I find it kind of interesting that although one of the appealing aspects of flying is the freedom from our earthly bindings, a great deal of games built around the concept opt to set themselves up like a dark ride at Disneyland. You get in your ship, or on your dragon, or into your fighter jet, and are pulled along a rail while all kinds of craziness unfolds around you. Usually you're more the gunner than the pilot, since you can really only move yourself around in the little one-way tunnel the game has set up for you. There are a lot of good reasons for this kind of set-up, including a desire to guide the experience for the player to create more cinematic scenes, technical limitations of one sort or another, or a simple lack of the resources required to create a full, free 3D world. I suspect with Star Horizon [$3.99], the new space-themed rail shooter from Tabasco Interactive, it's that first reason more than anything else.

Star Horizon follows the story of a Federation pilot named John, and his sassy AI counterpart who is named Ellie, not Cortana, thank you very much. During a battle with some rebels, things go horribly awry, and John is unexpectedly put into cryo-sleep for a long time. When he wakes up, he has no idea where he is, but he means to solve the mystery of what happened, and his method of investigation is to blow up everything. The game takes place over ten stages, with each one ranging in length from five to ten minutes or so. That puts the length of the game at about an hour and a half from start to finish, which admittedly is not all that long, but suits the film aspirations the game seems to have.

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Basically, this game is content tourism in the first degree. The challenge level isn't very high at any point in the game, but it throws enough at you that you don't really notice most of the time. The set pieces are quite beautiful, with lots of interesting ship designs and plenty of cinematic camera work. The story isn't the stuff of legends, but I'll give it props for making a really strong effort. Occasionally you'll have a chance to make a choice that will slightly alter the dialogue and story, which is pretty cool and gives some incentive to play the game again after finishing it. It's even fully voiced, though the actual quality of it is very hit-or-miss. The story at least hits a nice tone, serious enough to care about, yet with a sense of goofiness that helps cover its dramatic shortcomings.

While you're taking in all of this atmosphere, you'll be tasked with moving around a bit to avoid obstacles and enemy shots, and firing back using your three different weapons. Movement is handled with your right thumb, while your weapons are mapped to three virtual buttons. You can do a barrel roll by swiping quickly, though I found that move to be even less useful here than it was in StarFox. Your ship has two life bars. Damage is first subtracted from your shields, which regenerate over time, and should those be depleted entirely, you'll then lose energy from your life meter. If you run out of life energy, presumably you lose. I say presumably because I never actually did run out, but that's usually how things go in these wars among the stars. Your main goal is usually to take down a certain percentage of enemies, so your focus should be on shooting, shooting, and shooting some more.

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You'll earn Federation credits as you play, and between levels, you can use these to power up your weapons or ship armor. There are only a couple of upgrades for each, and you'll earn more than enough credits by the end of the game to upgrade just about everything to the maximum, if not all of it. There are no IAPs in the game, so if you want to fully upgrade your ship, you'll have to earn it. The upgrade system, like the dialogue choices, is fairly limited and feels like the vestigal remnants of a much larger idea, but it's neverthless welcome. It adds a bit to the illusion that you're playing something deeper than you actually are.

Unfortunately, an illusion is all that it is. Once you've finished the game, as you inevitably will, there isn't a lot of reason to go back, apart from seeing how the other dialogue choices play out and chasing down the achievements for doing so. The leaderboards only keep track of your total credits, and they've been hacked six ways to Sunday already. The achievements are almost all story-based ones that you'll unlock automatically, with the remainder assigned to shooting down a number of enemy ships that you will nearly inevitably reach during the course of a playthrough. Not that achievements are the most important thing in the world, but some clever ones could have been very helpful for a game that is crying for replay value.

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I guess what it comes down to is whether or not you're okay with paying a flat fee for a gorgeous, cinematic, dutifully polished, sci-fi shooting gallery. It lacks the challenge and variety of most other rail shooters, so you're really in it for the story and presentation. If you really enjoy that story, you might have a reason to revisit the game from time to time, but I think for most, Star Horizon is just going to be a beautiful trifle. Like the dark rides I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I think the first trip through is very enjoyable, but it's not really something you want to keep doing over and over again. It's an impressive hour and a half, particularly for your eyes, but I'm not sure if that's going to be enough for most.

TouchArcade Rating

  • CkX82

    I has a boner

  • jciarletto

    What's the difference between this and an amazing classic like Star Fox? Is it just replay-ability?

    • Siveon

      I'm not gonna throw down 4 bucks to check, but I can say Star Fox can get a bit difficult. Silly characters is a plus for some, the controls are pretty tight for its time and the graphic were great.

      Mind you, the game was made like 20 years ago. No need for comparison. Compare it to other games on iOS.

    • MrAlbum

      Star Fox on the N64 also had space arena combat missions that gave you free range movement for their duration, loads of alternate paths with unique missions for these paths, ground missions with the Landmaster (a tank, your nostalgia may cause these sections to vary in quality), and some of the coolest boss design I have seen on the N64. Plus, getting the good ending was REALLY difficult; my brothers and I managed to get it, over and over again, but that was after several hours of playing.

      It was a fun game with a LOT of great gameplay, despite the limitations of the N64.

  • Bool Zero

    I had a feeling as such and the review confirms it. Looks like a good game but I personally didn't pull the trigger because it just didn't look like anything better than what I already have to fill this niche for me. I still own the original Arc Squadron (backed up, not the freemium rerelease) which, no offense, just seems like a much better version of what this is trying to go for. Not that I don't think folks would find this to be a good game, rather for me personally, when buying these particular sub genre I have a go hard or go home ethic, so it's got to impress me in more avenues than just graphics to garner my money...

    • makitango

      Same here, i also have the original Arc Squadron (without all the social media buttons and stuff I don't need) and I don't see why I should go for this. Graphics aren't everything.

      • Themostunclean

        Even if they were everything, Arc Squadron has this beat.

        As a side note- you don't have to back up the original AS. If you bought it from the App Store, the original is in you purchased list. The freemium one is a separate app, they stopped selling the paid version but per App Store regulations it's stored for those who bought it to download whenever they want. The only reason to back up app files nowadays is if Apple themselves pull an app for a violation or whatever.

      • makitango

        Developers/publishers can pull them as well, just look at Tetris by EA. It is not even listed under purchased apps anymore. If I wouldn' have backed it up, I would have to settle with that crappy freemium version. Also, I liked the release version of Arc Squadron more, before they added facebook, twitter and other links to the main menu. Sometimes you really have to lock a version state locally.

      • Themostunclean

        Though developers can stop selling an app, current App Store policy is that it be available for those who purchased it no matter what. This policy is more recent than your Tetris example, which happened in 2011. I've had several games that were pulled by devs that I can still download. A high-profile example of this is Flappy Bird, which you can still download from your purchased list if you bought it before it was pulled by the dev. Kind of a moot point though since a pulled app will likely be obsolete after a few iterations of iOS without getting updated.

        Like you mentioned though, wanting to keep an app in its current state is a very good reason to back up the file if it's lost some core functionality in an update but generally I find it's not worth the trouble as it requires turning off auto update since iOS 7 or constantly reloading the app from your PC.

  • Leo281993

    Inferior to galaxy on fire. If it's not open world then don't bother...

    • Siveon

      Galaxy on Fire is trying to be a Freelancer clone than anything else. This is supposed to be a Star Fox clone, two different animals. 😛

  • Siveon

    3.5? A bit much for just a pretty face.

  • anon_coward

    this seems the same as almost every other kind of game like this i used to play on old consoles and in arcades going back to the 80's

    anyone remember Zaxxon?

  • bigjack66

    I have fun with this it's a great looking shooter and I love playing the levels several times it looks nice and plays well.

  • johnpc121

    I agree it does not have the longest campaign or much replay ability, but it was a pretty fun ride none the less.

    I think people are expecting too much. For just 4 bucks you get a great game you can pick up and play to the end and then it's done.

    It had enough choice to make me play it two times and then I saw everything and got all the trophies.

    Ok they could have had difficulty options maybe. It was a bit easy but I did feel satisfied with myself when I beat it. 🙂

  • worldcitizen1919

    I felt much better after deleting it!

  • http://www.googlepants.com/ Wizard of Odyssey

    It reminds me of Silpheed on the Sega CD -- visually stunning, technically impressive, stupid voice acting, and ultimately not too deep.

    That's fine, there's nothing wrong with it, and the price is right in my opinion. I would have cut out the badly-acted "story" and made it more of a straight-up shooter with different objectives and a few branching paths.

    How is it different from Star Fox?
    1. It's new, not 20 years old.
    2. It's 4 dollars, not 50.
    3. It's not as well designed for repeat plays
    3. Its characters are significantly less charming.

    I get that they wanted to make it straight up action, so there's no free-roaming looking for targets gameplay. I respect that. It's worth a play for 4 bucks and an hour of your time. These days I find it easier to give up money than time, so this is OK by me.

  • Goggles789

    The reviewer clearly did not like this game. It was basically a slew of negative points, followed by a couple things touching on how it's pretty and that it had an upgrade system that added to the illusion of depth. That said, why the heck did he give it a 3.5? That's only 3 points off of TA's perfect score, so for those standards it's quite a good score. With so many negative points in the article, you would have thought a lower score would have popped out, like a 2.5. Oh TA, you so confusing!

    • johnpc121

      Haha, it's funny what you said are my thoughts exactly about the review.

    • bilboad

      Seemed about right to me. In his summary at the end he says the first play through was very enjoyable, but the game just lacked depth or a lot of replayability. Any review which includes the words "very enjoyable" probably indicates a pretty decent above average game.

    • lifeat78

      Why do people keep quibbling about the star ratings? If the review comes across as highly negative when reading it, form your own star rating. Is it just that people aren't patient enough to read?

      • Themostunclean

        That's exactly what it is.They think the star rating is supposed to be a substitute for actually reading the article.

  • worldcitizen1919

    Glad to see TA spot this because I played with it for a short time and then deleted it. There was no sense in playing on. I think the dev knew too that's why he didn't make it freemium. Very cunning dev ripping us off like that!! Will note this in my little black book and be careful next time I wast $5 on this dev.

  • Mauiwoweee

    Y wont anybody just make the game star fox on ios? Its one of my favorite. Its better than this game. This game is so short. Youll finish it in 2 or 3 hours. They also make you decide how the story goes. If you want to join the federations crew or the rebels, telling you the story changes on your choice. But to be honest, nothing changes wether you pick one of them. When you pick one or the other and complete the chapter, the following chapter will be the same for both. The story doesnt change. So whats the point of making split decisoins? NO POINT!!!!

  • androsynth

    I bought it to support full no-iap games. And I like it. Great music and good action.

  • MistaBoz

    If ARC Squadron had the control scheme of this game it would have been much better. I like a few others appreciate the effort from the developers for no IAP.

Star Horizon Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 3.5