Review: Sky Gamblers Cold War

By Sean Clancy 29 Jul 2013 0
I'm sure this plane has a technical designation, but I've been calling it "Mr. Candy Cane Plane." I'm sure this plane has a technical designation, but I've been calling it "Mr. Candy Cane Plane."

Okay, okay gang, you broke me, I'll own up: I've, sob, I've never seen Top Gun. There, I said it! Happy now? [No. --ed.] But, admitting that one's never seen something isn't quite the same as admitting that one doesn't "get" it. At the very least, it's not a barrier to shooting one's mouth off like a jerk. I'm pretty sure I "get" Top Gun. (Something about sexual intercoursing with Tom Cruise on top of a DC-10, yes?)


In the same way, I get what Sky Gamblers: Cold War is trying to do with its shiny planes and dipsy-doodle aerobatics, despite the fact that I'm not one of the joystick-jockeying flight simulator set. Also, I've seen Independence Day like, four times. So that helps.


And on joystick-jockeying: controls. While this is always a point of concern for actiony-types on mobile devices, it's especially so for a flight sim. Now, maybe it'd be possible to rig up your full mock AwesomeXCockpitz n' Joyystikk from MadCatz so it's compatible with your tablet, but... why, again?

You really have to appreciate the fact that the Commander sets up that flag in his office every time he Skypes with the pilots. You really have to appreciate the fact that the Commander sets up that flag in his office every time he Skypes with the pilots.


Instead, Sky Gamblers offers two main options to get you nosediving into Soviet bloc nations with style. The simplest (and easiest) is a faux-stick and throttle setup. The bottom left corner of the screen aims your craft, doing the appropriate banking and whatnot based on where you drag your thumb. The bottom right corner has speed controls; up is faster, down is slower, and the clock with, like, fire coming out of it lets you overwork the engines for a speed boost.

It's simple and serviceable so long as you keep your thumb on screen at all times, but lacks the... let's say "immersive" quality of the second control option: full-on, internal gyroscope control. Tilt your device left, the plane banks left, turn it right, the plane goes right. Up, down, invert the y-axis if you want, and so on. The touch controls here combine both the throttle and a less-sensitive thumbstick into one zone (with predictably finicky results), with the apparent goal being to offer the kind of tight maneuverability that the basic setup can't replicate.

Does it work? Can't rightly say. If so, it's certainly meant for the wannabe pros, and I took the greenhorn route throughout my time with Sky Gamblers. First impressions were that it was too sensitive and awkward to be all that effective, but, again, take this with multiple grains of salt. Maybe I just suck.

Know what doesn't suck, though? Missiles. They blow. Both in the sense that they're driven by a stream of ignited propellant, and in the sense that they explode on contact with Ruskie jets. Fights in Sky Gamblers invariably boil down to one of a handful of deadly tone poems orchestrated by your instrument panel: beep beep beeeeep (you're locking on to an enemy), whoosh (you shot your missile), beep BEEP beep BEEP BEEP (they shot a missile at you), beep beep beep beep BEEP (you overdrive the engine trying to get out of range), plip plip plip (the enemy launches their flares), plip plip plip (you launch yours), rata tatatat (you exchange gun fire as you both line up for another lock-on). Repeat until the world is free of Communism.

Environments are lush and packed with plenty of details you can crash into after you screw up. Environments are lush and packed with plenty of details you can crash into after you screw up.


I'm not knocking Sky Gamblers for this repetition. The allure of the game is in mastering this pattern and all the minor variations on it, squeezing just a bit more out of it than your opponent. When you finally nail that tight turn, tag a beleaguered enemy pilot with a well-timed missile, then finish him off with an arc of minigun fire as he helplessly tries to zag to safety its... whew. The ultimate high tempered with just a brief low. Luke at the end of A New Hope, right after he nails the killer shot to blow up the Death Star, only here the margins are a bit wider, and that killer shot happens every few minutes. It's adrenaline rush after adrenaline rush, and perfectly paced to keep you strung out and playing for move.

The praise coming across here? Some minor control gripes aside, Sky Gamblers: Cold War is damn close to the complete package. The dogfighting is lean and mean, while the options outside of the base campaign tend towards excess and a "yeah, why not put that in" attitude. Capture the flag, base defense, a survival mode, so many planes from different eras, neat maps, etc. The attention put in to pleasing all kinds of players--from multiplayer frag hounds, to folks who just want to relax, alone, with a goddamn free flying cruise mode--is truly admirable.

"Flight of the Valkyries," "Charlie don't surf," "the horror..." and so on. But yeah this wasn't fun.  "Flight of the Valkyries," "Charlie don't surf," "the horror..." and so on. But yeah this wasn't fun.


There are some kinks. Perhaps expectedly for a title that offers so much outside it's campaign, the story mode in Sky Gamblers can frustrate with its too-easily botched objectives and odd diversions. The Vietnam-era rail shooting segment, which involved torching several small villages from a helicopter gunner's seat, was... unsavory, for more than one reason. And there is the question of balancing out the (admittedly balls-sweet) missiles with the use of flares. The former regenerate, the latter don't, and manually dodging one those suckers, well, I'm just not sure I saw it. (Certainly didn't do it...)

Still, Sky Gamblers: Cold War is a colorful toy box of pre-Soviet camp and explosive excess. Highly recommended if you've even a passing interest in Things That Fly and Go Boom. And, yes, you can count me as a convert to flig- oh, hey, Top Gun is streaming...

The game was played on the iPad for this review.

Review: Sky Gamblers Cold War

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