One of the main reasons Return of the Jedi was our favorite Star Wars movie was the intense aerial battles (sans air, of course) and space dogfights we witnessed during the battle of the second Death Star. The speedy manoeuvers delivered by the X-Wing, A-Wing and B-Wing pilots versus the Empire's TIE Fighters and TIE Interceptors, non-stop action, and the way every rebel pilot depends on good co-pilots to eliminate enemies from behind, is still food for action-hungry souls, and for a twelve-year-old boy these scenes easily outshone both Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks.
Since then aerial battles have fascinated us, whether we are talking about historical WWII battles, movies like Top Gun, or more science fiction action in the spirit of Star Wars. Perhaps this is why we had certain expectations for the Wii U game Star Fox Zero, expectations that sadly remained unfulfilled thanks to a clumsy control system. On a related note, we can honestly say that the space combat mode, Starfighter Assault, was easily our favorite part of last year's Star Wars Battlefront II. Criterion, the studio mostly famous for Burnout Paradise, demonstrated with ease that it understands how to design great space combat for the current console generation.
Now, perhaps it's a little unfair to use a triple-A high-budget game like Battlefront II for comparison when reviewing a game like Manticore - Galaxy on Fire, but considering we're talking about a game solely centred on dogfights in space there are a few common denominators here. Manticore - Galaxy on Fire is basically the same game as the freemium mobile game Galaxy on Fire 3: Manticore, but the developers in Fishlabs have clearly seen an opportunity to grab some more income through the popularity of the Switch. For around 20 GBP/EUR/USD you may now rid yourself of tedious popups and microtransactions, play the game with an actual controller in your hands, and play it with upscaled HD graphics (and at 60 fps to boot).
That is, at least, what the game's sales pitch tries to tempt you with. Unfortunately, converting a mobile game to one of the larger platforms is no guarantee of success, and Manticore - Galaxy on Fire is a good example of why.
Let's start with the obvious problem first. The game is utterly boring from the first minute onwards, for which the game's story must take its part of the blame. Being the newest recruit in the intergalactic mercenary company Manticore fighting space pirates and terrorists should have a certain entertainment value, but the story is clearly just put together as filler content meant to give you an easy excuse to blow things up in space. Pointless explosions can be fun, by all means, as long as it's done right and doesn't take away the fun of the game. The problem with Manticore is how the boring story is accompanied by horrible voice acting where every actor either exaggerates to the extreme or has some of the most monotonous acting imaginable. The fact that the game has an option for turning all voice acting off should have all klaxons blaring, clearly demonstrating the developers' own lack of confidence in the game's voice acting. The dialogue is flatter than the fields of Denmark and drier than Dune, and phrases are reused so often that one might suspect the developers have misunderstood the concept of recycling. If we hear the phrase "watch your six" before a mission one more time we might just have to commit ourselves to Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.
Repetition is a recurring problem in Manticore - Galaxy on Fire. This is clearly demonstrated by the music, considering the game has no variation whatsoever. The few tracks the game has to offer is set on da capo ad absurdum mode, leading us to the conclusion this is a game better played without sound. That takes care of the horrible voice acting and the droning music, but unfortunately you can't mute bad game mechanics.
The mission structure is always the same. You zap in from hyperspace and eliminate some grunts before the boss shows up, who offers a little more of a challenge than the minions. After the battle you can fly freely around the area looking for upgrades and collectibles. Since there's almost no variation to this formula, the whole thing collapses under the strain of soulless environments and limited ways of dodging enemy fire. A couple of missions offer speed runs where you must fly through hoops in space, but this isn't enough to break up the monotony. There are some fundamental structural flaws when a game feels more like a chore than fun.
Before a mission you need to study the enemy's weaknesses and choose your weapons accordingly, and your arsenal and choice of spaceships increase throughout the game. Once set and the mission starts the game offers some entertainment when everything works the way it should, and controlling a spaceship freely across three dimensions is always fun, at least for a while. The controls work just fine, but truth be told we wish the available buttons were put to better use or at least a certain amount of customisability. The aiming system is straight out of Battlefront II's Starfighter Assault mode, where the aim circle points at the ship's trajectory vector rather than where the ship is right there and then. It's not a revolutionary system, but at least it works.
Succeeding a mission raises your level, but honestly, the experience points system feels kind of pointless. We're never told exactly how you earn your points (Clear time? Enemies eliminated? The number of barrel rolls per second?), and gaining an extra level doesn't seem to make you stronger. The only real function behind the level system appears to be just an excuse to lock some upgrades for later use. When a level system is as untransparent as this, you're left with the feeling that it's a system more suitable for the mobile space.
The console version tries to promote itself as a 60 fps HD game. This is partially true at best. The game struggles to keep a steady frame-rate even when the Switch is docked to the TV, and the game's textures are bland, boring and straight up cheap-looking. The whole thing is topped off with unnecessarily long loading times, an irritating factor whenever you die at the end of a mission and need to start over from the top.
There's not much to praise about Manticore - Galaxy of Fire, and the game demonstrates that better hardware doesn't count for much if you don't update your game accordingly. Dogfights in space should be fun, but this game is unable to offer any valid entertainment thanks to its lack of soul, depth, and variation. Again with the perhaps unfair comparison, but considering Battlefront II is now down to almost the same price as what this game is asking for, there's no question where you'll get more for your money. Either that, or you could just dust off your old Wii U and give Star Fox Zero another go. That game might have had a broken control system, but at least it had way more charm and entertainment value than Manticore - Galaxy of Fire could ever hope to achieve.
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