Strategy Game of the Year 2013 Runner-up: Ace Patrol Pacific Skies

By Owen Faraday 19 Dec 2013 0
A real furball. A real furball.

In Jason Schreier's outstanding Kotaku profile of the man from this past June, Sid Meier talks a bit about his game development process. "If other people play [one of my prototypes], and they’re like ‘Oh, it's okay,’ I ask, ‘But you’re still not playing it?’ If they say, ‘No, I put it away’ then I know it’s a problem. If they’re still not playing it, then it’s not as fun as it needs to be.”

Uncle Sid, I'm still playing Ace Patrol. I think you nailed that one.

We don't get a lot of new Sid Meier games these days. The last several iterations of the legendary Civilization franchise have been helmed by someone else, and while Sid's influence has been felt in Firaxis releases like XCOM, the world's most famous computer game designer has fallen back into a well-deserved semi-retirement. The last design that Sid was purported to have led on was SimGolf -- over ten years ago.

The release of Ace Patrol in May, a game said to be coded by Sid with his own two hands, would have been a holiday if I was in charge.

And the game lived up to my lofty expectations for it: it was a classic Sid Meier just-one-more-turn design, one that took turn-based aerial dogfighting in puttering WWI biplanes and made it feel "joyfully kinetic" as I described it in my review. Packed full of interesting tactical and strategic decisions and nigh-infinitely replayable, the only knock on the game was its convoluted and balance-altering in-app purchase scheme.

Amazingly, Uncle Sid and Firaxis immediately set out to right that wrong. Just a few months later in the autumn, Ace Patrol Pacific Skies was released. Essentially a standalone expansion pack for Ace Patrol, the theme now shifted to WWII's Pacific theatre, and the game itself was improved and refined with more tactics and manoeuvring options for your pilots and a new mission structure. Most importantly, it triggered the ejection seat on the IAPs. Pacific Skies was a nice, easy one-time purchase.

Ace Patrol is a Sid Meier design from the skin to the frame. It's a game that gives you a few simple systems to learn and lets complexity emerge from their interaction. Every decision you make (Half loop or bank right? Hide in the cloud bank or try to outrun my pursuers?) is an interesting one. Like all Sid Meier games, it's bloodless and cheerful in spite of the subject matter. Every shot down plane is accompanied by the parachutes of its pilots, and the portraits of aviators who are prisoners of war appear to be more disappointed that they can't keep playing than anything else.

It's heartening to know that Sid Meier wants to make mobile games, and equally heartening to know that a big publisher like 2K can see that the audience for strategy games like Ace Patrol isn't likely to go in for free-to-play. Ace Patrol represents a big win for proper gaming on mobile, but more than that -- it's one of the most fun games I've played this year. Like Civilization, I'm still playing it and am liable to keep playing for a long time.

To see all the games recognized in the Pocket Tactics Best of 2013 Awards, visit the awards index page.
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