IUGO's Star Hogs [App Store] was high on my list of games that we saw at WWDC that I couldn't wait to get my hands on after sitting down with both Sarah Thomson and Hong-Yee Wong to get a sneak peek. After our preview, I described the game as "Worms on crack" and between the preview version we recieved earlier, and the final copy for sale on the App Store, that description couldn't be more accurate.
Instead of cute worms with a comical arsenal of bazookas, sheep, and other contraptions, Star Hogs has you piloting between 1 to 4 ships (depending on the level) loaded with as much weaponry as you can afford. The depth and variety of the different ships, weapons, and defensive gadgets that each can be equipped with is one of the greatest assets of Star Hogs.
There are three types of addons for your ships: Arms, hull, and tech. Also, three different types of ships which have a different number of slots for each type of upgrade are avilable for purchase in the ship yard. For instance, the combat ship has four slots for weapons, while the intelligence ship has four slots for tech upgrades along with 2 to 3 slots for other equipment types.
Arms upgrades, as the name would hint, give you different weapons to attack with. Initially your ship will only come equipped with a basic rocket and machine gun, but playing through the single player campaign will not only give you money to buy additional weaponry, but also unlocks weapons in the process. I only have access to a few new weapons so far playing my final copy of the game, but according to Thomson at WWDC, around 20 are available.
Hull upgrades give your ship passive bonuses like increased armor or speed, and tech upgrades can provide with a beefier shield, and additional energy. In Star Hogs, the amount of energy you have translates directly to how much you can do with each turn. This puts a neat spin on the game and adds quite a bit of strategy to each turn.
With my basic combat ship, on each turn I can shoot my missiles twice and move a tiny bit, shoot one missile and move more, or shoot nothing and move until I run out of energy. Having the flexibility to do more than just move and shoot once each turn like in Worms is nice, and the energy system does a good job of really giving you a lot of flexibility in what you're going to do with each of your ships.
Instead of a flat battlefield, quite a few of the Star Hogs maps are circular with a planet or some other gravity producing body in the center. Because of this, quite often you will have to plan firing your missile and other projectiles to take advantage of the pull of gravity to curve your attack around the map to hit targets that you don't have direct line of sight to.
Learning how to aim your attacks and how much power to put behind them is challenging, but extremely satisfying when you successfully land a head-on missile straight to the grill of an enemy Hog on the opposite side of the asteroid field. New players will be dealing with lots of trial and error before getting a feel for things, but once you get a handle on the capabilities of your weapons, Star Hogs becomes exponentially more fun.
Aside from the 32 single player levels, the meat of Star Hogs is by far internet multiplayer. You can compete online against 2 to 4 players, using anywhere between 2 and 4 ships in a ranked or unranked battle. Online games have a 30 second time limit for each turn, which keeps the game fast paced, but it would be nice to have the option to change this setting as on more advanced maps with lots of players, it can be hard to plan and execute your turn inside of 30 seconds.
In my tests, online multiplayer worked well and because of the turn-based nature of Star Hogs, if there was any lag in playing over the cellular network, it was indistinguishable. One thing that I really feel is missing from online play, and I don't know how difficult this would be to implement, is some way to resume a game in progress.
I play my games on an iPhone, and being a phone and all, interruptions are fairly common and even at its best AT&T's network can be a little flaky at times. A full multiplayer game with 4 players each controlling 4 Hogs can take quite a bit of time to complete, so losing a player due to unforseen circumstances like network interruptions or phone calls is slightly irritating. (More so if you are the player that got dropped.)
It would be great if you could rejoin the game you got disconnected from, and even better if while you were disconnected the players in the game could vote to kick you, skip your turn, or wait the 30 seconds you would have been allowed if you were in game. Overall though, online play will be extremely fun to veterans of Worms multiplayer, as it provides a very similar experience playable anywhere with WiFi or a cellular data connection.
The one downside currently to playing Star Hogs online is you have to organize your games over forums or instant messages. There aren't enough players online yet to ever find anyone when you search for quick matches, but hopefully this will improve as more people pick up the game.
The music in Star Hogs does get a little repetitive, but thankfully each time you load the game it asks you if you would prefer to listen to in-game music, your iPod, or no sound at all. (A feature I wish more iPhone games had.) Also, another nice touch to Star Hogs is that on the first launch the game loads the tutorial before you even see the title screen, leaving new players no room to get lost in the game's fairly intuitive controls and purchasing system.
Star Hogs is less of a Worms clone, and more of an evolution of Worms-like turn based combat. The variety of options for ships, 32 single player levels, free play (which is basically just online play but with AI or human opponents sharing the same device), and the potential of online multiplayer makes for a solid title that can easily hold its own amongst the other $4.99 games on the App Store.
Star Hogs Lite [App Store] is also available, and if you ever enjoyed a Worms game in the past, you owe it to yourself to at least give the free version a try.