Treehouse Ltd. has just released a new take on the top-down aerial shooter formula in the form of 1951 - World War One [App Store] for the iPhone. The game takes place in an alternate history where, on June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip's gun jammed, letting Archduke Franz-Ferdinand live to see another day.
With this single mechanical failure the seed of First World War was never sown, and without the humiliation of Versaille's there was no wind to fan the flames for a second one. Adolf Hitler had to make his living as a mediocre marketplace artist at the streets of Vienna instead of becoming the dangerous, dictatorial dreamer he would otherwise have been. But without two global wars to drive the technology forward the world of 1951 remains much like the world at the turn of the century - colonialism upholding imperial economies and withering alliances cemented with royal marriages. It's Imperialism iced with biplanes and rock'n roll!
It's a rather interesting premise and -- who knows -- it might not be too far off the mark in that particular "what if" scenario. What I can tell you is that this game is definitely right on the mark as far as a title that's absolutely worth its 20MBs on your device. This game is just great.
1951 is a top-down aerial shooter something akin to the arcade classic 1942, but with such striking graphic realism that's it's something of a flawed comparison. The game places you high above Europe in a biplane with the simple goal of kill-or-be-killed. The scrolling landscape far below and the clouds and other artifacts of the varying weather patterns look amazing and the 3D aircraft (and the plumes of smoke that they'll soon be streaming) render in very nicely. It's a definite looker, but there's more than looks that set this one apart.
The game's entire system of control, response, and damage is much more of a realistic affair than something like 1942, which is a more "standard" shooter. Incoming enemy aircraft, which are marked with a directional star at the edge of the screen when they're out of view, do not hang about in an ever-present swarm. Rather, you need to seek them out and chase them, and it takes work to stay on their tail. It also takes work to shoot them down. Rather than simply shoot-hit-boom, in 1951 you must fire volleys of shells, smattering the target with maybe 10 to 15 direct hits before smoke gives way to flame and an earthward death-spiral.
And, of course, the enemies are shooting back at you all the while. But, I find you're much more likely to be done in by direct collision with incoming enemy aircraft than by way of their shells. As they fly onto the screen, they're usually headed straight for your fixed, centered position and it takes some maneuvering to avoid a crash which, depending on severity, inflicts a range of damage to your biplane. What's more, you need to contend with the barrel-rolls and Immelmann maneuvers the enemy pulls off mid-battle. Luckily, as you level-up, you too can acquire these special abilities, among others.
1951 features two single-player play modes: Wave Mode and Survival. The former, as the name might suggests, moves you through wave after wave of enemies, each larger than the one before, while the latter sends you on a bid to simply stay alive as long as you can. Success here is tracked via OpenFeint. The game uses tilt controls to rotate your craft left and right, with tap controls for fire and activation of certain special abilities such as repair and a sort-of auto-destroy weapon. A throttle slider to the far left regulates your speed, and successfully avoiding collisions requires frequent adjustment, here. The onscreen control response feels very smooth and precise as opposed to a "twitchy" affair -- and it's a good thing too, as precision is what it takes to track an enemy and fill him with 15 pieces of lead.
1951 - World War One is a very nice variant on the 1942 shooter formula that's extremely well put together. It's visually quite impressive and works you a bit harder than a more typical fire-and-forget shooter. Bear in mind that a twitch-shooter, this is not -- it's much more about precision and accuracy. I'd urge all the shooter fans out there to take a good, close look at this one.
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