I was so exited to get my hand on this game, (which was released on March 14th), that I was checking the App Store at 11:00 pm on the 13th. I was surprised to find it there, and after struggling with my Apple account to accept my password and then redeeming a gift card to restore my balance to more than mere change, I had the game open on and was playing at midnight.
While not the first Stargate game to make it to the market, Stargate SG-1 Unleashed is the only released game to feature the SG-1 cast, and the only action game currently available to Stargate fans on any platform. There have been previous attempts, but either they never made it from development to release (like Stargate Worlds), or they sadly withered away after their release (like Stargate Resistance).
The story of the game is broken into “Episodes,” and the episodes are broken into what might best be called “Chapters.” Despite being early, there is a lot going on, and it kicks off immediately with a firefight in the SGC that is part plot, part tutorial. From there, all the staples of a good Stargate story come into play: time travel, a mysterious message, a new Goa’uld looking for seven keys that made me think of crystals like the Eye of Ra from ‘Full Circle,’ only these keys have something more to do with the Stargate. Politicians, led by Kinsey, are tying Hammond’s hands. The story is rooted deep in Egyptian mythology, which is one of the aspects of the series that got me hooked in the first place. All indications point to this story being set in the first half of Season Seven.
While the game menu showed that there are three Episodes so far, I was shocked to find that Episode Two is “Coming Soon!” This had me ready to scream because Episode One ends with a HUGE – drum role please! – cliffhanger! I mean a real shocker! It’s horrible! Granted, canon dictates that no one can die – well, at least not permanently – but they can be lost, tortured, dare I say Goa’ulded? As long as we get them back by the end of the story, more or less in one piece, any number of things can happen to our characters! So far I have found no indication of when Episode Two will be released, only that Episode One appears to be the only release for March. While I don’t enjoy waiting, it will allow the game to last longer and replay it, exploring the various options available. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.
If you are more interested in gameplay than plot you do have the option to push the action along a little. At points in the dialog you will be given choices on how to have a discussion continue from a character’s point of view or to end the conversation and get on to the next step. For instance, a briefing can be ended quickly if you choose to have Colonel Jack O’Neill say “Let’s go!” rather than asking more questions. However, if you omit any of the questions available for Jack to ask, you could miss an important plot point. Writers rarely include useless information. I speak from experience here folks! It’s worth your time to let Jack poke holes, not to mention it’s entertaining.
You can also choose how characters will respond to things. For instance, at one point Teal’c and Dr. Daniel Jackson need to bluff their way past a couple of Jaffa guards. You can either have Teal’c insist that his prisoner is wanted by the boss and therefore cannot be executed, or you can go straight for the colorful Goa’uld insults, translations included! When Daniel is talking to the locals, trying to gather some intel, he can either play nice and pretend to be a bowing believer in the godliness of the Goa’uld, take a neutral middle-ground, or he can denounce them as the slimy snakes that they are. I recommend trying out all the options and seeing where it gets you because the results are very entertaining.
There is a downside to these dialogue options, however. So far I have found one instance where one of the roads you can choose is completely out of character. The results are the same in the end, but if you have to think for a split second about what Jack would say in the particular situation, I will have to ask you if you’ve really watched Stargate SG-1. Granted, if options were going to be given, there wasn’t any other way for the developers go. They had to provide the two extremes. That one of them goes against the character’s nature couldn’t really be helped.
Stargate SG-1 Unleashed has a great mix of action, puzzles, and plot that are sure to engage fans and gamers of all types. Of course it wouldn’t be SG-1 if you didn’t have to fight your way through some Jaffa, sneak around a lot, and run for your life a few times!
Firefights are frequent, though not too much so. It could be easy to go overboard with them, but so far it doesn’t feel like too much. The controls are pretty simple, which is great for players like me who took months to get anywhere with the one First Person Shooter I ever tried to play. Your character’s default position is to squat behind cover, so when you want to stand up to shoot all you have to do is touch and hold the button at the bottom left. You aim and shoot simultaneously by tapping on your intended victim. Most Jaffa will take several shots to take down and you can see how much damage you are going by watching their health bar shrink over their heads. If you’re lucky it’s possible to get a headshot, taking your enemy down immediately A word of warning to those of you with sensitive stomachs: there is blood, and no small amount either. If the app was rated under console game standards I would hazard a guess that it might be rated T for teen.
While in the show a staff blast is a very serious wound, and if it hits you in the back or chest you’re probably as good as dead, that would be unreasonable for the game. It’s hard not to get shot, but there is a good tolerance on your side, and waiting between hits will help you survive longer. Once I figured that out I never died again. (Because watching Daniel roll over and die (again) once was quite enough thank you!) I expect this to get harder as the game progresses. You can see the staff blast coming, if you’re standing, but if you’re down it’s easy to stand up into a shot and be hit. Plus, you almost always start with two or more Jaffa shooting at you at once so you have multiple angles to watch out for. Something that I learned may help you. When you have multiple enemies, try taking out the targets from right to left. If you start at the left, your right hand will block your view of your other enemies so you might not see the incoming fire.
So far the game has allowed me to shoot as Jack, Daniel, and Major Sam Carter in turn, using three different types of gun and the occasional grenade, but not Teal’c who is fighting with his customary staff weapon. I’ll be surprised if it stays that way for long, and I’m looking forward to seeing if there is a big difference in playing with a staff weapon.
Moving around is fairly straight forward, though for first time iPad gamers like myself it may take some getting used to. Your left hand is used for steering your character and determining how fast they go, while swiping horizontally with your right hand changes the angle of the camera. I do wish the camera was a little more intuitive. I’m certainly not used to it yet and hopefully I will get better, but it can be hard to move your character and the camera so that you can, for instance, look around a corner before going too far, at the same time, and at times it is absolutely necessary to do so. Maybe I’m just spoiled by games that always point the camera in the direction your character is facing? I’ll admit it’s a possibility.
When it comes to obstacles the game does not do all the work for you. If you need to climb something be prepared to swipe upward, swipe down to jump down, swipe sideways to dodge or hide, tap repeatedly to run faster, wrestle a Jaffa to the ground, or escape his grasp while climbing over a wall. If your character has to creep sideways along a narrow ledge, be prepared to watch a dot move along a line and tap a box once it is inside. If you miss, you will need to tap repeatedly so that your character can regain his or her balance. Occasionally you will need to carefully take aim at something, positioning a bracket of arrows at an item before using a button at the bottom right to fire. Also, sometimes there is something you need to take notice off. An eye symbol will appear in the lower right corner when you are in proximity. Lastly, talk to the people you run into, and work with your fellow SG-1 members to solve problems by walking up to them, taping the symbol that appears, and choosing from the various discussion prompts.
There are interactive objects as well. Some are ammo boxes that will help you in firefights. Some are artifacts that you need to clean off so Daniel can decipher them. Some of the interactive objects are puzzles, like codes that unlock doors. The most difficult “puzzle” I have run into so far is definitely dialing the DHD. On one screen you have the DHD with it’s many symbols. Hold down a button and you will be able to view the address you need to dial. You have to memorize the glyphs and enter them in the correct order. I know it sounds easy, but I kind of struggled with it!
If you get killed or captured, the game is very forgiving. Unlike some games that would make you start that Chapter all over again, here you will only have to go back to just a few actions, or to the last ‘safe’ point. This is probably one of the reasons why I played all the way through the first Episode in less than three hours over two days, the other reason being that I couldn’t put it down!
Oh, and when the game recommends using headphones when you open the app, it’s worth it to do so! I played it both ways, and using headphones is much more immersive. Those of us with iPads know that the little speaker at the corner can produce great volume and nice quality sound, it’s directionally challenged, and when you’re gaming it’s easy to block the speaker with your hand. Also, there’s no option for surround sound. Use your earphones and you will feel like you are in the middle of the action!
The locations involved in the game so far are detailed, pretty faithful to what you would expect, and beautiful. The SGC of course is a mainstay of the game, just as it was with the series. We’ve seen the control room, the Gate Room, Hammond’s office, the briefing room, and the surrounding hallways. If you already have the Stargate Command App from Arkalis, you know what to expect.
The other sites involved so far are original to the game, and the design is stunning. Those who played Stargate Resistance would be pleased with the set, especially because you won’t find the pesky glitches that we used to run into, like how you could get stuck in a corner that you walked into for no apparent reason. The detail is stunning and the scale is worthy of the Goa’uld.
As I look at the characters that Arkalis designed, I can’t help but wish that they could have collaborated with Diamond Toys, the makers of the actions figures, to be a bit more accurate. Jack looks pretty good, though in trying to provide facial detail I really think they went too far with the wrinkles. He’s very pale, and he always has his cap on. Similarly, with General Hammond, the likeness is pretty good, but the detailing actually hurts the accuracy. If this is set in Season 7 as I suspect, Daniel’s glasses are the wrong shape. Granted his glasses are actually used as a plot device, so they may have gone with the squarer darker frames we see in Season 10 rather than the lighter metal frames he should be wearing, because the darker frames are also thicker and therefore easier to see and manipulate graphics-wise. However, the combination of the Season 10 glasses and oddly designed hair throw off Daniel’s entire face in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. Also, just as with Jack, the designers went overboard with the facial detail and it ages Daniel in a way I do not like at all. When Daniel goes in disguise, removing his glasses and wearing a hood, there is a significant improvement in the accuracy of the face. The rather significant area of bare chest that Daniel sports while under cover doesn’t hurt either. For a computer generated game character, he’s looking good!
The developers definitively had a hard time accurately capturing Sam and Teal’c. The shape of their faces both seem incorrect. Sam’s hair? Considering that some fans can determine what season an episode is from based solely on Sam’s haircut (yours truly included) this haircut is a bit of a mystery. In what I would call the principal photography for the game, it most closely resembles her Season 1 haircut. Between this and the facial structure that is just indefinably off, this Sam looks too young for a Season 7 plot. Also, while I wouldn’t want Sam to stand out as the stereotypical babe of the game, as a woman her body has no definition. It’s almost as if they took the frame they developed for Daniel’s body, narrowed everything from shoulders to hips and then stuck Sam’s head on it. Fer crying out loud! I’m a girl and I’m saying, “where is her chest?” Something is wrong with this! It would be kinda hard to get Teal’c’s body wrong. A big guy with a whole lotta muscles. Piece of cake. But his face? It’s just not quite right. It’s not awful. None of them are awful. But the most accurate is Jack, with the exception of too much detail and not enough tan. He is followed closely by Undercover Daniel.
In a lot of ways, body language has been overlooked, but the moments you get will make you smile. Jack’s hands may not be constantly fidgeting with something, but his characteristically expressive arm movements help to make up for that. Daniel may not hug himself, as fans often describe his distinctive way of protectively folding his arms, but you know that distinctive look he gets on his face when he’s been caught? It’s so there! So far in the game there has not been much focus on Sam, so I’m hoping there will be more to look forward to. Teal’c has never really done body language. The most we get is the single eyebrow lift. Don’t worry, the developers would have had to have been insane not to make use of it!
Believe it or not the addition of the right voices goes a long way to making the characters feel more accurate, even if they don’t look quite right. You can’t go wrong when you have the original cast members doing the voices! It’s enough to make up for everything else as far as I’m concerned! What acting and body language you don’t see in the computer animated characters, you can hear in their voices because they know better than anyone how their characters would react. All the little characteristics we associate with their voices – Daniel’s fast talking, Tealc’s stoic delivery, Sam’s intense interest in new technology, and Jack’s sarcasm can all be heard as if we haven’t been years without hearing them.
There are two exceptions to this because there are two characters included in the game that are not voiced by the cast members. Don Davis passed away almost 5 years ago now, and though I’m so very glad General Hammond was included in the game, it’s difficult hearing another actor voice his character. With over seven years of footage, they could probably have compiled his lines from the series, using software to build the proper voice inflection without loosing the unique Texan twang. Even just taking a word here and there would have been an improvement. No one can turn the word “Colonel” into a reprimand the way Don could. The actor given the role and then left uncredited may have the right tone of voice, but the twang is so absent that it’s severely jarring. Frankly, Michael Shanks and Gary Jones have done better impersonations of Don’s tone and accent than this unnamed actor.
Speaking of Gary Jones, gamers do get to enjoy a brief reunion with gate tech Walter Harriman. You get to enjoy it for all of half a second before you are smacked in the face by a voice that is no where close to Gary’s. I was literally startled by it while in the middle of thinking, “Oh my god it’s Wal- Whaa!” Everything about it is totally wrong, not only for trying to match Gary, but for providing a suitable voice for a bespectacled little man. It’s way too deep and macho! (No offence Gary!) There is no way Arkalis even tried to find an actor to sound remotely like Gary, but the fact that they went to the trouble to build the highly recognizable character suggests that we might see more of Walter in the future, horrible voice and all. You have been warned.
Lastly, lips and voice sadly do not sync. Not for the original cast, not for the other characters, not for the many and various slaves and Jaffa. The mouths just do not move enough or make you believe that the voice is actually coming from it. It’s sad that they couldn’t go a little further to make this better, but in the litany of things they could have done wrong, this is a bit distracting but minor.
The dialog has been excellent thusfar, but then I expected nothing less from script author Sally Malcolm, one of my favorite Stargate novel authors. The bulk of the dialog as been between Jack and Daniel so far. My favorite part has got to be from Undercover Daniel who definitely likes to talk to himself. Or maybe he’s talking to you? If you have ever listened to any of the Big Finish Stargate audio dramas, you get the same feel from this, only with the benefit of seeing what’s going on rather than the character describing it to you. It’s a really cool experience! The best bit of dialog so far is when Daniel comments to himself what Jack would do in his place. The answer is typically “blow something up.” God does it feel good to have the team back!
There is one canon error that I have a beef with. It could have been explained in an instant if they so chose, but they didn’t. Let me ask you, my fellow fan: what does a Goa’uld shock grenade do?
If you answered that it produces a wave of intense light and sound, blinding and incapacitating it’s victim(s), causing pain but no lasting damage, you would be correctly recalling Teal’c’s explanation of the device from ‘The Serpent’s Lair’. If you answered that the grenade explodes with a kinetic force the way our modern day grenades do, you’d be wrong, but don’t feel bad because the developers made the same mistake. The addition of kinetic force to the attributes of the shock grenade could have been explained. “Hanging a lantern on it” as incongruous would have solved my issue. However they don’t seem to notice that it’s unusual that the weapon threw our characters several feet rather than dropping them were they stood. Aside from that and the sound effects of the staff blasts seeming incorrect (perhaps more like zats, which we have not seen in the game yet), and the klaxons of the SGC being wrong, everything else in the game and the plot has been canon accurate so far.
All in all, the game has thus far been worthy of all the excitement I felt while waiting for its release. While there is definitely room for improvement, there’s nothing to really turn your nose up at. The game is fun – I could not put it down, and I keep picking it back up to reply scenes and challenges. The plot is really interesting and the cliffhanger ending is killing me! It is awesome to have the cast back working together on new material. The writing is exactly what I expected from Sally Malcolm and really captures that classic series vibe. While MGM still really needs to reinvest in the franchise, hopefully dusting off those movie concepts, this is a step in the right direction and if it’s successful it might just show MGM that the franchise still has legs. The game is definitely worth your $4.99 of App Store credit as it is, and more episodes are on the way. Get your Stargate SG-1 Unleased app for iOS (iPad and iPhone) today, and it will be released for Android via Google Play in April.