Warpgate HD Offers Galactic Gaming on the iPad

Having been out for about a month or so now, the iPad has seen a number of early successes, including the reaching of it’s 1 millionth unit sold. However, while there are a number of games steadily coming out for the Apple platform, one socially enabled app by the name of Warpgate HD had been nagging at the back of our heads for a while. Developed by Freeverse Inc., this quasi-virtual world title has players warping about the galaxy in a surprisingly lengthy experience.

The game is basically an enormous space age world where players traverse the galaxy, completing missions, building up reputations, or just trying to make the biggest and baddest ship they can. Of course, what you make of the game is up to you, but the central play is still revolving around a relatively long, overarching story.

Essentially, players start out controlling a mere mining vessel and are sailing through an isometric universe of massive proportions. The controls are simple enough. Simple touches on the touch screen move the ship and users can even view an entire sector map and plot courses to follow automatically. Furthermore, interactions within the world are entirely contextual, meaning that if you are near a planet you can land or scan, and if you are near a ship you can either attack or flee.

As a matter of fact that latter context comes at the user quite quickly, as within about the first two minutes of game play, they run into some rather nasty space pirates. The engagement is actually most interesting as once combat is engaged, the game shifts into a sort of separate battle-mode ala Final Fantasy where the player actually controls their ship using the iPad’s accelerometer in a similar fashion to SGN’s F.A.S.T. title on the iPhone. Frankly, it’s a bit clunky at first, but once you get used to it, it’s actually very intense and fun.

With the movement controls, users can dodge incoming attacks and by tapping periodically recharging weapon icons, launch volleys of their own. Moreover, they can sacrifice some of their firepower to temporarily boost their shield defenses. All of this combined, makes for a very simple, yet satisfying and intense experience; especially as battles get larger.

This is all a bit twitch-oriented, however, and may not be of as much interest to casual or social mobile users. Nonetheless, as players defeat enemies and complete missions for the game, they begin to delve into mechanics that may be of a bit more interest. The most prominent of these are factions. Most of the actions in the game affect one of a handful of different factions and your reputation with them.

Depending on who likes you and who doesn’t, different options – such as missions and rewards – become available. Unfortunately, Warpgate HD comes with about 35 different star systems to explore, 172 different ships to create, as well as over 100 missions, so breaking down every possibility that stems from faction choosing is going to take a few days… at least.

Beyond factions, however, users then get into what might interest the social ilk the most. You see, as you travel, you can visit any number of different planets. At each of these you can buy equipment to further improve and upgrade your ship, but also play a little bit of the businessman as well. At each planet, there are a variety of resources you can buy that are above, below, or equal to market price. Based on the size of your ship, you can buy and ferry those goods over to a neighboring star system and resell them for higher profits. Unfortunately, it is a bit of trial and error, as there is no clear way to compare and contrast market prices — sometimes a problem in real markets, too. But despite that qualm, entrepreneurial users can lose themselves for long periods of time just doing business.

Of course, if this is too slow paced, you can always supplement income by exploring and placing mining drones on asteroids you find on your journeys, or simply picking fights and selling the spoils of war. The choice, and pacing, is really up to the player. Either way, it is always fun to earn that money and get the starship of your dreams.

Socially, Warpgate doesn’t meet all the potential it has. The game is powered by ngmoco’s Plus+ platform, so it does come with leaderboards and achievements, with the former being much more interesting in such a massive game. Within them, users can actually track everything from kills to income, and truly see who the galactic big wig really is. Additionally, the game has an interesting “Postman” feature, where users can send their friends a postcard from any planet or key location from within the game. These can be posted to a Facebook feed, your Twitter account, Tumblr, or even through a direct email.

Truthfully though, with such a vast universe, we half expected to be able to see friends’ ships or own personal planets. Even if they didn’t control them and it would be very cool to see your friends’ ships flying about and helping you as needed.

Currently the game is available on both the iPhone and the iPad. Furthermore, Freeverse has even released a free lite version for both. Granted, that rendition doesn’t have everything the full version does, but it has more than enough to sate one’s appetite and help them decide whether to front the money for the full version or not. For the iPhone it’s about $5 while the iPad copy is $8. However, considering the sheer scale of the world, the increased screen size on the iPad alone makes the latter version more worthwhile.

If there were anything to really complain about with Warpgate HD, it’s that it takes a little bit of trial and error to figure everything out; and there is a lot to figure out. There is a tutorial, but it is slow and painful to go through; taking upwards of 20-30 minutes to see everything, and likely you won’t remember it all anyway as it’s mostly text based. The mission system does help ramp things up at a steady pace, but on occasion the story does feel a bit contrived and generic. Furthermore, while it does have social Plus+ integration, the game does fall short of its potential.

Overall, however, if you own an iPad, the lite version of Warpgate HD is certainly worth a try. It’s fun and pretty well thought out for a mobile game, and none of the complaints are real deal breakers. Moreover, there are a number of side missions to undertake beyond the central storylines and the market and reputation systems, coupled with leaderboards and achievements, will certainly earn your $5 – $8 worth of play.