Even though we’re several years deep in the smartphone world, some games can still surprise me by looking like someone’s shoehorned an Xbox 360 into pocket calculator. Exiles: Far Colony, for example, is almost too good looking. It verges on being distracting how detailed and rich and smooth the visuals and animation is. This can’t be a smartphone game, surely?

(By the way, I heard you thinking “don’t call be Shirley” just then.)

It’s no surprise that Crescent Moon Games has cobbled together another dazzling display of touchscreen polygons and pixels, but there’s a lot more to Exiles: Far Colony than just a 3D fireworks show. The game boasts a decent RPG sci-fi storyline that keeps things moving from beginning to end, and gives entertaining purpose to the third-person shooter action.

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It smacks, very lightly, of Firefly (which is a huge compliment from this sci-fi and Wheadon-addled gamer), with the game taking place on a far distant planet as humans spread into the galaxy, looking for resources and a new home. But it doesn’t anchor you down with an epic tale that’s long in the telling. You’re thrust into the game quickly and effortlessly as you’re sent to re-establish contact with a mining outpost.

This ushers you into the game very neatly, and it soon expands into something of a sandbox exploration experience around – and through – the planet. It’s not a completely open game, but Exiles: Far Colony offers a lot more freedom than its fantasy-based siblings. Something that lands between Dead Space and Mass Effect, with quests that reveal themselves the more you delve into the nooks and crannies of the lavish landscape.

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Gradually the plot unfolds as you become more and more a participating member of this planet, and while I don’t want to spoil anything here, it’s got a good share of twists that will likely keep you on track with the plot rather than spending your time picking up random quests. And that’s not something that a lot of smartphone RPG games can boast.

Neither is every job a particularly benevolent one, and that adds some real grit to the game, lending it more of the Wild West, frontier lawlessness that made Firefly such a triumph. It makes Exiles: Far Colony more tangible and, strangely, more real, because you’re not just another hard-bitten angel out to be righteous and just. The missions simply are what they are, and you choose whether to do them or not because it progresses the game and furthers your personal agenda; not because it’s “the right thing to do” (yawn).

The controls are busy, with a floating d-pad on the left taking care of movement and a variety of other buttons, such as firing, jump and a special button. This latter option varies, depending on the character type you chose at the beginning, as the three options each offer different abilities. Above these buttons is another unmarked, floating analog control that allows you to move the camera. Admittedly there’s a lot, and it can tie your fingers in knots when the action heats up, but there’s a limit to what Crescent Moon could have done to alleviate this.

It works, with a small amount of practice, and although a lot of shots will go wide when the fighting hits its peak, the game remains just within your control and, mostly, avoids frustration.

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Exiles: Far Colony is a triumph of both design and value, with many aspects that’d make a complete game all in their own right (speeding around on the awesome airbikes, for example). No, it might not be the cheapest game you’ve bought this year, but it earns every penny within the first hour of play. Once again, Crescent Moon has reminded us that there’s definitely still a place for premium gaming on the smartphone platform.