'PlanCon: Space Conflict' iOS Review: Starship Sim Needs A Little More Time At Spacedock

By Steve Buja , Updated Jan 29, 2015 10:59 AM EST

There is something buried beneath the surface of PlanCon: Space Conflict, a recent iOS title from publisher HeroCraft- a game that is enjoyable, strategic and well made.

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I haven't found it yet, but I have to believe it is there somewhere. In order to access it, though, you have navigate - both literally and figuratively - through a deep web of obtuseness, frustration and poor controls.

PlanCon is a mobile strategy title that puts you into the role of a spaceship captain in the middle of intra-solar war. Alien marauders have been invading into human controlled territory for some time now, and over the course of the game, you'll become the instrument of their demise as you level up, purchase and upgrade crew, ships, weapons and undertake a number of plot and secondary missions.

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It is a robust mobile title, and as a premium game you expect a certain level of polish. Yet it plays almost like a F2P title. There are no time-based micro-transactions involved (though you can purchase very optional crystals for upgrades), which is a definite plus. What remains is a very rushed title.

From the opening "screen", it's clear that someone missed a script review or three. While I have recently curbed my grammar snob tendencies, PlanCon is so rife with misspellings you start to think that nobody cares. More troubling is the occasional error message you get - a cryptic crash screen...in Cyrillic. The game quits suddenly far too often, and often when I accomplished some achievement or something. As if it was actively punishing me for playing and doing well.

Not that I ever felt like I was doing well. PlanCon is not the most fun of titles. The story is admirable enough, even with the grammar issues, but the real culprit is the gameplay. As space simulator, PlanCon offers you a wide variety of spacefaring options - ships, stations, weapons, missiles- everything that makes space the next Wild West. Hindering this is the maddening touch screen controls and movement.

The game is a blend of real time and turn-based combat...I think. Double clicking on an enemy unit, which ordinarily looks like any other dot on the map, will auto-engage you into battle. Holding down your finger on the enemy will let you select which of your weapons to use against this one enemy (which is helpful for engaging multiple targets). Given the expansiveness of space, it's easy to lose track of enemy ships - and even your own, and worse, tapping on a unit is infuriatingly difficult.

Battles just happen, each of the ships chase one another, forming lazy (and gain, infuriating) circles around one another. Are you shooting? Beats me. Are they shooting at you? How is damage determined or health lost? The game never tells you. There are some very basic tutorial missions in the beginning of PlanCon that do not ultimately really help. You have to figure out the crit rating and how exactly shields work on your own (still have no idea about the latter).

The board is there for an engaging, long lasting title. The actual product is one that I struggled to get through, be it from a glitch or finding myself without fuel (my own fault, but frustrating nonetheless). The game should be a blast, a rip-roaring space adventure with some great customization elements, yet I cannot ever say that I had fun. A few patches down the line and I'm sure PlanCon could be a good game, maybe even a great one. For now though, this is one conflict I think I'll sit out.

PlanCon: Space Conflict was reviewed on an iPhone 5S using a code provided by HeroCraft. It's available on the App Store for $2.99.

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