Galactic Reign becomes the first 'universal' Xbox game for Windows Phone and Windows 8

In a recent editorial, I complained that Microsoft has largely stopped announcing or publicizing Windows Phone games in advance. Well, this week we have a prime example of that. Galactic Reign from Slant Six and Microsoft Studios has just showed on Windows 8 and RT with Xbox features and will appear for Windows Phone 7 and 8 devices (also with Xbox features) later today.

Microsoft teased the game back in October but made absolutely no mention of platforms, so nobody really knew it was coming, and especially not as a multiplatform release with connectivity features. But other than the lack of proper PR, a new game showing up on Windows Phone and Windows 8 with cross-platform asynchronous multiplayer is always good news, so we’ll stop complaining. For now.

Since the Windows 8 game launched ahead of the mobile version, we’ve already put several hours into it. Head past the break for our full impressions, plus details about buying the game on one platform and playing it from another!

Strategy in space!

Galactic Reign Challenges

As the title might clue you in, Galactic Reign is a sci-fi strategy game. It’s sort of a distant cousin to Skulls of the Shogun, only without the story mode. In fact, the only single-player component here is the Battle Academy. This mode presents a series of 60 challenges, all aimed at teaching players the relationship between the game’s various ships and weapons.

Each challenge starts out with a fleet-building phase in which players first create blueprints for ships to use in battle. The assortment of ships and equipment they can be outfitted with varies from challenge to challenge. Once a blueprint or two has been selected, the ships can then be built. You get a certain amount of resource units to spend. Simply tap the plus-minus button on a ship or adjust a slider until your points have all been spent.

Video killed the strategy star

Galactic Reign Video battle

Once the fleet is ready, the battle starts. Players don’t actually control the battles – they simply sit back and let their ships take on the opposing forces. Here’s where Galactic Reign differs from pretty much every other game out there. Instead of rendering the battle in real-time, the game renders the battle in the cloud. The results are then streamed to your device as a video. You can choose to ‘scan’ the video, which adds tactical overlays and allows you to jump to any point in the battle.

This video-based system allows Galactic Reign to showcase impressive-looking space battles on relatively underpowered Windows RT devices. However, the obvious downside is that players have to wait for the video to process on the cloud and then download. It’s not a fast system; the game actually says this process can take several minutes. You can start another challenge or play multiplayer while the video processes and downloads though. Once it’s done, you find out whether you won the battle and how many stars you earned.

Thankfully those unnecessary videos can be skipped or simply disabled in the Options screen. I applaud Slant Six and Microsoft for trying something new, but rendering videos in the cloud and then streaming them to devices is far too slow to be practical. Strategy fans would happily accept much lower-fidelity battles rendered in-engine – just look at Skulls of the Shogun and Spectral Souls. Faster is better.

Crossing platforms… in space!

Galactic Reign Online Multiplayer

Galactic Reign wouldn’t be much fun if not for its multiplayer mode. Online battles take place asynchronously, and the game does support matchmaking. Windows Phone and Windows 8 players can even compete against each other. We can’t test that cross-platform support until the phone version becomes available later today, but the experience should essentially be the same on each platform.

In multiplayer games, both players start at opposite sides of a galactic map. Each player commands up to four fleets as they move from planet to planet along the map. These fleets can colonize the planets they arrive on, as long as you have the resource cost to spare. It takes one to turn to successfully colonize a planet, at which point it adds to the player’s resource production.

To start with, you’ll only have access to a few types of ships, weapons, and accessories. To unlock new pieces for your armada, you’ll need to put resources into research. One turn later, the researched item becomes available to use. Since each ship is strong and weak against other types, it’s important to pack your fleets with a variety of ships and armaments. There’s no limit to how many ships you can add to individual fleets, though of course actually building ships costs resources too.

As both players move across space and grab up planets for themselves, they’ll eventually cross swords, so to speak. Occupy an opponent’s colony long enough and you’ll take it over for yourself. But when two opposing fleets run into each other, a battle ensues. Sheer numbers as well as a balanced assortment of ships will determine the winner. Check the results screen to see who survived and who lost a fleet from the encounter.

Achievements (also in space)

Galactic Reign multiplayer map

Given the multiplayer focus of the game, most of its 20 Achievements focus on the multiplayer mode. The long-term goal is to win 25 matches against other players. Several Achievements reward specific scenarios such as colonizing three worlds in one round, researching all technologies in a single game, and building 5 dreadnaughts in one game. Most will go down easy, but some will likely require a little boosting with a friend.

Windows 8 Impressions

Battle Academy mode. Note the grainy decal beneath my Gamerpic.

While I played Galactic Reign on a PC, it’s clearly designed with tablets in mind. The text messages stretch all the way from the left edge of the screen to the right, which is really uncomfortable to read on a 16:9 display. Slant Six should consider adding an option to view text in thinner columns for people who lack amazing peripheral vision. Also, the decals (avatar images) that players select to represent their multiplayer forces appear low-resolution and dithered on a 1080P display.

Another issue is the lack of proper volume control. The Options menu allows music and sound effects to be toggled on or off, but there’s no way to just adjust the game’s volume. I don’t want to turn my computer’s volume down every time I play a game. We can safely assume that the Windows Phone version will have the same problem – and we already know Windows Phone lacks independent volume control for games and apps.

Other than those issues, my only real complaint is the lack of a proper single-player mode. The turn-based strategic conquest found in multiplayer would work perfectly well against AI players. In all likelihood, the project just didn’t have the budget to develop proper AI or a story campaign.

Still, Galactic Reign’s asynchronous multiplayer battles are great fun. The ability to play against PC, tablet, and phone users should make for an addictive strategic experience. The trial version of Galactic Reign provides full access to multiplayer with a single alien race, so anyone can see if it's right for them. The full game costs $4.99 and provides access to two additional races. The Windows 8 game is a 195 MB download. Get it here (opens in new tab) from the Windows 8 Store.

One purchase for both platforms!

The Windows Phone 7 and 8 version of Galactic Reign will also cost $4.99 when it goes live. However, according to the game's official FAQ (opens in new tab), players only need to buy one version in order to access it on both platforms! The only catch is that you don't earn Achievements on the other platform unless you buy that version too. Not perfect, but it's a start.

We’ll report back when the phone game becomes available, and look forward to a Windows Phone-specific review soon as well!

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

  • Looks really cool. The vehicles look very halo-esque.
  • Looks more like a rip off of Sins of a Solar Empire - will definitely be buying it though
  • Here is the link to the WP store
  • The purchase on one, play on all is what we have been waiting for. Good news.
  • Too bad cross buy wasn't implemented for Skulls of the Shogun says my inner cheapa$$. I paid for both versions but it was worth it. This is a good sign of things to come and definitely a way to bring more people to the platform. It will only encourage more people to the platform.
  • I wish Skulls had gone with an option to buy the game for $10 on WinRT, and get it for free on WP.  They would have secured an extra $5 from my wallet.  But I wasn't willing to pay $10 extra just to get the tablet version when I knew I would mostly play on my phone.
  • Yeah, this fact alone earned it front-page article status on Gamespot earlier today. I've practically never seen those guys even acknowledge that WP exists before today, so clearly this is getting some attention. I really hope this is the start of a new trend and not an anomaly.
  • Just because of this I am buying.
  • Looks very good.  Well be trying this for sure.  And I kind of like the idea of the battles being rendered in the cloud and then streamed as a video.
  • Its a cool idea, but its not ideal for my phones paltry 200MB data plan.
  • One purchase on both platforms..whoa! Finally my investment in phone 8 and early upgrade to windows 8 is paying off. Whoop...hooo!!! Thanks for the update wpcentral. Buying your app is also a fantastic investment. Very nice!
  • In terms of asyncron multiplayer - what do you mean? I cant actually have games like halo/asphal 7 with a multiplayer compete against others in real time?
  • It's not real-time. Players can make their turns at any time, and the other player gets a notification. Just like AlphaJax and the WP version of Skulls of the Shogun.
  • Does xbox live on wp8 not support this? 
  • Not officially. Microsoft (for whatever reason) does not provide real-time multiplayer APIs for Windows Phone or Windows 8. However, Asphalt 7 on WP8 has real-time multiplayer using the Gameloft live network. Check out our review for more details.
    WOW! :D Awesome!!!!
  • Somewhat reminds me of EVE online. Especially the youtube video does. Gameplay is completely different, obviously.
  • While I appreciate the recent Xbox editorials, it might have been nice to start out the article with something about the game rather than a soapbox. Yes, it sucks that MS has gone into Apple mode and only announces stuff the nanosecond it becomes available for purchase, but after the mountain of hate they had to swallow from the community over late delivery on things they announced early (e.g. NoDo), who can blame them? I think it's just going to take time for them to work through the PTSD before they'll allow the pendulum to swing back toward the middle. And, honestly, the blame lies equally, if not more, on the shoulders of the game developers here.
  • Well said.
  • WOW funniest thing I've heard! Someone Is clearly misinformed, Pretty obvious your not familier with how things work in Redmond!
  • In this case the devs weren't allowed to discuss the game before release. - a common stipulation.   Also, we asked MS for details several weeks ago but of course did not receive any, so it's a bit of a sore spot.
  • I too feel like Microsoft have been on a role. Your editorials hit the nail on the head, but I think we should sit back and watch Microsoft try to rectify those issues. I prefer games popping out of nowhere. Perhaps Microsoft has derived at that being a better way to deliver them (less disappointments when it doesn't come out in time as promised.. Shit happens). And maybe we are just spoiled and too used to the old way to give the new way a chance. I just feel when Microsoft does have a pretty impressive week, it isn't fair to immediately put them down in the very first paragraph. Just my opin...
  • I don't know what you know I don't know.
  • Not my cup of tea but a GREAT bit of news for someone who was frankly losing more faith in my favourite OS by the day. Keep this up MS and I'll have your back forever.
  • The game will be available at this link
  • I'm going to buy it just to support univeral play!
  • It's not available in the Australian app store... so much for universal. Sigh.
  • The link we posted is a US link. Try searching directly from Windows 8.
  • Its not showing for me either but I can see that a World of Keflings was just added.
  • Still no joy. It's not on our windows 8 store atm.
  • Doesn't show in Windows Store, switching that url from en-US, to en-AU results in a "Sorry, this app isn't available in your country or region." message, and from the XBox Games app, of which it shows in the highlights, it states "Sorry, this app won't work on your device".
  • That's odd. The Windows 8 Store can be difficult. Sometimes Canada gets games a full week ahead of the US. Hopefully it will show up in your region eventually.
  • Paul, excuse my cursing but this is f****** awesome! I may have missed it but are cloud based saves also available? An Xbox title available on 8, rt, wp7, and wp8? Multiplayer? And one purchase unlocks everything? Looks like Microsoft is getting its act together (I know it takes times to plan these things) fast!
  • Cross-buying is definitely the future, and the key to bringing Xbox players to WP. Imagine a world where you can buy something like Halo 5 for $60 and get a code to get the WP version for free. And your progress through the mobile game would unlock special bonuses for the Xbox version. The possibilities are endless.
  • Don't be a party pooper. It's a great start !
  • I didn't think about the code method. Brilliant. +1
  • Yeah, that would definitely get people buying Windows Phones if they unlock things from buying Xbox games (or possibly other things.)
  • If you read the FAQ, you will see that you might want to actual purchase it on all devices. It isn't a true buy once play anywhere game. Achievements only work on device types that you've purchased the game on. Buy it on Windows Phone, and you will not get achievements on Windows 8 and vice versa.
  • Yeah, this is not emphasized nearly enough (or mentioned at all even) in the article.  People are going to be disappointed when they see this, I bet.
  • Yes, it is slightly disappointing, but nevertheless this is a step in the right direction for the ecosystem. 
  • Meh. Not a big deal to me anyways.
  • Thanks for the heads up.
  • Yes, that is correct. But let me play devil's advocate here and say that if you buy the game only once and play it on both platforms, you are technically going back and forth between them as if you were only playing one game, one time. Then it would make sense that the expaectation would be to win achievements just once so you don't get them duplicated, because it's one game to rule them all [platforms]... haha :)
    That's my take at least.
  • Now the Question is if you meet a requirement on the platform you did not purchase it on will the game unlock the achievement!?
    You would hope so but sometimes something like this gets passed over.
  • This is great news. Enough games. Give me more top 50 apps.
  • This is huge!
  • I LOVE !!!... Sci-Fi, but not so much turnbased games. I hope this will be good. With that Epic cut scenes renders I could wait awhile.
  • Looks promising, although multi player is not really my thing.
  • Cross platform price points seem reasonable..
  • In other news: Gunpowder for Windows 8/RT is currently on sale for $1.5
  • Thanks! I will probably buy this then!
  • Finally, MS realise that pay once & play twice / thrice is the way to go.
  • Nice intuitive UI and game features, but I have a feeling that the video processing and rendering wouldn't fare too well with WP7, knowing our max RAM capacity is 512MB, with 396MB left for use, added to the fact that only about 200MB of RAM can be used by an application or game at any time. Besides that, I have very high hopes for this game. I'll be waiting for its official release. :)
  • Finally, what we've been expecting!!! Hell yeah!
  • This game appears to be a copy of Spaceward Ho! Loved that game back in the day.
  • +1
  • "It’s not a fast system; the game actually says this process can take several minutes."
    That mislead me a bit. It sorta only applies to single player mode; in multiplayer mode you can do other things in your turn while you wait for the results of one of your battles and it only takes around 30s. I think it actually adds to the experience: this is space! We don't have instant communications yet! It takes time for messages to phone home :)
  • It's all right just needs 720p/768p support thought?
  • WP7 games can't support WP8 resolutions. Not possible.
  • This would be a game changing addition to the Windows ecosystem if it the universal payment also supported the purchase on XBox. That trinity of gaming power would be hard to stop.