Star Wars: Assault Team Review (iOS)
Just when you think that 'Star Wars'-based games couldn't possibly branch out to another unlikely genre, Star Wars: Assault Team takes the franchise into areas of gaming we were actually delighted to see implemented: RPGs and collectible card games. Free-to-play role-playing-games certainly have their own established niche on the mobile marketplace, and we are glad to see a free-to-play RPG that not only utilizes one of the most popular sci-fi franchises ever made, it also puts a twist on conventional RPG mechanics by intertwining the basic premises of a collectible card game in order to facilitate its combat and character system.
Much like the Dragon Quest and Phantasy Star RPG series of yesteryear, Star Wars: Assault Team is oriented towards first-person, turn-based combat mechanics. Instead of having a blue menu on the bottom of the screen with health displays and battle commands, there is a card representing each member of your party. Depending on what level you are on, certain cards (party members) are mandatory to keep, such as Han Solo during the earlier stages, Chewie on Kashyyyk and Luke towards the end. While we were glad to see Assault Team get the CCG treatment, many of these character cards were quite lackluster. It was also disappointing to see that these cards were used primarily as substitutes for the bottom screen of most traditional, turn-based RPGs. If we were able to see our party members depicted as amazingly as the enemy models are, Assault Team would have been much more pleasing to the eyes.
The strange thing is that the CCG aspect of Assault Team is meant to make it feel original in terms of the game's RPG aspects, but they are merely a facade in order to hide its simplicity. Since this is an iOS title, we understand that intuitive ways of covering up a game's shortcomings are necessary, but if you were to absolutely remove the card aspect of the game, nothing would be changed. The cards represent your party members, each card has the ability to raise its primary stats (much like the attributes of an RPG character), you can organize your party however you'd like (while keeping your main hero card in your party) and each card has a special attack that is unique to that particular character/card. Your fights basically feel like a diminished version of a Dragon Quest battle. Chewie can use "Wookiee Rage,” a roar that taunts enemies to attack him instead of other characters, Han has "Lucky Shot," which does bonus damage and the other party members that join... just don't make any sense.
The enemy models and backgrounds you encounter during each level look fantastic (though the backgrounds are frequently repeated). During a fight, you simply exchange attack turns between your party and their enemies. Each card gets a turn per round, and can either do one of two things: their normal attack (which is a blaster attack for most characters or a melee attack for the rest) or their special attack -- there is nothing else your characters can do during battle. Your capacity for healing, spells and crowd control (such as stuns and poison effects) are all dependent on who you included in your party.
The card system also helps camouflage the absolutely ridiculous parties you can come up with and echoes how irrelevant your party members are to Assault Team's story. The party system helps make the combat thought-provoking in terms of properly planning how to efficiently dispatch the enemy party and keep your team alive, but it sacrifices narrative and believability for the sake of maintaining RPG mechanics. Why would a Gamorrean (the pig guards from Jabba's Palace) join up with the likes of Chewbacca and Han? Just a few missions in, you will realize that the actual story to Assault Team is see-through and is just an excuse to have your favorite characters of the franchise take on gauntlets of Star Wars baddies.
Unfortunately, there is not really anything else to Assault Team besides its turn-based combat. Its story is laughable and nonsensical (basically a famous Star Wars face or two visit an Empire-controlled location for near-pointless reasons and they must fight their way out), but a major problem resides in the parts where your team is exploring/running through the stage in-between fights. You encounter nothing but scripted sequences where you occasionally will stop and have to tap a blue icon on whatever item you must interact with, whether it be a door lock, character, switch or lever. Assault Team allows you to look around the environment a little bit via gyroscopic controls, but this was extremely faulty. Most of the time the ability to look around the environment is extremely limited (you might be able to look at what's in your peripheral vision a bit clearer, but that's all). There is not any incentive for you to look around unless your character hits a dead end where you pan the camera until you find another blue icon to interact with.
Winning battles results in earning in-game cash, gaining new cards and being able to upgrade your favorite cards with better stats, but not much of Assault Team changes as you progress through its levels. Your favorite characters do not unlock any additional abilities, thus you are forced to shuffle your teams around for the sake of including a healer, a character that can stun enemies and another that can hit multiple enemies at once. The enemy platoons are diverse enough to prevent combat from becoming mundane, but there isn't much to do here besides whittling down each enemy party you encounter during your Assault Team runs. Star Wars fanatics will love the music, sound effects and enemy models of Star Wars: Assault Team, but will scratch their heads at who their favorite characters are partied with. Nevertheless, Assault Team's combat system and presentation are engaging and fun enough to shroud most players from realizing how pointless its story missions are.
This review is based on a review copy of Star Wars: Assault Team provided by the publisher for iOS.