Review: Galactic Conflict20 Mar 2013 0
There's an oft-quoted saying that goes something like, “Always shoot for the moon, because even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.” There's another oft-quoted—though far less saccharine—bit of folksy wisdom that tells us one should always use the right tool for the job. Sat between these two not-quite-opposing philosophies is Bitmen Studios' cosmic real-time strategy title Galactic Conflict, a game which simultaneously thrills with its inherent possibility (gasp! a real, honest to goodness, PC-style RTS on iOS?) and disappoints with an inability to meet its own far too lofty goals.
Aside from the mystifying use of real photographs and hackneyed spacer tropes in laying down the bare-bones plot, things start off promisingly enough in the tutorial. Your inner Grand Moff will surely warm up to the talk of fighters, bombers, corvettes, frigates, and, sweet planetary bombardment yes, big-ass capital ships. Galactic Conflict really is of comparable depth to its bigger RTS siblings, at least in the sense that it has just as many moving parts. There's even a fairly well-implemented assault mechanic that requires one to defend lumbering, weaponless transports while they jettison shock troopers down to capture planets below.
Planets, naturally, are of key strategic value in this space RTS. Each planet can be improved with buildings, running from the resource-generating (metal and crystal mines, supply depots) to the resource-depleting (fighter bays, corvette factories, capital ship... shipyards). As you might expect, the goal here is to outmaneuver and out-build your foe, taking over the map (typically only a handful of planets) and crushing enemy forces. Specific ships classes counter others, speed is important, focus-firing key enemy targets is—well, you've probably done all this before, yeah?
But can you do it here? I mean, really, can you physically do it? RTS games of this stripe require a certain amount of precision, and the question that Galactic Conflict continually brings to mind, without ever answering, is “Can mobile devices really handle the kind of APM-heavy monsters PC gamers love?” Here the screen, even zoomed out all the way, seems too close. The minimap is a joke when your opponent can only possibly have forces on one of, what, three or four planets? And, despite a rudimentary attempt at offering players the equivalent of hotkeys (that is, three of 'em), troop movement via touch controls simply can't offer any more precision than the ability to send everything to one spot. God help anyone who tries to play this on a phone. I repeatedly failed an early mission because I couldn't manage to separate my forces into a fighter wing, to attack enemy escort fighters, and a bomber wing to destroy the enemy frigate, whose timed escape resulted in a mission over. Instead, I could only direct my entire force at the frigate, meaning every single ship I had, fighters and all, shot at the damn thing to the exclusion of everything else. Without competent escorts, my bombers were quickly wiped out.
The problems with Galactic Conflict aren't limited to platform issues. This bastard's difficult—though it's hard to separate when the frequent difficultly spikes are the result of poor controls or poor design, or both. Campaign missions, for example, often task you with holding planets against sudden swarms of enemy forces. Where another RTS might have you focus on defensive units while slowly building up a counterattack force, Galactic Conflict has you continually pump out ships, fighter by fighter, in a bid to wear down the enemy attack through attrition. This translates to tapping the same button over and over in a menu screen, without a clear view of your hapless pilots shooting out on individual kamikaze runs. Not attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, this.
And then there are the little things, the small grievances that would be forgivable were they not stacked next to countless other niggling bugbears. Like, should you really have to invest in the research tree in order to get the basic, starting unit? Does it really make sense that every unit which isn't strong against another unit seems to be hard-countered by it? (Zerging is often maligned, but surely an entire battalion of fighters should be able to destroy a cruiser eventually, yeah?) From a mechanical standpoint, should buildings I've constructed on a planet be so easy to destroy? Doesn't that give the attacker a massive advantage with no real drawback? What about that part where I, the embattled commander, grimly assess the field and plan my next move? Is this thing on? Does that thing about screaming in space apply to gently spoken concerns too?
So, can a grand, PC-style RTS work on mobile devices? Yes. No. One already has. Never. Sure. Unlikely. Maybe. Eventually. Possibly. Who the hell knows? What would that look like? Maybe a little bit like a fig? All that's certain is that Galactic Conquest is not that mythical fig game.