Version Reviewed: 1.1
Device Reviewed On: IPAD
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Game Controls Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
Like it or not, Star Trek: The Next Generation now looks horribly dated. What was once a cool view of the future now looks like a Holiday Inn in space. Still, there are some pieces of tech from ST:TNG that still inspire gadget lust, and one of those is the flat panel touch screens that show up on walls, in crew quarters, and yes, in portable form, throughout the series.
What does any of that have to do with Warpgate HD for the iPad? Simply this: playing this game is as close to a real Star Trek experience as you're likely to get on the iPad anytime soon. I would say it's too bad this isn't an officially licensed Star Trek game, but most of those haven't fared so well, so I'd hate to paint Warpgate HD with that particular brush.
Players begin the game with a bombast of semi-symphonic music that seems appropriate for the space opera they are about to undertake. The music, however, is fairly repetitive, so it's good news that you can adjust the volume of music separately from the volume of sound effects (and you're taught how to do so very early in the game...even so, that four or five bars of music is going to be looped endlessly in my head for a few days or so). The game immediately, and wisely, jumps you right into a basic tutorial. Movement and the primary functions of the heads-up display are the main topics, though there
are many, many other more advanced tutorials if you wish to learn the deeper intricacies of the game (more on those in a bit).
The basic tutorial is handled by a pan-galactic tour guide, but it's really little more than a small figural icon on the screen along with text-only instructions. Don't look for any voice acting in this game. I prefer a text-only approach as opposed to using poor voice actors, but I must admit that the game could use a few vocal flourishes here and there, even if it's just a ship's computer voice (a la Majel Barrett) providing warnings.
Movement in Warpgate HD could not be any easier. Touch the location on the screen where you want to travel, and off you go. If you need to travel in one direction for an extended period, just swipe your finger in that direction. It's simple and it's elegant, and it really does feel as if you are controlling a starship. Use of the HUD is likewise effortless. Pulling up a galaxy map is as simple as pressing a button, and plotting a course while in that map takes just one or two clicks as well. Jumping from one planetary system to another is handled by warp gates (hence the name of the game) that usually cost a small toll to use. Whenever near a new object on the map, like a warp gate or space station or planet, the HUD displays additional buttons so that location-specific actions - like landing, warping, etc - can easily be performed. In spite of what seems like a vast number of options, the learning curve here is really not that steep. I was up and running, outfitting my ship with new shields and weapons, and even buying and selling new ships, in no time.
Any old-school gamers will recognize the gameplay model of Warpgate HD as similar to Privateer, an early-90s variant of Wing Commander, where players were free to forge and break alliances and basically act to their own benefit without the added weight of having to adhere to a Federation-style code of conduct. This type of open-ended gameplay was new and fresh in the 1990s, but it feels a little long in the tooth on the iPad. The story in Warpgate HD is sparce, so the end result is very much a "go here, fetch this, then go here and fetch this, then go fight about it" variety. Still, it's a step in the right direction (it sure beats the endless throngs of tower defense wannabes) and the gameplay is fun in short bursts. The iPad, however, can sustain game sessions much lengthier and meaty. It's going to take developers a little while to get out of their iPhone dominated paradigm where game design is concerned.
The combat system is....passable. In spite of the developers' best efforts, you just never get a sense that you're really in control of a starship other than firing weapons. Movement, the feature that is so elegant in other aspects of the game, is awkward, and weapons firing is accomplished with quick taps on the combat-enabled HUD. It's an ok system, but if the developers want combat to be a primary gameplay element, they still have some work to do.
Graphically, the game looks very good. Ship models are nice (if somewhat generic) and there is little to no slowdown when multiple elements are active on screen at one time. At this point, it's hard to know exactly what the iPad is capable of graphically, so for the moment Warpgate HD is one of the standouts. The game is also a model for the iPad's much-vaunted (and deservedly so) snappy performance. The game system responds extremely quickly to
commands, and transitions such as warp jumps are handled equally fast. As a veteran of console gaming, I have to express how illuminating it is to play a game with little to no load time.
There's also a social element to the game, though sadly no multiplayer. Players can log into their Plus+ accounts to share achievements with friends, and, strangely, can send postcards from the various planets they visit via Twitter, Facebook email or Tumblr blog. I'm not sure what my friends would make of me sending them a postcard from Alpha Centauri, but it's a clever small feature even if it's rarely used.
So, is Warpgate HD worth your $7.99? I say yes. Will there be other games for the iPad with greater gameplay depth and more advanced features? Undoubtedly. But that's sometime in the future. In the here and now, Warpgate HD lets you indulge your inner Captain Piccard, and it satiates the itch to play a game on a grander scale on the iPad. Engage, and enjoy!