Flight Control Rocket [$.99] is beautiful. The art is pyrotechnic: the groovy colors are sharp and detailed, betraying no fuzz, gloom, or jagged edges on the new iPad. Even the menus have flair. Created intricately to reflect the swinging sci-fi themes that the rest of the game is so gleefully entrenched in, they're a pleasure to plumb. The on-screen antics feel just as good, as Firemint has iterated on the core design in really fresh ways. But, it's a shame that all of this is wrapped in the stench of corporate influence. Some of the most interesting additions to the core play model are rendered meaningless courtesy clumsily handled free-to-play functionality.

The sci-fi influence, outside of the slicker and more vibrant visual appeal, is just a fun contrivance to push the series' usual conceit: take a ship, plot a course, and then repeat until the screen is so full of ships, that it becomes impossible to not avoid a mid-space collision. New features include a fascinating variety of ships with abilities, all of which refreshingly change up the pacing. There's 15 new ships in total, including a snake-like series of ships that coils as you move it, a ship that splits into two, and even a new drop-ship type that spits out smaller ships into the playing area.

The new ships also feel like stopgaps, designed specifically to keep you from developing a rhythm or from zoning out. Flight Control is usually just an effort in concentration; but with these, it is becoming a much more viable strategy game. There's enough content on a micro-level now to warrant focus, forethought, and tactics.

To its credit, the action stays manageable despite the varying seeds, sizes, and the abilities of certain ship classes. In part, this is because the action feels a hair or two slower, but there's also a new health component that allows for a couple of hiccups along the way, whereas the previous game just ended after one collision. It also doesn't hurt that this series remains a breeze to play: tap and trace, that's it.

A not-so-clever IAP system sours all of the good vibes these parts of the experience can offer. As you play across the game's two modes, endless and a time-based survival mode, you'll earn pieces of optionally purchasable in-game gold. You can use this, in turn, to buy robitic avatars that grant specific bonuses during play. The starter robot randomly ratchets up the score of a landed ship, for example, while others bump up gold earned or grant you extra lives. These sound neat in theory, and they would be totally fun adds if (a) they weren't saddled by egregious IAP loops, and (b) weren't laughably expensive.

In order to use a robot more than three or so times, you need to spend in-game gold on the batteries to power them. IAP loops consistently strike me as beyond tacky, and in this situation, they're rigged in the game's favor. Also, my mental math says it'll take me at least a dozen hours to obtain one of the top-tier robots without spending any dough, which is especially silly considering this game costs real money to begin with. It's sad. The robots idea is a casualty of a crazy business model that is too aggressive, too Facebook-y to take seriously. It's a big, black eye instead.

Minus the free-to-play shenanigans, Flight Control Rocket is easily the best entry in the series so far, as it sports a lot of fresh and fun ideas, as well as a groovy new theme that Firemint fleshes out splendidly throughout. It's also one of the best looking new iPad games. But, the free-to-play components do exist, and they keep the experience from feeling like a cohesive whole. This game is split into parts, as a result, and the bad has a habit of putting a damper on the good.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=789334798 Mike Kohary

    Thanks for a great review of what looks like a potentially great game.  Equal thanks for a thorough and fair assessment of the IAP portion of the game, and for knocking a couple of stars off the final rating because of it.  I was really looking forward to this game, but I think I'll take a pass - I like my games polished and professional, not acting like street beggars looking to save enough money for the next bottle of malt liquor.  It is too bad such a fine game from such a fine development team had to be sullied by the Big Bad Corporation that purchased them.  It's so cliche and stereotype it shouldn't be real, but here we are.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Mullen/1374879004 Robert Mullen

    I am enjoying the game, but agree the iap is annoying. I certainly dont plan on spending any money just for some stupid bonus robots. and it annoys me that those who do shell out the cash will have an advantage in the leaderboards. Sure, you can earn the money over time, but it takes way too long to work well imo.

     Also, i didnt see you mentioned the fact that all said and done, this game really only has one map. There are two modes, and each mode basically uses the same map. Based on my experience with the first Flight Control, i was expecting at least a handful of maps for my $.99. But nope, just one.

     My guess is we will see new maps added for iap in the future.

    All that said I am still enjoying the game enough to keep playing it, but it really is a shame that this title does not have what i would typically expect from a firemint game.

  • bgoldsworthy

    I disagree completely about the IAP implementation. The game is very playable and purchase prices are reasonable without buying a single coin with real money.

    If you've been playing Flight Control, it's manageable to bank 1k or more coins in a good game in Infinity mode. That means after 5-10 games of Infinity mode you can unlock Odyssey mode, where thanks to the bonus rounds I've been averaging 5-10k coins per game after picking up the "More Coins" bot after my first Odyssey round (where I only banked 4.5k, nearly making up for the unlock price in a single round). 

    If I could buy every purchase in the game during my first few days of playing, I'd feel like the upgrades weren't well thought-out, so I don't see the problem with the expensive bots sitting there luring me to play more. Just because you CAN buy coins with real money to take a shortcut to the big bonus upgrades doesn't mean you have to.

  • Ben

    In addition to the poor IAP implementation, I think the art style is a lot less appealing than the original. This looks sort of generic whereas the Flight Control did something really unique with the graphics/music.

  • stormchild

    I warned you guys about the effect of EA imposing IAP junk on Firemint's once-great games. Turns out I was right.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      The sad thing is that it doesn't really matter what Firemint would have done, people will always say, "See! I told you! EA ruined everything!!!" EA aside, this kind of stuff is par for the course now. It'd actually be pretty strange in my book if this game DIDN'T have some kind of IAP mechanic... But, don't let Occam's Razor get in the way of any EA rage outs. :)

      • Tondog

        I do agree that it is par for the course, but I do think EA had something to do with the degree of IAPs the game has and how the various parts function. The most apparent example of this is probably the limited use of the bots where you have to either wait a certain number of minutes for them to recharge or buy a battery.

      • stormchild

        True enough. Games now make a great deal more money from IAPs than initial sales, evidenced by the fact that so-called (I hate this damn word…) "freemium" games dominate the "Top Grossing" listing in the App Store. Despite the large number of us who hate IAPs (at least, the kind that just buys some disposable currency or items in a game…i.e. the kind where you have to keep paying, as opposed to IAPs for new content, which is what IAPs were intended for), that's where the money is.

        I think EA's influence is pretty obvious here though. Look at the way PopCap's games have become similarly "scammier" since the EA acquisition. The button to buy expensive rare gem bonuses in Bejeweled Blitz is deliberately placed right where you're expecting the 'play' button to be, and the screen appears randomly (so you can't see it coming) to maximize the likelihood of tapping that button accidentally. And of course, there's no 'undo' if you happen to accidentally waste 75,000 coins on a one-time Phoenix upgrade you didn't want.

        But hey, no worries…you can just buy more coins…with real money! (Or…*snicker*…try to earn them back at a rate of ~600 coins per game played.)

        Admittedly the IAP stuff in Flight Control Rocket isn't quite as predatory, but the way it's now built-in as a "continue" — the 'default' behavior' (instead of just a bonus 'rewind' like it was when IAPs were retroactively grafted onto the original Flight Control) — is not a good sign, IMO.

  • Tim Jordan

    I love the clever variety of ships each with truly unique quirks, the bots, and the two modes distinct styles (same map but how they handle combos and level progressions are unique).  What is annoying, however, is how the game is SATURATED with IAPs for every aspect of play.  The only saving grace is that earning credits, especially compared to other games with in-game currency, is fairly easy.  I can earn about 1,000 a game as well and even if I WANTED to buy some of the higher tiered bots outright it would cost well over $20, so it isn't even like the IAPs are a viable option in this case anyways.

  • VancouverBlade

    It's got to the stage now when I see IAP for a game I have to think hard about buying it. I would much rather buy $3-5 on a game and get the full product than keep paying $1 every couple of weeks.

  • araczynski

    might be the only one, but i think the line drawing flying games are a little iphone1 if you ask me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/delfrate Bruno Del Frate

    I agree 100% with the review. But all those nice new ships and robots can't hide the fact that (apparently) there's only *one single map* to play with. The game soon gets quite boring, IMHO.

  • farnsworth_pro

    EA is a wrecking ball. Devs, please stay independent. For yourselves and for your customers/fans.

Flight Control Rocket Reviewed by Brad Nicholson on . Rating: 3