Video Game Review: ‘Galaxy on Fire 2’ (In Case You Missed It)

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CHICAGO – I’m a Trekkie, tried and true. While not as obsessed as some, I enjoy the sciencey bits, the theoretical discussions between space and time, and the way “Star Trek: The Next Generation” employs real scientific consultants to fact check all sorts of data and concepts that were subtly inserted into the show. So as a kid I was always a Jean-Luc Picard kind of guy in a Han Solo world. Of course, it became a tough choice as time went on. Classic space games like “Elite 2” and “X3: Reunion” and they’re almost-limitless-as-space depth whisked past my peripheral vision, cajoling me bit by bit to dive in.

Which brings us to “Galaxy On Fire 2”, the first game in the space pirate/trader genre that I’ve truly sunk my teeth into since the Sega Genesis’s “WarpSpeed”, and I’ve enjoyed it quite a great deal. The name of game here is accessibility. While “Eve: Online”, and the aforementioned “X3: Reunion” are teeming with content, options, and hundreds of little bells and whistles, those games are fairly intimidating - literally hours of learning and acclimating to the nuances of ship control are needed to even have a fair shot at success. To quote Sweet Brown, (most) ain’t nobody got time for that.

Galaxy on Fire 2
Galaxy on Fire 2
Photo credit: FishLabs

By comparison, “Galaxy On Fire 2” does what the best IOS games do, and boils down the genre to its essence, refines it, and mostly delivers where it counts. The setup is pretty standard pulpy space-adventure faire. You are the quasi-british sounding Keith T. Maxwell, space-pilot extraordinaire, and on a routine journey find yourself flung deep into space and time. Light-years away from home, and decades away from his own time, with the help of some friendly aliens, Maxwell eventually gets a ship and finds himself in a fight for the Galaxy as the not-at-all-like-the-Mass-Effect-Reapers “Void” threaten to take over the universe.

Galaxy on Fire 2
Galaxy on Fire 2
Photo credit: FishLabs

Truth be told, this setup is a little cheesy, and I doubt the story-line of the game is going to keep anyone white-knuckled glued to their iPad or iPhone. Though to be fair, “Galaxy On Fire 2”’s cast and voice acting is reasonably assembled and contains one or two genuinely funny moments. The entirety of the main campaign is voiced, and Maxwell and friends are at least pleasant, if not three dimensional. Character names are introduced and forgotten, and you’ll come to refer to folks as “this dude” or “that chick” or “Some a-hole” if you’re feeling particularly sour. This is okay though, while a gripping narrative is always welcome, “Galaxy on Fire” embraces this pulpy, Flash-gordon-meets-Han-Solo vibe, where nothing is taken particularly seriously, and the dialog is there mostly to move you along to the next mission.

Speaking of the missions (and that’s probably what you’re here for in the first place). They are disappointingly unvaried. You can spend hours taking on escort missions, flying cargo from one planet to another, clear out asteroids, and escort ships, yet there hasn’t been much in the way of a harrowing experience. No tight quarters to fly through, no boss-battles…per say, but this could be because I saved up all my credits for an expensive laser weapon that made every battle I took part in the intergalactic version of duck hunt. Occasionally a mission will require you to disable an enemy ship with an EMP blast, or fight through hordes on your way to a wormhole, disable the guns on a capital ship, and there are momentary distractions like asteroid mining, but alas, so far anyway, nothing has felt climatically different to separate “big” missions from smaller ones.

Galaxy on Fire 2
Galaxy on Fire 2
Photo credit: FishLabs

Don’t get me wrong though, the gameplay is certainly of quality, and far exceeds any expectations of what you’d have an IOS game - and if this game sounds like it’s up your alley, it will consume your soul for about 3-4 hours before things start to feel a touch repetitive. There’s a bevy of upgrades to buy, weapon diagrams to craft, seemingly endless side-missions, and the ability to purchase and sell goods for hefty profits depending on what part of the galaxy you’re in makes for a thoroughly compelling experience, but I guess the problem is, you’ve seen one space battle, you’ve seen em all.

Control also plays a big factor in making “Galaxy On Fire 2” a quality experience. It’s actually the first game I’ve played on an IOS device that uses the tilt controls expertly. As a longingly jealous youth who spent his adolescence envying people who played games like “Free Space 2” and “Wing Commander” with fancy, 80 dollar joysticks, only to come of age when that sort of thing was passe, to finally experience that sort of control was simply thrilling. And while you’ll look and (possibly feel) like an idiot as you sit on your couch, or a bus, or at work, tilting and twisting and dipping your device as you pilot your spaceship of choice, it’s intuitive and deeply immersive. The other commands available compliment this control scheme. Both fire, auto-pilot, and speed boost are all located on the bottom left, and right of the screen, within perfect reach of your average thumb that’s pulling double duty stabilizing your iPad that’s currently being winged around at all sorts of angles. really the only foible here comes when trying to reduce your speed (which requires swiping downward), as inevitably the pressure from your thumb will move the ipad at an angle that will directly affect your ship’s trajectory.

By the way, “Galaxy On Fire 2” is completely free, which is astounding. Not only does it feel like a premium product, it feels like a premium console product. It’s graphically beautiful, there’s tons of (somewhat samey) content to explore, and the audio is top-notch as well. So, while “Galaxy On Fire”’s flame may dim after a few hours of gameplay, it’s still an exceptional product, and one you’ll always find yourself jumping back into, eager to stoke the flames.

“Galaxy on Fire 2” is available on iOS and most mobile systems for free. video game critic Paul Meekin

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