iPhone/iPad App Review: After Burner Climax

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The Sega brand name is one which is associated with some of the very best and most influential games ever made. Most gamers will have a personal favourite, whether it’s Out Run, Sonic or Crazy Taxi; and like me have fond memories of feeding coins into Sega’s arcade machines back when such things were the highlight of any trip to the coast.

One such game is After Burner, which many will remember due to the twisting, tumbling full motion cabinet that gave many a 12-year old the impression they were piloting an F-14 Tomcat through the skies. The original After Burner game appeared in 1987, at a time when Top Gun was at the height of its popularity. If you concentrated hard, the game’s soundtrack sounded a bit like Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone, making you feel a bit like Tom Cruise as you shot down another MiG.

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The thing was, no matter how cool the game looked, sounded and felt, it wasn’t very good. It moved at a breakneck speed, with enemy jets coming from every direction, ready for you to shoot down using cannons or missiles. Except it was almost impossible to tell what was going on, and any successes were more down to blind luck than skill. When the game ended, rarely did you fully understand who had shot you down, or how you could avoid a similar fate the next time you played. And you would play again too, as it made you feel like a fighter pilot.

Sega made several sequels to After Burner, culminating in After Burner Climax in 2006, a game which it has now converted over to iOS. The idea is the same as always, shoot down the enemy planes to save the world. Or something. It doesn’t matter. Before starting the game you’re given the choice of three different aircraft to fly, the classic F-14  Super Tomcat, plus an F-15 Strike Eagle and a Super Hornet, all of which are apparently exactly the same, so you just pick which one you like the best.

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You can chose to control your aircraft with either a virtual joystick, the accelerometer or a combination of both. Weapons are operated using two buttons, one for the gun and the other for the missiles, plus there is a third button for activating the Climax mode, which is a bit like a smart bomb. If you chose the virtual joystick, your speed is adjusted using a slider which is inconveniently placed in the top right of the screen, meaning nowhere near where your fingers are comfortable. For this reason, it’s best to go for the combined virtual joystick and accelerometer-controlled speed option, but it’s still not ideal.

Missiles automatically lock-on to enemy planes, while you’re free to try and hit stuff with the guns, although they’re largely useless. The levels, although quite short, are action packed and there’s more than enough at which to shoot. You’ve got unlimited missiles, so you just tap the button repeatedly, and swing side-to-side to lock-on to multiple targets, a motion which also does a good job of avoiding enemy fire. After Burner may have grown up a bit, but it’s still as overexcitable as it was in 1986.

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The game play may not be up to much, however this can sometimes be forgiven, but After Burner also suffers from horrendous slowdown, which can’t. When things get busy, which they often do, the game will grind almost to a halt, which when combined with the general air of confusion makes the game even more baffling. When games like Infinity Blade and Grand Theft Auto run beautifully on the Retina iPad and iPhone 5, I can’t believe After Burner pushes these devices beyond the limit.

After Burner does have its positive side, as it looks gorgeous when it’s running smoothly, particularly the planes themselves (still love the F-14’s swing wings kicking in when you hit the after burner), the lighting effects and the city scape level. It’s also properly exciting at times, although those moments where you think you did really well could easily be put down to sheer luck. The game is universal for the iPhone and iPad, plus the £1.99 price tag will inevitably drop to £0.99 during one of Sega’s many annual sales. It’s worth grabbing for that price, especially if you’re a fan of the series, just don’t expect to return to it very often. Ultimately though, even as a slice of nostalgia, After Burner Climax just isn’t all that enjoyable, primarily because it doesn’t come with a great big moving cockpit all of its own.

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