capsule review

Top Gun 2 for iPhone

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It’s time to enter the danger zone once again. Developed by Freeverse and presented by Paramount, Top Gun 2 blasts onto your iPhone and iPod Touch with updated graphics, improved controls, and new missions. Top Gun 2, the follow up to last year’s Top Gun, casts you as a fighter pilot in an action-packed rails shooter full of dog fights, naval engagements, and afterburners. While Top Gun 2 has a more streamlined storyline and better graphics than its predecessor, Freeverse’s effort to make the game more user-friendly has stripped much of what made the franchise unique to begin with.

Oh hey, it's that highway they've been talking about. What highway you ask? The highway to the DANGER ZONE!

Last year, when the original Top Gun came out, players and critics alike heavily criticized the game for its long animated storyline. So, Top Gun 2 has no real story. Instead, you only get a brief twenty to twenty-five word synopsis of a mission before you start it—you don’t even get a synopsis of the game’s controls. Other than the title, the film’s soundtrack and brief name drops of movie characters, the game barely mentions it connections to Top Gun the movie. As a fighter pilot game, it’s stimulating, but its menu options, levels, controls, music and graphics could stand to be more structured.

The game’s menu takes the form of a map where you can access missions, manipulate sound effect options, purchase the game’s soundtrack, and upgrade the weapons of the jets you’ll fly. A more robust tutorial and explanation of the game’s controls would do well here, but Top Gun 2’s barebones user interface style is still fairly intuitive.

Before you start a level, you get to pick between three jets to fly for the mission. Your choices of planes include a F-14 Tomcat (the plane flown in the movie), a F-16 Falcon or a F-18 Hornet. Each plane has specialized weapons and defensive mechanisms. The F-14 shoots a barrage of bullets (a “metal storm”) and has an afterburner that increases the jet’s speed. The F-16 shoots a barrage of missiles and has a shield that keeps off bullets for a limited period of time. The F-18 fires flares and smart bombs. (I was partial to the F-16, as its shield was the most helpful defensive option.) Each jet’s specialized weapon does about the same thing: obliterate anything it goes near. The weapons cause destruction in different ways, but when you first start out, they’re hardly distinguishable. You can upgrade specialized weapons and when you do, each weapon’s talents become more noticeable. For example, an upgraded missile barrage gives you a very visual show of airway destruction.

Each game level has an identical format wherein your jet follows a designated path and planes, helicopters and tanks will shoot at you. The object is to avoid the enemy fire and shoot back. At the end of a level, a “Boss” enemy will come out to fight you. If you defeat the boss, you get to move onto another level. This formula quickly grows old, and many of the levels and enemies (including bosses) get reused throughout the levels. The bosses behave predictably as well—whether it’s a stealth plane or a boat you’re confronting, their attacks and their behavior will seem very familiar.

The game controls take advantage of the iPhone/iPod Touch’s accelerometer—to a certain degree. But you’re sadly limited in the maneuvers you can perform. Though your enemies can do many fancy maneuvers, like flip over in midair, you can’t. You can turn your plane upside down (performed by turning your iPhone upside down) but that’s it.

Your cockpit view only includes a third person view of your jet, your health status, and four touch screen buttons used to fire weapons at enemies. A Vulcan turret gun trigger and a missile trigger will always be in the cockpit. The other buttons you’ll have access to depend on the specialized weapons or defensive systems of the jet you choose to fly. The weapons are dependable, but I feel some of their buttons are a little too close to the edge of the iPhone/iPod Touch screen. I once pressed my iPod Touch’s “home” button while trying to shoot a missile.

Top Gun 2 has enhanced particle and shader effects that improve graphic performance over the original. The levels are detailed enough for you not to get fatigued by them but that doesn’t mean performance was smooth. On my third generation iPod Touch, the game did freeze a couple times during large combat scenes. One mountain top terrain level seemed very buggy and my iPod Touch kept having trouble rendering its imagery.

The game’s soundtrack by Dare Devil Squadron, gets repetitive fast. After playing a couple of levels of the game, and hearing the band’s rendition of “Fly into the Danger Zone” multiple times, I quickly grew tired of the music and wanted to change the soundtrack to a playlist in my iTune’s library. Sadly, the iTunes option doesn’t exist in Top Gun 2 but you can turn off the volume of the soundtrack and only listen to combat noises.

Top Gun 2 is in many ways limited by its genre. Rail shooters are renowned for their repetitiveness and lack of gameplay options, so Freeverse’s decision to limit Top Gun 2 to a linear path is frustrating. That said, the refinements over the original coupled with the retro soundtrack make Top Gun 2 a more enjoyable, prettier, and intuitive experience.

[Sam Felsing is an editorial intern for Macworld.]

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