“Better campaign missions and visuals, paired with still-great online play and controls, yield an excellent and accessible aerial affair.”£2.99
Beginning its upward ascent with the solid World War I-themed Rise of Glory, Sky Gamblers then shifted gears with last year’s Air Supremacy, mostly nailing the speed and flair of modern aerial combat in the process. But it’s a return to fertile historical soil that fuels the series’ slickest and most successful entry to date, Storm Raiders, which tackles World War II with a couple of campaigns and loads of multiplayer options.
Evenly splitting its action between the Battle of Britain and Asia-Pacific War, the 12 single-player missions offer a significant improvement over those seen in the previous entry. Gone alongside the sleek jets are the comic book interludes and wailing guitar tracks, but despite the slightly subdued presentation, the actual missions are much tighter and tenser than ever before. From fighting off invaders at Pearl Harbor to sinking enemy carriers and escorting generals through bullet-riddled pathways, the solo levels vault you into action quickly and keep things lively throughout. Where the flimsy storyline and occasionally bland missions made the campaign a secondary pursuit in Air Supremacy, here the history-fuelled objectives and sweeping orchestral anthems put it nearly on par with the online battles for sheer thrills on both iPhone and iPad.
Expectedly, though, it’s those multiplayer skirmishes that’ll keep players flying the unfriendly skies for the longest span of time. Up to eight combatants can strap in for the fantastic dogfights, which range from solo endeavours such as Free for All (every pilot for himself) and Last Man Standing (one death and you’re out) to cooperative team efforts including Capture the Flag and Team Deathmatch. And for those times when you wish only to explore the airspace with a few friendlies in sight, the Free Flight mode simply opens up a space for players to spin around the terrain without goals or timers.
Storm Raiders serves up ample online competition, as we discovered near-full matches upon every connection, plus you can link up with Game Center pals or specifically line up one-on-one duels if desired; whatever the size or scenario, lag was never an issue in our shootouts. If you’re away from a network connection, it’s easy to simulate the sensation against AI opponents in the game’s myriad offline versions of the multiplayer styles, which slot in alongside the wave-based survival mode and non-narrative dogfight missions amidst the sizable bonus content.
Extensive content would be all for naught if fussy controls spoiled the action, but like Air Supremacy before it, Storm Raiders’ wide array of input options should appease all comers. Simplified choices such as casual touch or tilt-based movement make it easy to tail foes as they weave through the clouds, though more advanced players can make the most out of a combination of the two to better simulate the real thing. And with a handful of viewpoints, including a detailed in-cockpit perspective, it’s easy to pin down a comfortable pairing of control and camera.
While the game will run on anything packing iOS 5.0 – including the iPhone 3GS and original iPad – owners of current Apple hardware are in for a real treat. Between the glistening waters and impressive explosions, Storm Raiders particularly dazzles on the iPhone 5, with a steady frame rate that keeps the combat fluid throughout. Played on a third-generation iPad, that smoothness is slightly diminished, as are the details in the environment, but the energetic action still shines through on older devices. Cheers to Atypical Games for not leaving out such players, because the latest Sky Gamblers is a glossy and exhilarating game worth savouring on any device, and it easily usurps its predecessors to take the throne of the App Store’s finest flight option.