Earlier this year, 2K Games dropped a really cool little turn-based strategy game called Sid Meier's Ace Patrol [Free] on iOS. Like many, we loved it, but quite a few people were disappointed with its pricing model. Ace Patrol was free to play, offering a portion of a campaign with the remaining campaigns sold separately. I get the impression that part didn't bother people too much, but there were other IAP lurking that had some people wishing the game just included everything, with no IAP, at a premium price. Well, Ace Patrol is and probably always will be a free-to-play game, but the follow-up is here, and 2K Games seems to have heard the message, loud and clear.

Sid Meier's Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies [$4.99] is a rare reversal of recent trends. We've seen lots of games go from a paid model to a free-to-play model with their follow-ups, like Real Racing 3 [Free] and Where's My Water 2 [Free], so it's kind of interesting to see 2K Games going against the grain here. The removal of the IAP has surprisingly little effect on how the game plays out, though the most frequent complaint of the first game, injured pilots, has been addressed. The other major change here is, of course, the setting, shifting from the First World War to the Pacific Theater of World War Two. This also has surprisingly minimal impact on the game. As a result, in spite of a couple of seemingly important changes, this feels more like a mission pack than a sequel, and not a terribly ambitious one, either.

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In case you aren't familiar with the original game, Ace Patrol is a turn-based strategy game that uses planes as the units. You have your own little squadron of four pilots, and they can be leveled up by shooting down enemy targets. As they gain levels, you can choose from a variety of new maneuvers to add to their repertoire. You'll also unlock new planes by proceeding through the missions, and good performance will grant you a valuable upgrade part you can use as you see fit. As strategy games go, this one is pretty light in terms of complexity, and it offers a wide range of difficulty settings, so it's all very easy to learn and accessible regardless of your skill level at this genre.

That's not to say there isn't some depth behind the tactics in this game, but it does a good job of keeping that depth hidden behind a user-friendly veil. Things like G-force, altitude, direction, and more factor into what each unit is capable of at any given time, but the game generally leaves discussion of that stuff off to the side in favor of showing all of your available actions as easily-understood arrow icons. Terrain effects are limited to clouds, which provide cover to both you and your enemies, and team-specific damage tiles in the form of battleships and anti-aircraft guns. It's all very pick up and play, and I feel that's one of the key strengths of this series.

pacskies2Veterans of the first game aren't going to find anything new in the battles, though. The change of setting might as well be a new coat of paint, and even though plane technology was pretty different in WWII compared to WWI, you'll still have access to the same types of maneuvers, even if they don't make quite as much sense with the change in the lineup of planes. Missions also maintain similar objectives. Sometimes you have to wipe out the enemy planes, sometimes you have to take out a specific unit, sometimes you have to attack a stationary target.

Naturally, with the shift in setting, you'll also be choosing from a different set of countries. This being the Pacific Theater of WWII, there are only two countries available: Japan and the USA. Perhaps in an attempt to add a little variety, each country has a campaign for their Air Force and Navy, which will determine which planes will be available to you. It works out to the same number of campaigns and about the same number of missions as the original game ended up being, so it's pretty close in value to the first one in terms of how much content you get for your money.

Each campaign is broken up into battles consisting of a handful of missions. These groupings are significant because the end of a battle represent an important passage of time for your units. Like the first game, if your pilots go down in battle, there are consequences. If you're over your own territory, the pilot is injured and will have to sit out until you finish the current set of missions. If you're over enemy territory, the pilot will be captured and you will have to stage a rescue mission to get them back. New to this game is that damage to your plane persists through each set of missions. Your planes will get fully repaired after each set, but you have to be careful not to rely too much on any one plane, because even the best of them are going to take hits, and they will add up. Luckily, if you have other planes available, you can just switch your pilot into them, but chances are, they're going to be less powerful than whatever plane you were using, so it's not a perfect cover for messing up.

pacskies1The challenge is in balancing your small group well. You don't want anyone to fall too far behind in levels nor do you want any one plane taking too much damage, so you're encouraged to juggle around who you take into each mission. Losing a pilot means losing a full quarter of your options for the next few maps. It's a weighty consequence that ensures you'll pay attention to what you're doing. You can, of course, make it more weighty if you like, because another new element this time around is the option of perma-death. Perma-death is pretty interesting in Pacific Skies. When a pilot goes down, you don't have to wait for them to recover because, well, they're dead, so their spot on the roster is instantly refilled. That means you're never short-handed in terms of manpower, but that fresh new recruit that filled the spot? Level one, no abilities, have fun getting him or her caught up. It's a great little twist for players who want a little bit more bite.

Like the first game, Pacific Skies offers a wide variety of difficulty settings, covering everyone from players who just like to move their planes around and win to the people who should be in an insane asylum or a real war planning room for how well they're able to predict the enemy's moves. The AI is quite crafty on the higher difficulty levels, so don't let the breezy challenge of the first couple of difficulty levels fool you as to this game's potential. If the AI somehow isn't challenging enough, you once again have the option to take to the multiplayer skies via hot-swap or online matchmaking for a little two-player action.

Given the short time period between the first game's release and this follow-up, it's understandable that the tea table hasn't been up-ended in terms of gameplay, but prospective buyers should be fully aware that you're buying into a new visual theme and a bunch of new missions that follow very much in the same lines as the ones in the first game, and not much else. Ace Patrol was no slouch in terms of mission content, so it's hard to say whether players are chomping at the bit for more of the same so soon. That said, if you were one of the people who liked the gameplay in the first game but couldn't get behind the free-to-play model, here's your chance to vote with your wallet and get a completely IAP-free Ace Patrol in exchange for some of your hard-earned cash.

I suspect most people will be more than satisfied with just one of the two games, but for the diehards and gamers who missed out on the first one, Pacific Skies is the one to get.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://twitter.com/BeRad_Ent Be-Rad

    I want to pick this game up to support the premium model, plus it looks like a good game

    • https://www.facebook.com/DigitalDistillery Scot Damn

      Me too. I'm all about supporting the premium model. Especially strategy games like this one! It hasn't even gone on sale yet! (which is somewhat refreshing in todays market)

      BTW nice avatar!

      • tommet

        Ditto on that. Immediate purchase!

  • JJE McManus

    I enjoyed the first game for a while. However the missions soon all had a sameness about them and soon I drifted off to another game. Although I really appreciate the removal of IAP I suspect I'll wait on this until I start craving another turn based combat game.

  • Jake7905

    The change in pay model actually does make a big difference; the presentation and flow of the game is greatly improved, not hampered by a cluttered "free" format. Though it may be too similar to the first game to be considered a true sequel, it's a refinement of the original, and the one to vote for with your wallet.

  • http://www.onebagtravel.com/ OneBagTravel

    I dig the game. I just feel the menu system is abdominal. Reminds me of first gen iOS games.

    • Shaun James Musgrave

      It *is* a bit hard to stomach at times.

  • bigjack66

    I don't know if anyone's noticed but Storm Raiders does this waaay better for less money and you get to fly the plane not just draw a line and watch!

  • bigjack66

    I don't know if anyone's noticed but Storm Raiders does this waaay better for less money and you get to fly the plane not just draw a line and watch!

    • airhead3

      The only vague similarity is the theme. There is no overlap in gameplay enough to say that one does 'it' better than the other. This is all about tactical dogfighting decisions, and there is absolutely nothing tactical about the 'dogfights' in Sky Gamblers.

      • bigjack66

        It's still better!

      • dancj

        But marzipan is better than Sky Gamblers.

  • Panzerbush

    Desperately waiting for my Mustangs, Spitfires, and Focke-Wulfes in the next version of this great series!

    • Kendamaterial

      I've always hankered after an iOS version of 'Over the Reich' - that could fit the bill perfectly.

  • http://www.onebagtravel.com/ OneBagTravel

    I'm hoping someday soon Days of Wonder brings Memoir 44 to iOS.

  • Hampus Jensen

    "Ace Patrol was free to play, offering a portion of a campaign with the remaining campaigns sold separately."

    That part I have no problem with, good way of offering a demo.

    It's a shame they didn't do much besides change the time period here, that said, the original was really nice so I'll probably get this, in part for more Ace Patrol, in part to show that getting rid of free to play is a good thing.

  • GrumpyM

    For some reason, I love both of these games. However, I am definitely more of a WW2 plane buff than a WW1.

    There are a few key changes the new game brings in - that polish and clean up the original. For example, there are two types of improvements your pilots can earn in both games - new maneuvers, and plane upgrades. In the first game, plane upgrades follow your pilot. IN this new game they don't - as technology improves and new planes arrive, it becomes an interesting tradeoff as to whether to fly your out of date upgraded plan or the stock version of the new sexy one.

    Also additions like pilot permadeath really add to the atmosphere as well and make you attached to your pilots (try naming them all after your friends - it'll make it all the more real!).

    I really feel this is a great game, the new purchase model is much improved and greatly helps the flow of the game, and WW2 planes are just that much more fun and epic than WW1 planes imo.

  • tomj315

    I really like the game and I though that the first game was too short, so I done mind about new levels.

  • jamiejap

    we need aces over Europa. And some thrilling and really amazing end missions with more planes on it.

  • Stephanius

    The first game was a pleasure but the f2p elements were sh*t... This one is very good but i don t like the "roguelike" features where the planes are not repaired. Still one of the best strategy games on ipad. Congrats again sid :)

Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 4