2K and Firaxis a recently started releasing games on tablets, and Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol caught my eye for its pedigree and interesting subject. So I picked it up for my iPad, for free and apparently identical to the PC version, to see if it was worth buying.
Ace Patrol is a turn based tactical game where you take between one and four WW1 planes on missions which generally involve shooting other planes down. The handling of the tactical combat is beautiful in its simplicity, while really capturing the swooping and rolling of the dogfights. Each turn a plane will make a movement chosen from an array ranging from climbing or turning, to advanced manoeuvres (unlocked with experience) such as tailspins and rolls, to ace manoeuvres (also unlocked) like the Immelman turn or Split S. Your planes will fire at any enemy that crosses their line of fire, and damage is worked out based on how clear the shot was. It all works rather well.
Unfortunately there’s not a lot of variety. There’s an ongoing campaign that takes your squadron (actually only four pilots, so a flight) through three of the major offensives of the war, with your score in each mission (of which there are about 8 per offensive) ultimately making up the success of the battle. Pilots can be taken out of the game for an amount of time by heavy damage (repair time), being shot down (hospital), or crashing behind enemy lines (PoW), and this really starts to make things tight later on. Despite this thin RPG layer, which also includes new aircraft as the war progresses and special bonuses for the pilots, the battles become pretty samey rather quickly.
The game is available on iPad (possibly other devices), where you get to run through one campaign (British, German, French, or American) and then the first offensive after that, with all planes unlocked. You pay to unlock further campaigns (about £3 for all of them), Aces (gives you pretty skins for the planes, £3 again) and horrible ‘cheats’ which instantly get your pilots back into action (but also give you a small permanent time reduction, of which there are three, for £69 each). The cheaper alternative is the PC version, which gives you everything for £6.
Personally I prefer it on the iPad, it fits the touch interface and quick games. However, it doesn’t have the replay value to make me want to pay for it when I can get everything cheaper on Steam. I’ll no doubt pick it up in a Steam sale, because it isn’t worth £6. Might be a nice little multiplayer distraction for those of us who like the odd tactical battle.