It's always surprised me when considering both how many games there are on the App Store combined with just how well the iPhone's tilt controls lend itself to the genre that we haven't seen more combat-oriented flight sims. While we had fun with both Ace Combat Xi and F.A.S.T., it has been nearly 2 years since their respective releases, and it is more than time for something new. Z2Live Games has decided to capitalize both on the recent lack of awesome combat-centric flight sims and how popular freemium gaming has been lately with MetalStorm: Online [Free].

Like most (all?) free to play games, it doesn't take long to get introduced to the in-app purchase system that fuels the whole thing. In the case of MetalStorm: Online, in-game coins and tokens are the name of the game when it comes to buying the jets you'll be flying, as well as tweaking them out with upgrades. You'll start out with enough credits to buy yourself a starter jet, although you're really limited to one of three that you'll be able to afford.

After picking up your first jet, you'll be ready to fly. In its initial release, MetalStorm: Online includes 3 game modes to choose from. You can either fight against continuous waves of AI-controlled opponents in either single player or co-op modes, or take the fight online via Game Center. Each game you play awards experience points as well as tokens which allow you to buy new jets, upgrades, and more.

The game's simple HUD compliments the controls very well, with virtual buttons for the various functions of your jets oriented intelligently on screen. They're both simple enough, and feel standard enough that if you try out MetalStorm: Online and you've played any other iOS combat sim you'll pick things up instantly. Evasion is handled in a clever way in MetalStorm with swipe-based gestures to perform various rolls, dodges, and quick turns.

While the previously mentioned single player mode is a fun way to learn the game, as the title hints, MetalStorm: Online was made to be played online. Game Center matches work well, and aside from a seldom rogue disconnect, connections have been perfect. Online dogfights can feel a little slow at time, as each of you are circling each other, but few games can rival the rush of a great matchup of an opponent with equal gear and skill... Which really leads me to my one major gripe about the game.

Each weapon you purchase with tokens or coins has an ammo count. Once that ammo runs out you'll either have to re-purchase them again using the tokens you've earned or downgrade to the standard weapons, which compared to the upgrade options are far inferior. You can still win matches against bettter equipped opponents using the basic weapons, but it is very difficult and can get quite frustrating. The game's match maker also doesn't seem to take into account the equipment level of your opponent, so it's not out of the ordinary to find yourself substantially outgunned by players who have invested in IAP.

MetalStorm: Online seems to be truly free to play in that you really can get all the important upgrades by earning the various in-game credits just by playing, but doing so would require some serious devotion to the game. Currently, you receive one coin per level up. In the early levels of the game, this takes around half a dozen matches. The best plane right now costs 300 coins, and saving up for that just by playing just seems unrealistic-- Especially considering the whole time you'll likely be outgunned by people who are buying upgrades instead of stockpiling coins.

$5 worth of coins let me get a new plane and some missile upgrades which allowed me to absolutely dominate the matches I've played since, even going three in a row without dying once. Sadly, it seems buying IAP is basically required if you're at all interested in playing competitively online. Comparatively, before I bought my upgrades, I basically just joined games and got owned. I don't feel like I got substantially better in the skill department between the pre-IAP and post-IAP games, and the vast difference in performance feels directly related to dropping five bucks.

This alone would be annoying enough, but you never really feel like you even can save up your freebie tokens earned by playing because you have ton constantly be buying ammo for your weapon upgrades. This ammo system makes it feel like every time you make two steps forward in saving up for something cool without paying, you need to take a step back and buy some ammo to remain vaguely competitive.

The good news is, the whole in-game economy and how games are matched can be completely rebalanced, likely without even issuing an update to the game itself if MetalStorm: Online is running on a similar infrastructure as other freemium games. If that happens, MetalStorm would be an entirely effortless recommendation. Gameplay (when you're not getting totally smoked by people who bought better equipment) is a ton of fun, the graphics are great, and the controls work incredibly well.

Since it's free, you don't have much to lose by trying MetalStorm: Online. You might really enjoy grinding away in the game while slowly earning coins, making most of my IAP-related complaints a non-issue. I just can't escape the feeling that I'm being nickel and dimed for upgrades, ammo, and IAP doesn't seem anywhere near as optional as it should be in a PvP-driven online game where investing real-world dollars can make such a difference, essentially making the game less about skill and more about who has either spent more money or invested more time grinding up coins.

TouchArcade Rating

  •  Ammaar Reshi

    I totally agree with this review. Fantastic game but all about IAP. And they match you up with people who have better equipment just to fuel the urge of dishing out some bucks. Great game but real rip-off.

  • Artfoundry

    I too thought the IAP would really cause balancing issues, but I've won nearly all of my games so far with only the default cannon, the low end missile upgrade (AIM-120), and the free plane (F-7).  Of course, I'm not sure how much IAPs my opponents had - I wasn't really paying much attention.  It would be nice though if they removed the need for restocking on ammo - that's just silly.  Some other features would be good too, like cockpit/HUD view, stalling, countermeasures, and more game modes like 2v2, 3v3, 4v4.

  • Chris Overbee

     Reminds me of Eliminate Pro, except in plane form.

  • Roni

     I have no trouble taking people with much higher rating than myself by using only the free items. Ultimately it seems skill based - with supplemental IAP enhancements.

  • Frumius

     I can see how it would appeal to people who have a hard time flying in Skies of Glory, for Metalstorm is another few steps toward arcade flying without the subtlety of Skies of Glory's controls (or F.A.S.T.'s for that matter, though I no longer recommend the latter).  I don't like that Metalstorm's controls don't even allow you to do a barrel roll -- you can do a special maneuver that rolls your plane a few times to one side or the other, but it's a fixed number of rolls; you have no control.    You can't fly your plane on its side in a straight line, for as soon as you try to fly on your side the flight model forces you to turn.  It's crazy.

    Ok, so my gripe is that the flying is too dumbed down.  That's my personal gripe.  It doesn't require as much skill as it does to fly the much more awesome WWII flight combat game Skies of Glory.  Since there is less subtlety to master, it means that the playing field is somewhat more leveled than it is in SoG.  And by the same token, those who don't want to have to master the more complex (though not overly so) controls of SoG can instantly have more success.

    Having said that, I find that my hours behind the Mustang or Zero in Skies of Glory, or the jets I used to fly in F.A.S.T., have stood me in good stead in this game.  It's dumbed down, but the flying experience I got in the more realistic games I've mentioned must have helped, for I can pretty much stomp all the people who the game matches me up with in Multiplayer (people who must also be new to the game, I presume).  When I say that SoG or F.A.S.T. are more realistic, it is true, but I do not mean to imply that they are not also very arcade-like; they are, but to a lesser degree -- and I like the extra control they give more than the limitations of Metalstorm.

    So ends my ramble.

    I've been flying as Frumius in Metalstorm, but in SoG I'm SAB Downstroyer.  See you in the skies!

  • Nathan Nutter

     I've not purchased any coins at all. I've killed 3, 4, even 5 in a match. I've killed guys with purchased planes and premium missiles. I'm currently ranked ~5k out of 1.4M on the leaderboards. 

    Until recently I was using only the default cannons and missles. have gotten every upgrade that you can get with the green coins and was up to several thousand so I gave in and started using the next level up weapons which can be equipped with just the green tokens. (Using the +damage plane but looking into the +agility plane next.)

    Perhaps the game could use some tweaking but I don't think its' that far off. I've gone up against people that were 2k rating and got obliterated. Yes they had full decked IAP planes but they also seems pretty darn good and positioning, etc. I've played this game more than any other game by far and I've only had it a few days. It really is fun.

  • Mr.Reeee

     Loaded the game on my iPad. As soon as I saw I needed to buy "upgrades" I trashed it. This game is not "free".

  • Jd Ford13

     i havent bought anything on the app and i do great

  • Chris Matchett

     The game crashes during play - sometimes because the servers are 'down for maintenance'. I've seen reviews from people that have bought IAP and have lost what they bought because the game crashed them out when nearly winning without returning the purchased items.
    If it wasn't for the nice graphics and well thought out control system this would be nothing.

  • James

    This game abuses the notification system for advertising purposes. I found a notification on my device "advising" me that coins are on "sale" at the moment.

    I'm aware I can disable notifications per/app - but I still consider this poor form and it really emphasises that this game is all about milking overpriced IAP.

  • Aaron Scott

    I disagree that you need the upgraded weapons to dominate. I've played 54 matches and have not lost a single one (although 7 were ties). All were with default weapons, except for some experimenting in the beginning. 

    I did upgrade my plane, and it seems that few pilots do, I have yet to face someone flying the same plane I have. It also costs token to go through the each planes upgrade tree. 

    I think the IAP are a little steep in this game, and wish they would lower the bar, especially regarding ammo limits, it's just greedy.

  • TripMX

    I personally think this game is simply one of the best experiences on the iPad 2. I understand that the developers put alot of hard work into this app, and of course they want their cut too (IAP+); I think it's genius how they take full advantage of IAP in MetalStorm Online. I too, have not invested in IAP yet and I'm still enjoying the game greatly. Obtaining credits is simple--> Play lots of Single Player Survival Mode. I can get around 1000 credits after 3 sets of 7~8 enemy waves. That plenty enough to purchase a new (low class) plane, cannons, or missiles. Use them sparingly. Obtaining coins takes a long time--> 1 free coin per level up...fastest way to level up is Single Player Survival Mode, as you won't always win big in online battling, but as your plane gets upgraded, you'll be able to do more enemy waves and gain more EXP all at once. Even still, ONE coin per level up is just too damn little, especially considering that the top tier planes cost a stellar 300 coins, which is ridiculous if you plan on earning it the hard way. I say lower the plane (coin purchases) costs by at least 1/4 or give us 3 coins per level up w/tech upgrades (coin costs) at double the current price. Just my input; business is business though.

  • Gmp888

    Can anyone verify that the max level is 25? And playing with the standard weapons or the cheapest credit ones is still fun, and can win against stonger opponents ( I went up against someone with a Hades gun and won).

    • plepleus

      I've hit a wall at Level 25 as well.  Experience gain seems to be +1 XP per WAVE, so if manage to take out 14 waves, you get +14XP.  Never going to get to level 26 at this rate, if it even exists.

      • guest

        as you go further in the waves each plane is more xp

      • Christian Frei 79

         I think you can go beyond level 26 but im not sure. My highest is level 25 but yesterday i chattet online with a guy from Munic - he told me that his highest level is 28.....but again; im not sure

      • Deloi

        can you guys share some tips on how you reach that level, like manouvering, positioning and other useful tips. i've played against players with more that 1.5K skill levels. they are really good. they're always on my tail.

  • Joe

    has anyone tried the online chat function in game play?

    • Christian Frei

       yea - i tried it for the first time yesterday - i am from  Denmark and i plkayen CO woth a guy from Munic/ Germany. It worked really really good. The connection was just when you do a normal call or Skype

  • xxxSTILLWELLxxx

    I completely agree but at the same time, you get better. Or at least I did. You can most definitely make the first 3 planes deadly if you earn credits and spend the first few coins you do get leveling up on the tech-upgrades for the first plane you purchased. The first attack plane is a deadly foe with a good pilot and it's tech-upgrades. The trick to having a chance when your outgunned is getting as close to them as possible as fast as possible. 

    At this point you can now get the best planes available by earning credits, making it fair for everyone to have the option to get the same planes. Though it will take some serious playing to get them for free it's still available for free. Something most games like this never give the option to do.

  • Christian Frei, Denmark

    i have a question; In a few games, i have played against some people who found out how to hit me - eventhough i do the 180 turn og the flip to one of the sides. Does anyone one know how they do that? Is it just a matter of technique/ skill or is it because i play Metalstorm on my Iphone,and maybe they have an Ipad?

  • Killer-kat

    does anyone have problems connecting through the game center for this game and it not working??

  • Killerkat

    connecting with someone in the same room....

  • guest

    you don't need coins for a good plane. at level 15 you get the eagle-x.

  • YuKang Park

    I've never bought an IAP and I can beat a dude lugging bishnovats...there's a lot more skill to the gameplay than you think

MetalStorm: Online Reviewed by Brian Johnson on . Rating: 3