Top Gun iPhone Preview: Bringing Back The Cold War

Remember when Russians were the staple bad guy of good films? If not, you may be too young to own an iPhone.

Top Gun for the iPhone remembers the glory days of the Cold War – a time when men wore leather jackets, women (apparently) didn't wear bras and the B2 Spirit was next-gen. Developed by Freeverse – same guys who did Days of Thunder for the iPhone – the game harkens back both to the 80s hit film and to old school arcade shooters that we used to feed quarters to. But even if you can't remember who said the famous line, "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," Top Gun iPhone might still take your breath away.


What Is It?
Top Gun for the iPhone is flight simulator/3D shooter. Players control both the plane and the targeting reticule with the accelerometer while two onscreen buttons control the Vulcan cannon and the missile launcher. The plot of the game takes place after the film – Maverick and Iceman are now teachers of your generic sassy character at the Navy Fighter Weapons School.

What We Saw
I spent 15 minutes with the game in a hotel room where publisher Paramount was also showing Star Trek to other journalists. It was kind of hard to hear the audio as a result and because I had a limited time with the game, I didn't get to soak up the story cut scenes.

How Far Along Is It?
The game is pretty much done and due out in May, but an exact date and price haven't been set yet.

What Needs Improvement?
Cluttered Screen: The scoring system in Top Gun makes for a messy display. Besides the buttons, the health meter and other heads-up display icons, you've also have to look at "danger zone" boxes that pop up on screen in a 3x3 grid. Danger zones usually indicate an incoming missle or a building you're about to fly into – the longer you stay in a danger zone, the more points you rack up. The box starts out flashing yellow and then turns red when impact is imminent. It's a helpful visual indicator of impending doom, I suppose, but when you've got all nine danger zones flashing at once, it stops being useful and starts being cluttered.


Auto-Calibration: Unlike Days of Thunder, in Top Gun you can change the calibration of the motion controls at any point in any level. However, at the beginning of each mission, the game auto-calibrates based on how it thinks you're holding the phone. For me, this resulted in a totally screwed up calibration that had to be reset right at the beginning of the mission, which totally slowed down the action.

No multiplayer: Boo.

What Should Stay The Same?
Effective Calibration: As many times as I had to recalibrate, I was always amazed at how perceptive and effective the calibration system was. All you have to do is pause, press one button, title how you want the phone to be when your aircraft is in a neutral position, then press a button and off you go. It's effective, if a little tedious to have to redo it at the start of each mission.


Replay Possibilities: The game awards achievements and medals for satisfying certain conditions on missions. I applaud this game extension tactic in lieu of anything like iPhone Achievements comparable to Xbox Live.

Plays Decently: The developer is keenly aware that this is meant to be a portable experience and they've gone the extra mile to make you enjoy whatever brief amount of time you get to play the game. You've got infinite ammo, simple instructions and uncomplicated menu options that are easily accessible – so you can pick this game up and put it down without ever feeling lost, confused or frustrated with the enemy AI.


Pretty Visuals Overall: The mountain levels looked a little bland, but the planes looked decent, the cut scenes had a mature cartoon style that appealed to me and the water was very pretty.

Final Thoughts
Two things bother me about this game. The first is wondering if Top Gun is going to fall victim to the price wars that currently rage on the iPhone App store. Given how short the missions were and how limited the scope of combat, I could see paying up to $1.50 for this game. If Paramount asks for $5, no way.


The second thing that's bugging me is the age gap. I heart Top Gun, but then I was just old enough to catch the tail end of 80s pop culture. Anyone younger than me that owns an iPhone just might not get this game; and they will be totally confused by the joke in my second paragraph, having never danced to "Take My Breath Away" at prom.


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