Thursday, March 28, 2013

Star Warfare: Black Dawn [Freyr Games] - $2.99

Gamers always dream of their favorite console games being ported to the iOS. It’s just our nature. Being able to have our favorite games in our pockets is something that all of us want. Last year, when the official Borderlands iOS game was released, the hype that built was outstanding. Needless to say, once more and more information about the title became available, that hype dwindled and once the game finally hit the AppStore, there was quite a bit of backlash from both Borderlands fans and just curious parties. It was a major flop, to say the least. Well, now iOS gamers can rejoice yet again, because without warning, Freyr Games, developers of the 3rd person shooter Star Warfare, has just released the sequel, Star Warfare: Black Dawn. With little advertising, and almost no hype, especially considering what the game is, we finally have it; Borderlands on the iOS. 

Not to say that this is a direct clone. But just about everything that made Borderlands so incredibly great can be found in Black Dawn; The different skill trees, hundreds of random weapon drops, multiple characters, each with different pros and cons, warp gates, open environments, damage pop-ups all over the place, and even kill for second chance mechanics. Unfortunately, there are a couple of things missing; the spoken dialogue, massive injections of humor, vehicles, jump & sprint actions. Though it’s hard to hold that against Black Dawn when so much of the game is done right, and offered for a measly couple bucks. And as crazy as it is being able to play a game of this caliber on our phones and tablets, with as much as the game has taken from it’s console inspiration, it’s almost impossible not to compare the two, and judge Black Dawn based on what Borderlands is. 

Black Dawn lets you choose between 8 different characters and 4 different classes (one male, one female for each class); Prayer, the medic class, Engineer, the geek class, Soldier, the powerful class and Sniper, the ‘foxy class’. Prayer class characters can set up a healing station, Engineer’s can drop machine gun turrets while Soldiers can set up an Avatar to distract enemies and keep them busy and the Sniper can set traps. Each class has 3 different skill trees that they can build up and pick skills from. These extra buffs help immensely throughout the whole game for taking out higher level enemies to level up quicker, or if you just get in trouble and need a little extra boost to help you get out of a jam.

Now, a Borderlands clone wouldn’t be complete without an online feature; it’s definitely one of the things that made Borderlands so incredibly fun, and as you can guess if you’re familiar with Star Warfare, Freyr Games knows what it takes to support online gameplay. Black Dawn includes co-op gameplay with up to 4 players. Here, you can play through the game, completing missions, earning experience, gold, mythril, weapons and everything else you can get in the single player campaign, but while playing with others. Right now, there is only co-op gameplay, but in the future Freyr plans to include PvP gameplay with character decoration. 

If you’re not too keen on FPS games because of the iOS’s touch screen, I don’t blame you. I’ve got a hard time getting into FPS titles myself. But Black Dawn has done a great job of making the game comfortable to both veterans and new-comers alike. There’s an auto-lock option, making gaming a lot easier, but also not allowing for many headshots. For those of you who are badass FPS gamers on the touch screen, this option can be turned off so that you can headshot to your hearts content. Movement is done by dragging anywhere on the left side of the screen, while looking around is controlled by the right. The shoot button is placed where most FPS titles have it by default. 

Unfortunately, you’re unable to move any of the icons, and on the smaller iPhone/iPod screen, looking around and turning does block a bit of the screen because you’ll have to reach up and over the shot button. As with most FPS games, you can adjust your aim and look around while shooting by dragging your finger across the screen while pressing on the fire icon, but with so many console gamers coming to the iOS, and with games like NOVA and Modern Combat allowing for customizable control placement, it might be a little frustrating that it’s not included here. However, there are options in the settings menu for reversing the X and Y movement, and adjusting the sensitivity for looking around, which is a huge plus. On the iPad, the controls aren’t really an issue, as there’s enough room to the right and below the fire icon to drag around and look, so you won’t be reaching over or across anything on the bigger screen. 

Objects like gold, ammo and health are picked up automatically by walking over them but picking up weapons and shields as well as opening chests is done by tapping on the screen when a pop-up appears. As for the weapons and shields, it’s pretty similar to Borderlands; the pop up shows the weapon or shield along with it’s stats and how much you can sell it for. Chests are opened by tapping the ‘Open Chest’ icon that pops up when you’re near them. These options for picking up items and opening chests, however, can be kind of finicky. You’ll have to stop moving and look at the object just right for the pop up to appear, which can be kind of frustrating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it goes pretty smoothly. 

Black Dawn’s graphics look fairly similar to Borderlands, and you might even have a hard time distinguishing the two if you played BL on a lower end machine with all the special extra graphical effects turned off. But aside from that, the animations, character models, environments, and just about everything else is top notch and incredibly well designed. The layouts of the levels are also pretty impressive. While the first couple of areas aren’t too big, you’ll soon reach areas that are huge. Luckily, there’s different warp zones in each map, allowing you to enter the areas in different spots. 

There are IAPs included in the game. But before you go getting all upset about it, here’s the scoop. Mythril is used to play the game’s mini-games of Roulette. Here, you can spend Mythril to take a spin and get a random weapon or shield. You can also convert Mythril to coins. There are no items in the shops that I’ve come across that are Mythril only purchases, everything can be bought with the gold that you’ll collect while killing enemies and completing missions. The only thing Mythril might really come in handy for is for resetting all of your skill points, which will cost you 100 Mythril. Fortunately, if you buy the game, you’re given 100 Mythril for being an ‘early adopter’. You can also earn 140 Mythril for downloading Freyr’s previous games, Star Warfare: Alien Invasion and Amazing Runner, which are both FREE. On top of that, you’re able to watch video ads and check out TapJoy offers for more free Mythril, so there’s no real push towards dumping more cash into the game. Black Dawn is incredibly well balanced, and the only reason I could see to drop a couple bucks on more Mythril is to help support the developers. 

There are some things that will remain frustrating unless they’re fixed. Right now, it’s kind of hard to select “Mission” “Shop” or “Talk” after tapping on a character. Half of the time if you don’t tap at exactly the right spot, you’ll just exit the menu and have to tap on the character to enter it again. There’s also only 10 slots in your inventory, which means that if you like having options when in battle, like carrying around an SMG, Sniper Riffle and then having a Revolver, Pistol and Shotgun handy, you’re left with 7 inventory slots, and that doesn’t allow for many items to be taken with you when you exit the area. There’s also no option to increase your inventory slots, so inventory management is something that you’ll be doing consistently. While this may not bother some gamers, it will weigh heavily on others, and having the option to buy more inventory slots would be a great addition for the future. There are also some grammatical errors in the dialogue. Though it’s nothing that will make understanding what’s being said impossible, it is very noticeable. 

But all-n-all, Star Warfare: Black Dawn is a spot on Borderlands clone that’s well worth the $2.99 purchase and then some, even with the included IAPs. This is what the official Borderlands iOS game should have been but wasn’t. Even if you’re not a fan of Borderlands, Black Dawn offers up some very nice co-op gameplay which is only going to get better, and a huge open world environment to roam around in. I’m actually a little shocked that this launched for $3 when it could have easily came out the gate matching Modern Combat’s price point of $6.99, and still been well worth the purchase. Not only that, but the amazing support that Freyr Games gave to the first Star Warfare based on players feedback gives us loads of confidence that Black Dawn will only get better and smoother. Along with that, it's Universal and supports the iPhone/iPod 5's widescreen. Right now, this is TAS’s favorite FPS title on the iOS, and is a very easy recommendation. 


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