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Mobile - Cosmic Frontline AR Review

#1
Cosmic Frontline AR Review

Galcon is a mobile strategy classic, boiling down real-time strategy to easy taps and simple numbers. One criminally underappreciated feature is that Galcon can be played anywhere you can turn your phone on, with the device held at any angle and for any length of time.

Cosmic Frontline takes the basic Galcon gameplay — a set of planets, one or two opponents, and swarms of ships that spawn as you successfully hold said planets — and lets you display those planets on a background generated from your camera. That is, the playing field appears to be floating above your desk in real life. It’s a cool effect, but how does it play?

Cosmic Frontline 1

I think most of us can agree that Galcon would not be greatly improved if it were only playable from certain angles and locations, with the phone held awkwardly static until the level could be completed. By adding AR elements to this basic design, Cosmic Frontline ensures that the player will spend half their gaming time searching for an appropriate flat surface to cast planets upon and the rest of the time holding still while trying to place orders.

That means the game is not playable in many situations. If you’re commuting, the play field will fly off into the distance when your vehicle starts moving. Even when I was waiting at the bus stop, the planets managed to attach themselves to a passing car and zoom away just as victory was in my grasp. There’s an option to reduce the appearance of AR, but all that does is paint the background with a very pretty starfield; you still have to hold the device steady to keep the camera on the planets. The one new interesting wrinkle to the addition of AR is that sometimes planets will spawn behind you or otherwise slightly out of frame, forcing you to change your perspective slightly in order to keep everything in view.

Cosmic Frontline 2

It would have been better to just go all in and make the game only playable in a giant field where you have to run from planet to planet to issue orders. At least then you could get some exercise beyond holding your arms very still. An option to play without AR at all would also be preferable; with a stationary camera you could play the game in bed and it would still be a really pretty-looking basic RTS, perfect for mobile.

Cosmic Frontline is a great-looking game, and fun too in limited doses. There’s a variety of planet designs, plus asteroids and space debris to keep it looking interesting. The swarms of ships move smoothly and realistically. The AI is smart enough to take advantage of any weaknesses, and the levels are set up in ways that provide different challenges each time. When the game is set up right, it’s pretty neat to see these spinning planets and whirring ships flying around your bedroom.

That means Cosmic Frontline is a great tech demo, or an A+ final project in a game development course. It’s even pretty fun when conditions are just right. Any other time, however, it’s not worth your money.

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