In the course of playing and reviewing a number of iPhone games, I realize I’ve come to expect, and even allow for, certain shortcomings. I expect lag in a graphics-intensive game. I expect buggy controls that feel less than intuitive. I expect omissions that are promised to be fulfilled in later updates. All of which is why Brothers in Arms: Hour of Heroes ($9.99) caught me off guard. The new shooter from the prolific gameloft (iDP) studio is a polished, pleasurable gaming experience that lacks a lot of the usual iPhone platform caveats users have unfortunately learned to live with.
The game belongs to the Brothers in Arms franchise, which began with Gearbox Software’s 2005 title Road to Hill 30. The Brothers in Arms series is set in WWII, and console and PC versions feature first-person shooter gameplay mechanics. Hour of Heroes, developed, by gameloft, who also brought the series to the Nintendo DS, is a third-person over-the-shoulder shooter and finally escapes the single-track, limited character control found in similar games like Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.
You can move about freely in the world of Hour of Heroes, though thankfully tilt control is not used for this purpose. Instead, a control disc appears on the lower left side of the game screen (the game is played in landscape mode, as you can see in the screenshots). Sliding your left thumb around this control disc allows you to move your character through the environment. Touching the screen anywhere where there is no interface button provides aiming and look control. Buttons along the side and at the top allow you to fire, interact with objects and vehicles, and change weapons. You can also reload and control grenade tosses using tilt, and zoom with your scope using multi-touch gestures. It’s one of the most complete, intuitive, and well thought out control schemes available on any iPhone/iPod touch game.
The intro movie is a tad misleading, when it comes to in-game graphics. It looks more like a trailer for one of the Brothers in Arms console titles than an introduction to Hour of Heroes. Still, in-game graphics compare favorably to most iPhone titles. Sound is well done too, and although there is no audio track for story dialogue, a few stock phrases sprinkled throughout the action go a long way towards enhancing the game’s atmosphere.
I was surprised at how easy the game was to pick up and play. The tutorial level gives you a really good introduction to the controls, and to your character’s abilities. And I got to blow stuff up right away! By the time the second level began, I felt like a seasoned pro, and possibly for the first time with an iPhone game, I was focused more on the game itself than on the medium.
If you’re looking for an example of what the iPhone and iPod touch are really capable of as gaming devices, especially insofar as they can appeal to core as well as casual gamers, look no further than Brothers in Arms: Hour of Heroes. You can get it now in the App Store for $9.99.