000830_largerThe introduction of airplanes changed the face of warfare. The same could be said of Firaxis' entry to the iOS gaming scene: when a Triple-A studio headed by the cherished game designer Sid Meier starts putting out iOS exclusives, you just know things are never going to be the same. Only, instead of bringing about unparalleled death and destruction, this watershed moment marks a new era of quality mobile gaming.

Firaxis has stormed on to the mobile scene: first came last week's spooky strategy game, Haunted Hollow [$0.99] (see our review here), and later this summer should see the release of the much-anticipated iOS port of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Sid Meier's Ace Patrol [Free] completes this strategy trifecta, and is the first iOS exclusive to bear the legendary designer's name. His involvement shows: Ace Patrol is a fantastic, meaty title well-deserving of your time and gaming dollar.

Ace Patrol sees the player leading a squadron of pilots in World War I, witnessing the infancy of aerial combat. Ace Patrol is a premium game masquerading as a freemium title: the free download serves as a demo and gives you a portion of the British campaign to play. The full British, French, German and American campaigns are unlocked as IAP for $0.99 a piece.

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After choosing your nation, you lead your squadron through four of the war's most famous and bloody campaigns. Each campaign is composed of eight combat missions, drawn from a pool of random scenarios. You are given a choice of three potential missions, tasking you with such varied objectives as assaults on supply convoys, bomber escorts, or air skirmishes. Should you do well enough, the eighth and final mission of each campaign will be a climactic decisive battle.

Since aerial combat is Ace Patrol's bread and butter, the question is how do the battles play? I'm happy to report that Ace Patrol's dogfights are awesome. The game is gorgeous and a lot of love went into faithfully rendering the aircraft tearing up the skies over industrial era Europe.

Controlling your pilots is simple, with arrows overlaying the battle map showing your pilot's potential moves. Your available moves are dictated by a number of factors, including your present altitude (the higher the better), the G-forces your pilot is experiencing (such as if he's been banking for the last few turns), the type and condition of the aircraft being piloted, and the maneuvers the pilot is trained in. Thankfully, all of this is done under the hood, so all you see as the player is what your pilot can do for each particular turn and whether or not he can hit an enemy.

mzl.ffqhitbrWhile turn-based dogfights might not sound like the most riveting experience, the combat is surprisingly intense. The game also includes a cool replay function which allows you to watch the results of a mission in real time when you finish it. Ace Patrol's turn-based battles will have you on the edge of your seat–imagine, your ace pilot is on the verge of downing a bomber that is seconds from its target when suddenly a German fighter bursts from the clouds and right on to your tail. Do you bring down the bomber and risk having your best pilot gunned down, or do you sacrifice the headquarters, loop back and give that bastard a taste of his own medicine?

Difficult tactical decisions are the order of the day in Ace Patrol, and the stakes are high even on the most routine missions. This is due in large part to the consequences of losing an aircraft: when one of your pilots is downed–or even worse, captured as a POW–he can be out of commission for many missions.

The battlefields in the game are surprisingly varied. I mean, all that's up there is air, right? Well, yes and no. You'll often find yourself fighting above World War I's infamous trenches, with bases on either side providing flak coverage. Flak attacks will ravage your planes, so there's a fair amount of strategy to be had in avoiding enemy anti-aircraft fire or attempting to lure your opponent into range of your own flak guns. Clouds conceal aircraft, making them great for pulling off evasive maneuvers or launching devastating surprise attacks.

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The game is also to be commended on its difficulty settings: this is one of those rare games where the AI becomes smarter, not merely harder, as you crank up the difficulty. Strategy novices and pros alike will find a difficulty setting suited to their skill level.

Outside of the great air battles you'll spend your time at your airfield, managing your squadron of four pilots. It is here that you rank up your pilots, outfit their planes with items earned in battle, customize your pilots and planes, and upgrade their airplanes as aviation technology improves over the course of the war. Generally you will have two planes to choose from, with one usually focused on speed and strength and the other on superior maneuverability.

Your pilots start the game as the greenest of rookies but will develop into fearsome aces during the course of the war. Treat these four men and women with respect because they're all you get–when one is out of commission due to injury your roster will simply be down a pilot. Though the game gives you the ability to drop a buck and bring a pilot out of the infirmary, it feels like a cheat to avoid dealing with the consequences of your actions rather than a necessary expense.

mzl.nqcdiathAs your pilots rank up they gain access to new maneuvers. These aerial maneuvers come in two flavors: general techniques (such as rolls) that will unlock a suite of similar combat maneuvers; and ace maneuvers, powerful unique abilities like the Immelmann Turn. With a host of techniques and ace maneuvers to choose from, you're never at a loss for choices when a pilot gains rank. By the end of the game your most skilled pilots might have a dozen or more potential moves to make each turn, and old tricks like tailing your opponent can become traps as he might pull an ace maneuver from his own sleeve, turning on a dime and blasting you out of the sky.

Ace Patrol also sports two multiplayer modes and Game Center support with leaderboards and achievements. As of the time of this review, the online multiplayer isn't functioning. You can still play the game on a single device in hot seat mode with a friend. Curiously enough, the multiplayer mode is rather limited: you can choose from the different nations you've unlocked, but that's it. You have no control over which pilots you use, their skills, the planes they fly, or even the scenario you play. The game chooses all of this for you. Also, your pilots will always be in the best planes possible with all of the maneuvers unlocked. Hopefully a future patch will give players more options for customizing multiplayer duels. And though we're unlikely to see it, the option to play through an entire campaign with a friend would be fantastic.

You've really got to dig to find something not to like about Ace Patrol. As mentioned before, the online multiplayer isn't functioning yet, and customization options seem pretty limited. Occasionally the controls can be finicky and on more than one occasion I accidentally started a mission prematurely. Thankfully, once you're in combat every move requires a confirmation tap so it's never an issue in the heat of battle. The four nations' campaigns all play pretty similarly and draw from the same pool of missions, with the only differences between the nations being the airplanes they use and when they become available.

Pay no heed to those who complain about the implementation of IAP in Ace Patrol, this game is an example of IAP done right. Outside of the initial campaign unlocks, the IAP are entirely unnecessary, and you can be enjoying the bulk of the game's content for as little as a dollar. If you've still got the freemium jitters you can always get a second opinion from the TouchArcade community on our forums.

Sid Meier is perhaps the biggest name in gaming, and whenever he puts his name on a game heads are guaranteed to turn. We've come to expect a certain caliber of game bearing the Sid Meier label, and fortunately Ace Patrol lives up to the high bar it has set for itself. This is a game with style, substance, and its own great blend of action and strategy, and for now is an iOS exclusive to boot. If you have any love for Sid Meier, strategy games, aviation sims, or just darn good games you'd be crazy to not give this game a shot.

Make sure to leave us a comment and let us know if you think Ace Patrol earned its stripes. Pretty soon you'll find yourself absorbed in the struggle for the skies over the war-torn trenches of Europe. If this is the future of mobile gaming, let me be the first to enlist.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://www.facebook.com/aaron.marroquin.106 Aaron Marroquin

    I have been on the fence for this one. Guess not anymore! Great article!

  • Hatesville

    Been playing this non stop.

  • JohnnyHand

    *crosses fingers for Alpha Centauri-like game next*
    Really digging Ace Patrol, though.

  • belson

    "Pay no heed to those who complain about the implementation of IAP in Ace Patrol..." You mean, like the TouchArcade podcast?

    • Jerutix

      They hadn't figured everything out yet when they did the podcast (Thursday). Most of the community was unsure about the IAP until the weekend after it came out.

      • Karzay

        I don't think that really had anything to do with it. Alec wasn't in the podcast and this is his review of the game. He has a different take on it.

      • belson

        So then maybe I have old info. It seemed while I was playing it that the game had permadeath, unless you payed an extra dollar to heal/rescue your character. Like they said on the podcast, that seems kinda gross to me.

  • Illuminerdy

    This review is hyperbole city. :/

  • JJE McManus

    I'm loving this game. My only quibble is there is no way to review maneuvers and upgrades when back at the base. Also a free fly space would be nice. But I've played some exciting missions. There's an amazing amount of depth. The health IAP issue I hope will be fixed. That screen itself seems a lot like a placeholder.

  • JaysUsernam

    So, what am I really going to see with the additional campaign purchases. I've played the heck out of the free version and it feels a hint repetitive...wishe there were more 4 plane missions.

    • Alec Perring

      Honestly, not much. Each nation plays somewhat differently due to the different aircraft but the campaigns are identical. Unless you're really enjoying it you'll get the bulk of the content with just one nation unlocked.

      • speedyph

        GOOD REVIEW

      • JaysUsernam

        Thanks, appreciate the honest assessment.

      • 1Fcm

        Yes, the campaigns are the same, but the layout and battlefield changes. Apparently the game is pulling from a rather large pool of level designs each time you work through the campaign. I finished the game and then started a new campaign and was immediately disappointed to see the same campaign names, but then realized that they are at least remixed to be different. Either way, it is totally worth the purchase. The IAP is actually really well done. I liked it enough to purchase everything.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.spark.39 Dan Spark

    Let's be honest now, everyone is complaining about the IAP and until the multiplayer mode has actually been developed it can't possibly a five star game.

    • MidianGTX

      Everyone? No. A few people don't seem to understand it, which admittedly is the developer's fault, but the IAP in this game is reasonable.

      • Corvo Attano 77

        Agree, especially about it being the devs fault! Seems to me you're supposed to play with all three "Improvement" IAPs (a dollar each) for a balanced full-length campaign. For those who don't know: once those IAPs are purchased they stay purchased on all future campaigns, for all nations. The "Diplomatic Mission" is basically a disposable (pay once per use) cheat. But none of this is made clear by the game.

    • flashbackflip

      Really? Don't like iaps in this title? I thought it's everything ppl usually ask for: the demo version and a dollar (!!) iap for the full game..

      Do u prefer to pay 7$ at the start when you are even unsure if u'll like the experience? Then go buy Frozen Synapse for 6.99!

      Or if you prefer to pay hundreds for being able to just play the game? Then go try some Glu or Gameloft titles

    • http://twitter.com/SquaredApe Robert Cummings

      Believe it or not, iAP doesn't mean the game has to be free. Last I checked, sf4 on xbox had iAP despite you having to buy the game. iAP for paid titles are absolutely fine so long as it's not a payment wall when you've already paid. Extra level packs beyond the story arc, fresh characters and bonuses, are all good fodder for iAP in a paid title.

  • P0tent1al

    Fantastic game... I bought this on the strength of the developer alone, day 1 instabuy! Plus throwing down cash on IAP to show my support to the team for bring such a excellent game to iOS. Nice that for once IAP is well integrated (never thought I would say that in this life or the next)
    :)

  • Deadline247

    Why no iPod touch support? Grrrr...

  • HCastle23

    It's a fantastic game. Love a good strategy with a little action thrown in. I've purchased all of the DLC and have progressed through the campaigns fairly readily. It's a good challenge after a while, but remains fun since its fairly easy to level up your pilots and the skills are fantastic. Definitely one I recommend and it's worth the extra few dollars.

  • jamiejap

    i've bought all the national campaigns as well and I'am a little disappointed because they are all the same. I think the missions should be with more variety, more flak with a larger range or more special planes and more 3 or 4 plane missions and perhaps a winter landscape or near a city or so. Ialao not very pleased with the repair penalty and that you have to fly a lot of missions alone because the others are not aviable. but I really like it . it's just that Red Baron feeling again!

  • araczynski

    Free or not, just not a game/genre I care for, but does look nice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/szczerbar Rafał Szczerba

    I enjoy the game very much - i bought all the campaigns. I wish though there where more mission types.

  • dave71

    Great game .. Shame the missions are not more varied .. Bought the other packs ie German etc .. Very similar and only the planes changed .. That was disappointing

  • Houndskull

    5stars?

  • Von Strubel

    Love this game. Sadly the replay-feature changes camera-angles too fast, so it is mostly useless/unsatifying. But that are only quibbles and maybe will be adressed in the future. I bought only the Britpack, that is basically the whole game.

  • TheFrost

    Going to download this now

  • Lohengriehn

    nice game, but the missions lack variety. no problems with the iap purchases on this one. i give a rating of 4 stars on the appstore.. 5 seems a bit too enthusiastic imo.

  • diaskeaus

    I wish the campaigns were different, but the game's concept is fun. I care more about the story and don't really care that much for different planes.

  • ndevenish

    I've been playing this nonstop, since snapping it up after seeing the brief preview (last week?). Amazing game.

  • Corvo Attano 77

    Agree with others that more mission variety would be good.

    Worth noting: the different planes of different nations aren't just skins; they do different manoeuvres and have different strengths and weaknesses. On the harder difficulty settings you really need to know each plane very well to stand a chance.

  • Morgan01

    Still reading posts about confusion with the IAP. Hopefully, they rectify this issue for clarification.

  • worldcitizen1919

    Deleting this. Iap is confusing. I bought England and began the campaign but after a short while it tells you to select mission. It's all over the place. Missions and iap have no order. Very disappointing. And once you get into the select mission screen you can't go back and have to take the app off the multitask bar to get back to the menu. Seems very badly thought out.

    • anabolicMike

      Just select a mission. Then if you change your mind go back ink the mission selection option and pick a different one. Sure there's some stuff this game needs. But I personally think its very well thought out. I very much enjoy the style. Oh imagine this mixed with ground movement and etc? Hmmm interesting concept I wide if it would work. Isn't there a naval game that runs on the same idea as this?

  • anabolicMike

    I bought the aces an the countries. Why you ask? Cause I like the game lol. Might as well show support, the seven bucks is sweet f all in the grand scheme of things. I don't get into games easily, not counting minecraft, but I've wasted hours on the toilet with this one. They deserve my monies! Only one thing I don't like. I wish there were more planes. Hah lots of more planes. Ah well

  • Morgan01

    Put this one on the back burner. Not an IAP fan and learned not to be trusting when they are unclear or confusing. I realize that I can pour through the forums. Numerous people have purchased the IAPs by trial and error. Sorry, not appealing that way.

  • jessk

    Good game! Truly made for iPad :)

  • 15racing

    Played the free missions. Loved them. Bought the 4 campaigns and one ace. Don't regret a penny. Many hours of entertainment!

  • Obamasuxx

    5 out of 5 starts???? Are you on their payroll? Just the fact that their multiplayer is "Hot Seat Multiplayer missions" should make it at best a 2. What is next Sid? Null modem cable to play multiplayer? (for those that do not know what Hot Seat means - it means multiplayer is played on the same computer with each of you taking turns " This type of game play died way way back in the 90's.)

Sid Meier's Ace Patrol Reviewed by Alec Perring on . Rating: 5