I don't know if a game about pirates and warships can "fly" under the radar, but that's what happened when Crimson: Steam Pirates made its debut a few weeks back. And that's a shame, because it's one of the best iPad games I've played--and definitely worthy of a spot on Scott Stein's best free iPad games list. That's right: Steam Pirates is a freebie.
Well, partially free, and partially freemium. The game starts you off with Chapter 1 of the "Tales of Captain Blood" saga; Chapter 2 will run you $1.99, as will Chapter 3 (which is not yet available but coming soon). Each chapter contains eight levels, or "voyages" to use Steam Pirates parlance.
Each voyage consists of a turn-based mission. For example, you might be tasked with boarding and capturing a ship, then escaping with it. Or attacking a land-based fortress and making off with a certain kind of loot. Along the way you'll attack (and sometimes defend) other ships. Submarines and airships, too.
Most turns are about navigation; you choose a direction and distance for each ship under your command. Different crew members afford different abilities, like repairs, faster movement, longer-range cannon blasts, and so on--but all at a cost. So there's definitely some strategy that comes into play.
Steam Pirates looks gorgeous and sounds even better, with a rousing sea-adventure soundtrack that sounds like it came straight from a "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie. And I love the steampunk-influenced ship designs and Crimson Skies-style plotting. (Steam Pirates comes from Jordan Weisman, one of Crimson Skies' creators.)
The game is really fun to play. It takes a mission or two to really learn the gameplay mechanics, but from then on it's smooth (and even a little sexy) sailing. My only complaint is that the first eight missions go by too quickly--which is exactly the idea, I suppose, behind the $1.99 chapter installments. But I appreciate Bungie Aerospace giving you the full flavor and experience of the game for free, then collecting only from those who want to keep playing.
Plus, there's a pass-and-play multiplayer option that definitely extends the replay value--though even that gets you only so far: only two of these Duel scenarios are currently available. (Online multiplayer would be a blast. How about it, Bungie?)
Ultimately, there's no other iPad game quite like Crimson: Steam Pirates. (Not that I've played, anyway--if you know of another turn-based pirate adventure, by all means name it in the comments.) It's definitely one of the best iPad games you've never tried. So try it!
By the way, don't miss another great iPad app you've never tried: Gravitarium2.