Come fly the unfriendly skies.
We've been positively itching to get our hands on a full-blooded Sid Meier strategy game on our touchscreens for far too long. Civilization Revolution, that somewhat pared down take on the PC classic, was a fine port of the console edition but it barely scratched the surface of the series' potential. Watching the likes of PC conversions such as Talisman Prologue and Magic 2013 hit the App Store has only made the itch worse.
What we instead have next from Sid Meier's studio is Ace Patrol, a tactical dog-fighting game set in World War One. The free download provides you with a flavor of the British campaign, with further mission packs and nations to unlock via in-app purchases. Through dog-fighting, ground-unit protection and interception missions, you'll slowly build up and enhance your forces with skill upgrades.
Aerial unit movement takes place on a hexagonal, top-down grid, and your movement opportunities during each turn are determined by your plane and pilot's attributes - attributes that can be improved as you work through the campaign and achieve victory on the battlefield. Getting planes into position against enemy warplanes or objectives requires delicate cat-and-mouse preparation as you gently ease your way into position, while minimizing risk to the unit itself, and always taking the enemy's adaptive positioning into account.
If you spy one or more green circles on the ground, this indicates that you can move into a firing position against a nearby enemy plane or objective. Not all firing opportunities are created equal, however, and different positions will be more advantageous than others in terms of firing angle, range, altitude and so on. These cautious combat choices, combined with the overall movement and positioning of your allied units as a whole, are the meat of the strategy in the single player game.
Of course, to keep things suitably tactical there's more than simple destruction on offer here. The clouds that hang over the landscape allow you to hide from enemy planes for as long as you're obscured by them, and enemy bases on the ground represent deadly no-go areas - you can easily become lured into a surface-to-air defensive trap. A feast of planes, from rear-gunning fighters, to deadly bombers also keep the challenge fresh as you struggle to both keep your units alive, and protect or destroy the ground-based objectives.
If multiplayer dog-fighting's more your thing, you can head into two different types of two player combat - a pass and play mode, that pits two local players against each other within a single-player mission scenario, and a network multiplayer mode. Sadly, this latter wasn't working at all on our 4th generation iPad at the time of publication, and entering the mode simply prompted us to re-download the game. Hopefully a bug fix will address this in short order.
All in all we wouldn't hesitate to recommend that any strategy fan gets stuck into at least the free content that's on offer here, and it's a wise distribution model given that there's not a great deal of hand-holding or explanation of the game's core mechanics. But if it's true that you have to work to uncover the game's deeper charms by yourself, it's also true that those charms are there to be found in abundance.
What's Hot:A refreshingly different strategy game, and a very generous free offering to get started with.
What's Not:Multiplayer's not yet fully functional, and you'll have to figure the mechanics out on your own for the most part.