone and don't start dipping into the various other tasks that catch the eye of a space-going Delboy Trotter.

This is about as close as you can get to a killer app for the iPod / iPhone but I can't help thinking that for a certain generation of gamers, it'll just make them anxious and annoyed that on bigger and better platforms, games like this just don't seem to exist any more despite the clamouring demand for them. Imagining this tiny little 20mb game on the Xbox Live Arcade makes my mouth water, and control-wise there's absolutely no reason whatsoever why it couldn't be done, so why the hell do we have to look to platforms like the iPhone / iPod to carry the flag for dead genres like this?

Never mind. If you're lucky enough to own one or the other, stop mucking around with tedious puzzlers or rubbish big-name knockoffs, grab yourself a slice of the universe to carry around in your pocket. Be warned though, playing this at home is likely to make you very unpopular with your other half - and playing it on public transport could see you ending up in Timbuktu as you miss all your stops. Fish Labs are onto a winner with a slice of old-skool space combat and trading action. It might not recapture the glory of Elite but it's about as close as you're going to get till Braben pulls his finger out of his capacious arse and releases Elite IV.

Gameplay Video:

User Comments:

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NewYork - on 02/04/2009 at 10:46 wrote:
It certainly looks very pretty.

peej - on 02/04/2009 at 10:57 wrote:
Certainly is! Some seriously gorgeous moments in it so far

Hughes. - on 02/04/2009 at 12:27 wrote:
That's what I love about me iProd, I can read a review and buy and play the game in less than a minute.

NewYork - on 02/04/2009 at 12:30 wrote:
I'm quite into Tap Tap Revenge 2, at the moment. Good timekiller and free (with free DLC).

peej - on 02/04/2009 at 12:35 wrote:
Not bothered with Tap Tap Revenge yet - should I? Guitar Hero-esque?

NewYork - on 02/04/2009 at 12:38 wrote:
Yeah, Guitar-hero-esque, but it covers a broad range of genres.

In fact it's more Frequency/Amplitude.

Get TTR2, though. Lot of fun on hard mode. Loads of free DLC!

NewYork - on 02/04/2009 at 12:42 wrote:
OMG if someone did a Ouendan clone for the iPhone I would die.

peej - on 02/04/2009 at 12:57 wrote:
I'll check it out then NY, cheers.

Seen that there's a Wario Ware clone on the way from Gameloft...

No sign of an Ouendan tho.

HairyArse - on 02/04/2009 at 13:05 wrote:
/suddenly perks up at the mention of a rhythm game like Amplitude

peej - on 02/04/2009 at 13:10 wrote:
Yeah there's a few rhythm action games on the iPod / iPhone but the TTR games are probably the most widely recognised.

Handy that the iTunes store now has a section telling you all the games that are in the recent telly ads though don't bother with the golf one, the control method is utterly stupid.

Tried the FIFA-alike last night and it's actually bloody superb

HairyArse - on 02/04/2009 at 13:20 wrote:
Hmm just had another look to see how much the Touch or iPhone sell for and unfortunately they're just still too expensive. Sure the 8GB Touch is 149.99 but if I was gonna get one I'd want it to be 16GB at least and as they're 250+ that's just way more than I'm prepared to pay.

Now if they had a micro SD card slot that'd be a whole different story.

peej - on 02/04/2009 at 13:24 wrote:
I've got a 16gb. I've got 1020 photos on there, probably about as many MP3s, and about 40 apps and I've used about 4gb.

It'd still be worth going for the low end one even if you're purely using it as a games machine tbh...

Trip SkyWay - on 02/04/2009 at 13:44 wrote:
Wow that looks fantastic. Have to give it a go. Keep the recommendations coming peej :)

NewYork - on 02/04/2009 at 13:55 wrote:
Shouldn't you guys add an iPhone section?

You can ditch the PSP section, if it's a space issue ;)

thrawn - on 02/04/2009 at 13:55 wrote:
How 'pick-up-and-play' friendly is it Peej? Specifically, can you pause the action and come back to it later without losing where you were?

peej - on 02/04/2009 at 14:01 wrote:
It autosaves fairly regularly though I've yet to tackle a really long multithreaded mission (I'm assuming it autosaves when you're in space dock but there is the option to pause and save though not sure where the insta-save restore point dumps you back to).

That said, it's been fairly easy to dip in and out of but I've found myself losing hours to this, its so flippin' engrossing.

peej - on 02/04/2009 at 14:05 wrote:
We really do need an iPhone / iPod section though, tis true. Seems that only a few game sites bother to cover the stuff in depth.

Kay - on 02/04/2009 at 15:40 wrote:
I've had a bit of a play on my brother's Touch, I found Bounce and Fieldrunners to be quite fun. Never seen any need to get the iPod Touch as a gaming device though, not when I've got a DS/PSP, but as an all-round multimedia machine that you can keep in your pocket at all times, it is pretty sweet.

NewYork - on 02/04/2009 at 15:55 wrote:

I'm still not that hot on the games, but if you are, the price of the device is kinda offset by the cheaper price for games. Heck, you can practically survive on the constant stream of free demos and free full games.

peej - on 02/04/2009 at 16:18 wrote:
What N_Y said. I think I spend on average about a couple of quid a week on paid apps with the rest either being lite versions of paid apps, or just freebies. Loads of utterly excellent little games that you don't begrudge paying 59p for.

Even at 3.50 though, Galaxy on Fire is well worth it. What's that in MS points? Bout 400 or so?

Syrok - on 02/04/2009 at 17:16 wrote:
"Seems that only a few game sites bother to cover the stuff in depth."

There you have your unique-selling point, Hairy. Most big websites still ignore iPod games.

Whizzo - on 02/04/2009 at 18:05 wrote:
I'm beginning to regret linking that video in the iPod/Touch thread now!

peej - on 02/04/2009 at 18:29 wrote:
Not getting tempted are you Whizzo? Specially after you bought "the other" portable?

Whizzo - on 02/04/2009 at 18:32 wrote:
I see even more shiny portable electronics in my future...

mal - on 02/04/2009 at 18:49 wrote:
Dude - the ship you had in Elite was a Cobra (mk 3 version to be exact). Was Frontier the first Elite where you could change ships?

peej - on 02/04/2009 at 19:03 wrote:
Damn my rotting brain, you are of course correct :)

Kay - on 02/04/2009 at 19:04 wrote:
I may just pick up an iPhone in the summer, if they announce a 32GB version with a better camera.

peej - on 02/04/2009 at 19:07 wrote:
Corrected. Elite-A (which did the rounds at another job I had) allowed you to change ships but the original Elite was just the Cobra Mk III with the ability to upgrade your weapons etc.

HairyArse - on 02/04/2009 at 19:21 wrote:
How does this thread get almost 30 comments and my Hitler spoof only 6?

/goes off and sulks

NewYork - on 02/04/2009 at 19:25 wrote:
Six? Not by my count. :)

Popularity contest, mwuahahahaha!

Syrok - on 02/04/2009 at 19:27 wrote:
Spaceships > Hitler

Clearly. :)

NewYork - on 02/04/2009 at 19:28 wrote:
Spaceships wouldn't be banned in Germany.

peej - on 02/04/2009 at 21:39 wrote:
"How does this thread get almost 30 comments and my Hitler spoof only 6?"

Milkshake, boys, yard

HairyArse - on 02/04/2009 at 23:00 wrote:
In the spirit of fairness, I should point out my CoD article has had 5 times the hits this has had.


NewYork - on 02/04/2009 at 23:36 wrote:
"Milkshake, boys, yard"

LOL, I'm so using that!

Kay - on 03/04/2009 at 01:12 wrote:

Might be good to digg this, btw.

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