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For: iPhone

Panning for gold

Product: Westward (iPhone) | Developer: Binoteq | Publisher: Sandlot Games | Format: iPhone | Genre: Simulation, Strategy | Players: 1 | Version: US | App version: 1.00
Westward (iPhone) iPhone, thumbnail 1
Struggling with touch controls in a strategy game is enough to leave a trail of tears, but Westward causes no such grief. The wild west is won with gunslingers and sheriffs guided by taps of your finger in this unique mix of strategy and simulation.

The game doesn't go by unscathed in the duel between ease of control and strategic complexity, though. While Westward possesses slick controls and a great presentation, it wrestles with an overbearing interface.

Westward follows a young couple as they head out into the American frontier to manifest their destiny. Their dreams of an easy living in pristine valley are shattered, though, after discovering the land they purchased from a Russian schemer is practically barren.

Undaunted, the optimistic couple team up with others who have been swindled to make the most of the situation. You direct them through the tough process of founding a town, managing resources to ensure their survival while encouraging new settlers.

It's a concoction of real-time strategy and simulation mechanics that plays like a cowboy take on SimCity. While you never hassle with roads, zoning, or power lines, you do clear the land and manage new construction.

Development is a secondary concern to the more immediate need for survival resources. Food and water are your top priority; lumber and gold come next, enabling you to build basic structures such as houses, lumber yards, and mine camps.

Once you have those fundamentals in place, you can establish new institutions to address an array of new issues. Mo' money, mo' problems - as your population grows, so do the number of matters that need be addressed.

Bandits attracted to the wealth of a bustling frontier town require a sheriff to protect the townsfolk, drunkards must be sobered up at a parish, and more infrastructure is required to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding population.

Moving quickly to deal with these problems is surprisingly easy thanks to intuitive controls. Taps of the screen enable effortless selection of people and buildings. Scrolling the map takes a swipe of your finger, which is possible even with something selected.

Other actions, such as commissioning buildings, ordering law enforcement to combat bandits, and placing settlers in house and jobs are done with ease. Westward proves that a complex game can be accomplished on the device in an accessible manner.

That doesn't imply a flawless execution. There's a showdown between the controls and the interface. Icons and alerts clutter half the screen. Westward serves up a screen sandwich: interface elements at the top and bottom of the screen, leaving a strip of gameplay area in the middle.

Obviously, this provides a limited area for play and forces you to scroll the map for every little action. Either adding a zoom function or eliminating several of the buttons lining the edges of the screen could alleviate the problem.

Other minor niggles could just as easily be addressed, yet these only highlight the game's fundamental strength.

Westward strikes a rich blend of strategy and simulation, combining it with intuitive touch controls. It's a veritable gameplay gold mine that glitters with cutehumour and colourful graphics.
Reviewer photo
Tracy Erickson | 13 February 2009
A pioneering effort to bring ease of use to strategy and simulation gaming that strikes gold, not to mention a few laughs
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