Once upon a time (1984, to be precise) David Braben and Ian Bell released a little game called Elite. Available initially on the BBC Model B and Acorn Electron (which is the platform I played it on), this space trading and combat game was so popular it was eventually released on dozens of other systems. While very much a thing of the distant past, the fact that the game still elicits strong emotions when recollected by any and all that played it is all you need to know: the game was amazing.
What’s that got to do with Galaxy on Fire 2, I hear you ask? The game, developed by seasoned casual game developers Fishlabs, evokes similar emotions by not straying too far from the formula. Available as a universal iOS app, the game - which I reviewed on an iPad - puts you in the shoes of a chap called Keith, who, thanks to some misadventure, finds himself a long way from home. Much like the venerable X series, your job, then, is to make some money, friends, and find your way home.
The way this plays out is via a space-based exploration and combat game. There are quests to take, asteroids to mine, and a whole bunch of money to be made - assuming you can buy low and sell high. There’s also loads of space to explore and bad guys to blow away - all of which adds up to some seriously cool swashbuckling adventure.
The presentation of the game is arguably up there with something you might expect to find on a console, with fleshed out visuals that really put Apple’s latest devices (complete with Retina support) through their paces. The game looks spectacular, simply put, and if you’ve got any interest in exploring space this will very much wet your whistle.
The gameplay is similarly polished, with a core quest to follow and loads of stuff to distract you; if, like me, you enjoy simply spending time in the world Fishlabs have constructed, you’ll relish every moment. About the only minor gripe - and it’s hard to imagine a way around it - is that the game relies on the familiar input method of “virtual buttons”, where the controls for your ship are simply graphics on the screen that you must touch to manipulate.
Despite my general loathing for this kind of input, the controls here are well thought out and work as well as any of the best on the app store. It’s not ideal (this game on something like the Vita would be amazing), but it’s actually a remarkably small price to pay to get access to the game.
Since Galaxy on Fire 2 first came out (in 2009), it’s been updated near-constantly, with things like retina support and game balance changes continually added to the game (the most recent update was this week!). There’s even an expansion available, which adds a heap of new content should you have found your way through the impressive amount that’s available in the base game.
If you’re looking to recapture that Elite experience, you will not be disappointed by Galaxy on Fire 2. It’s always hard to compare games that are nearly 30 years apart, so I won’t try that. Just know that this is a very polished game, with loads of things to do and a riveting (if a little trite) narrative tying it all together. And all for $6.49. They might not have buttons, but we’ve got a lot to thank these fancy new phones for; Galaxy on Fire is right at the top of that list.
Not only is it highly recommended among its app store peers, it stands well alongside much more expensive console games as well.