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Star Wars: Imperial Academy

For: iPhone

The Empire strikes out

Product: Star Wars: Imperial Academy | Developer: Flying Wisdom Studios | Publisher: ngmoco | Format: iPhone | Genre: Shooter | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (network) | Version: US | App version: 1.1
Star Wars: Imperial Academy iPhone, thumbnail 1
Star Wars: Imperial Academy represents the dark side of online shooters: unresponsive controls, disruptive lag, unstable audio, and generally poor design that takes all the fun away.

ngmoco and publishing partner THQ Wireless have much work to do to fix myriad flaws that scupper what could have been a compelling multiplayer shooter.

Though it contains worthwhile elements, Imperial Academy squanders the Star Wars name on clunky, unsatisfying action.

Glimmer of hope

At least the core idea is a good one. As a subordinate in the vast intergalactic Empire, you engage in live-fire military training exercises with up to three other recruits. Sessions take place online via 3G or wi-fi against three other players. Alternatively, you can battle computer-controlled characters in an offline Practice mode.

Kills earn you credits, which you can spend on new weapons and armour, enhancing your existing equipment, or unlocking bonus characters. Experience also enables you to level up and attain new ranks. There's a nice variety of items to unlock and the ranking system provides plenty of motivation for replay.

Unfortunately, the gameplay isn't anywhere near as good as the progression and character development features that surround it.

Out of touch controls

The controls are misconceived. Clunky, imprecise, and frequently unresponsive, Star Wars: Imperial Academy has trouble surviving as a first-person shooter. The default auto-fire is a mess, regularly shooting at walls because the game automatically targets an unseen opponent on the other side.

Toggling the feature off is a minimal improvement. Manually tapping the screen to fire conflicts with the camera controls. In short, accuracy is reduced because you can't precisely adjust the camera and fire at the same time.

It doesn't help that there's little to no feedback when you hit your target, leaving you to guess whether your attacks are flying by or scoring a hit.

Questionable matchmaking affects the experience as well, often filling games with unevenly matched players - although the ability to host private matches is a nice feature.

Fundamentally misguided

Poorly designed levels combined with obtrusive in-app purchasing cut into the action even further. Power-ups are available within each level - for a price. Supply droids holding health packs and damage multipliers can only be unlocked with keys, which are earned slowly by winning matches or bought with cash.

In-app purchases aren't so much the issue here. The issue is the absurd concept of unlocking power-ups in the middle of a frenzied fight. ngmoco doesn't get it - you can't structure a shooter this way because it doesn't fit the gameplay.

Most embarrassing are technical flaws including audio clipping and noticeable lag when playing over 3G. The audio cuts out during matches with alarming regularity - the sound effects just disappear. There's also some lag over 3G, although it's less of an issue when playing on wi-fi.

Given so many flaws, there's little reason to spend time with Star Wars: Imperial Academy. It's clunky, technically scrappy, and not fun enough to stand up to the competition.
Star Wars: Imperial Academy
Reviewer photo
Tracy Erickson | 7 December 2010
More flawed than fun, Star Wars: Imperial Academy is a mess of a shooter that fails to do justice to ngmoco's FPS track record or the Star Wars universe
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