Hands on Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner

Thanks to augmented reality (AR), Falcon Gunner looks like no other "Star Wars" game you've ever played. But is it any good?

The forest is strong in this one. Wait, forest? In Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner, the background is wherever you point your iPhone or iPod camera.
The forest is strong in this one. Wait, forest? In Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner, the background is wherever you point your iPhone or iPod camera. THQ

A couple weeks ago, I showed you a sneak preview of one of the most surprising iPhone games ever, Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner, which combines seemingly traditional space combat with augmented reality (AR) for a decidedly unique "Star Wars" experience.

As I said then, "It's like the PC classic 'TIE Fighter' mixed with the ingenious UFO on Tape mixed with the Layar Reality Browser."

But would the AR gimmick work? Or would the entire game feel like some weird novelty? Well, Falcon Gunner just hit the App Store, so I'm ready to give you an answer.

Falcon Gunner is priced at $4.99 and compatible with only the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and iPod Touch 4G. It casts you as none other than Luke Skywalker and plops you in the Millennium Falcon's gunner turret.

To control the turret, you rotate and tilt your iPhone while aiming your quad laser with an onscreen joystick. It's not easy, and in fact I had better luck leaving the joystick alone and just maneuvering enemies into the target reticle.

Without the AR component, Falcon Gunner looks and plays like a traditional arcade-style shooter, the action unfolding near the Death Star, asteroid fields, Star Destroyers, and so on. John Williams' classic soundtrack underscores the battles, along with some hokey voice-overs that, quite frankly, sound nothing like Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher. Quite frankly, it's all a little bland. Been there, blasted that.

Enable AR, however, and the outer-space backdrops disappear, replaced by real-time images from your camera lens. At the same time, the compass or gyroscope kicks in, meaning you now steer your turret by steering yourself. It sounds weird and looks even weirder, but trust me: it's really, really cool.

So what you do is plop yourself in an office chair, making sure you've got room for full 360-degree spins, then start blasting. (You could always stand in place, too, but you literally might make yourself so dizzy as to fall down.) I'm as surprised as anyone, but TIE-fighter combat with your own real-world backdrop is just crazy fun.

Will the novelty wear off after a few weeks? Probably, but at least the game keeps you coming back by awarding credits you can use to mod the Falcon with extra weapons and shields. (Alternately, you can buy upgrades if you don't have the patience to earn them.) If only THQ would build multiplayer into this thing, then you'd have a game for the ages.

 

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