Price: Free to download, $6.99 In-app purchase
Version Reviewed: 1.0.0
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If you were to take a time machine and ask the late 90's version of myself what the best gaming genre was, I would've undoubtedly said RTS. Warcraft 2 was still going strong through expansion packs and map sets, C&C: Red Alert and Age of Empires 2 were both killer in their own right, and Total Annihilation multiplayer games were totally hogging my 56K bandwidth. It was Starcraft though that stopped people in their tracks. As far as I'm concerned, there hasn't been a single amazing RTS to come out since Starcraft was launched, as it became the bar to which other games were rated. Heck, the game is so huge that there are professional sports leagues in Korea dedicated to it, where gamers are measured no in athletic prowess, but by how many "commands per minute" they can slap down. And you thought *your* Zerg rush was good.
Nothing is sacred though to Gameloft, who will take any game, no matter how special, and regurgitate it into their own little morsel of iOS goodness. To their defense, they haven't put out a truly bad game since Real Tennis 2009, and even that may have been fixed through rampant updates (it is on version 1.5.2). Gameloft is undoubtedly good at making games, but it kills me a little to think that there is very little original thought going on in the company.
If you haven't put it together, Starfront is StarCraft. Like Starcraft, you can play as three races (humans, the extremely Zerg-like Myriad, and the stoic Protoss-like robot race called the Wardens) and the humans have a rogue faction that will probably turn out to be the bad guy in the sequel. The controls are basically the same, with you doing all the normal stuff that you would do in an RTS; build your base, mine some minerals, build some troops, upgrade your stuff, then kill the enemy. Unlike the others that have tried out the RTS genre, Gameloft has found a good balance between base building and attacking, finally allowing you to build up a base defense and attack troop before you get mobbed by the world of enemies. On top of the great base building, troop organization and movement is all done extremely well through a mixture of the mini-map, customizable troop groups, and workers that conveniently go away once they are done with a task.
To expand further on the brilliance of the worker units, I'll give an example of the typical mobile RTS game. Let's say that your base is under heavy attack and you quickly need to select all of your troops to go to one spot. With workers scurrying around from place to place, it's inevitable that by the end of any battle you'll be down to a fraction of your labor force. In Starfront, when you send your worker to generate power, he becomes a permanent power worker, leaving the battlefield altogether. It's the same when you create a building. Instead of idling next to it once he is done, he simply becomes the building. To keep the battlefield free of attack-less units, the game will constantly warn you if a labor unit is idle. It almost screams at you when your battlefield is cluttered, and this small addition makes the game infinitely more enjoyable.
I have to give kudos to Gameloft for creating the very best RTS the App Store has to offer. Everything works well, the controls are tight, the story is surprisingly captivating, and the battles actually seem like battles, not chores. The bottom line is that if you like the RTS genre, you'll probably like Starfront.