Last year, Days of Thunder quickly asserted itself as a serious arcade racer on the iPhone. Paramount's back with Top Gun, looking to do the same for combat flyers.
Top Gun puts iPhone and iPod Touch owners in the flight suit of a new recruit under the guidance of Maverick and Ice Man—you choose your own handle—who flies into the face of a new Communist threat. You'll pilot your way into the danger zone in either a F-22 raptor or B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber, with anthem master Kenny Loggins sonically guiding you through dogfights that may very well take your breath away.
Does Top Gun pass muster?
Flight Control: Shrewdly, Top Gun is a rails shooter (sorry, guided third-person experience) in which the developers set up "danger zone" patterns for you to barnstorm through (and avoid) laid over surprisingly rich environments. Danger zones - either an obstacle or enemy fire - tip you off to areas you don't want to be, rather than relying on you spotting that canyon wall or carrier bridge upcoming. It's good way to build this kind of a game on this platform, and the controls are matched well to the challenge, responsive without being too sensitive. Between missions you'll probably shift your iPhone or iPod while you crack your knuckles, but recalibration is a snap and accessible through the pause menu. Flying is the point of this game, and the flying is fun.
Campy fun: I was going to bag on this game's continuity. But it's an iPhone game, the fact it has any story and continuity is more a positive than a negative. It's still a bit weird to be flying modern-day combat aircraft (F-22s, B-2s) and still macho-talking about waxing Boris and the commies. Then again, Top Gun is, and always will be, classic Cold War propaganda. Take it in stride and the game will wink at you lots of times with humor that isn't entirely unintentional. My favorite was a pre-mission briefing in which those bastard Soviets were sending a bomber after our carrier. (Really. A tactical high-altitude bomber. OK.) "Jesus!" says one of the pilots in your briefing group. "Jesus can't fire an M61 rotary cannon at sixty-six hundred rounds per minute for us today," says Maverick, who is now an instructor (with Iceman) at Top Gun.
Repetition: The upside is the missions can be quite long, an achievement on this platform. The downside is that they can be quite long, too. You'll fly different aircraft and meet different objectives, but it all comes back to evasive maneuvers and blasting unlimited missiles at endless waves of enemy aircraft. Mission failure means starting over from the beginning, making it extra agonizing when you screw the pooch with just 2 kills out of 30 left. The mission load times are, to be blunt, a pain in the ass, especially if you're going back to clear a level you've been failing repeatedly. The between-missions dialogue, actually advances a story (albeit kind of hokey) but it's OK and you can breeze through it. But the establishing-shot animations and the text dialogue at the beginning of missions just seem to get in the way of playing the game.
Putting together an arcade flyer with serious gameplay chops on the iPhone, and doing it with an existing IP, is a mean challenge. Freeverse handled it very well. I'm not sure I'd classify this as a casual game, which reflects credit on Freeverse for deepening the gaming experience in a new platform. On top of that, it delivers unlockables, some easter eggs and achievements, all for $4. That's a good value, and for all for all the campy dialogue and touches, Top Gun is still a very serious game.
Top Gun, for the iPhone and iPod Touch, was developed by Freeverse and published by Paramount Digital Entertainment. Currently available from iTunes store for introductory price of $3.99. Played all missions on iPhone.
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