Thanks to the touchscreens on iPhones and iPod touches, Apple’s devices are quite possibly the best-suited handhelds in history for gun games: shooting has never before been as straightforward as just tapping targets with your finger, so even if you lose a little something from being able to point a fake plastic gun at a television screen, you gain precision.
The last few months have seen the release of numerous gun games for these devices, and we’ve previously reviewed perhaps the most ambitious of them, Namco’s Time Crisis Strike. Today, we’re looking at five more of the App Store’s most popular gun games, one of which has the arcadey, fast-paced feel of Time Crisis, while the other four are slower sniper simulations. Our pick of the bunch is Wild West Guns by Gameloft, but if you’re a sniper fan, you’ll want to read on to that section, as well.
As contrasted with the other games in this roundup, Wild West Guns ($5) feels like a completely developed console title that takes excellent advantage of the iPhone’s audiovisual hardware; that’s because it is based upon a Nintendo Wii title, and developed by Gameloft, a company that has done a consistently good job of releasing titles that push the boundaries of iPhone gaming. Here, you control a cowboy armed with two guns—well, your fingers—who is presented with shooting galleries full of nicely animated targets and people. Most of the galleries are a single, unmoving screen with targets that pop up, while train stages actually scroll from left to right or vice-versa, presenting more, and more complex enemies. There are 18 stages, and you move on from a given cluster of three stages by scoring a certain number of dollar-points.
There’s a lot to love in Wild West Guns. Even when the levels aren’t challenging—mostly because you’ve picked too low of a difficulty level—they keep your fingers busy picking targets, some of which offer special point bonuses, and others need to be avoided. Some levels have you shoot cans to keep them in the air while you’re taking down other enemies, while others see you protecting bunnies from vultures, and still others have you keeping a piano bar safe from a gang of robbers. Everything is Old West themed, down to the soundtrack, which is quite good by iPhone and iPod game standards, though not incredible.
It’s worth a brief note that some of Wild West Guns’ content may displease theme-sensitive players. While it seems like Gameloft has tried to anticipate racial concerns by making the game’s enemies span the spectrum from cowboys to gun-toting Indians and yi-yi-yi-chanting Mexicans, some players might be put off by the occasional appearance of suicide bombers and other armed enemies who run out at you from background to foreground, demanding quick and sometimes multiple shots. Many of the stages are less controversial, challenging you to shoot stars, balloons, and birds, but if you—like the German government—have issues with shooting realistically animated human targets, this title isn’t the one for you.
We didn’t mind at all. Our only real complaint about the title was that it’s over too soon. It’ll take a good player no more than two hours to shoot through the 18 stages on the easiest level, a fact that’s mitigated mostly by the obvious solutions: play on a harder level, or seek “100%” completion of the game, which requires better shooting in each stage. We can also forgive a little on the grounds that Wild West Guns is actually worth playing through. Of all the gun games we’ve tried on the iPhone, it’s unquestionably the best developed, and most entertaining while it lasts. iLounge Rating: B+.
Though the idea of playing as a sniper—a guy with a rifle perched far away from the action on a battlefield—might sound tame by comparison with the more action-intense, in-the-thick-of-it Wild West Guns experience, there’s no doubt that sniping has been made extremely fun in past video games. Konami’s Silent Scope was one of the early arcade games to provide a memorable and realistic rendition of the experience, which typically starts by forcing you to locate a far-away target with a magnifying scope, zoom in for a precise shot, and then properly hit the mark when adjusting for wind, the target’s movement, and your own nervous jitters. Numerous military-themed console and computer games have since included sniper missions, many of which have put Silent Scope to shame with heightened realism.
So, bad news first: the iPhone’s current crop of sniper games are comparatively five or ten steps back from games released a decade ago, let alone titles that have come out since then. Three of the titles here are pretty close to downright bad, and the best of them is only OK. But they collectively make it obvious that the platform is capable of doing a great sniper game if the right developer puts in the time and effort to make it happen.
Paramount’s Shooter – The Official Movie Game ($1) has two things going for it: sophistication and pricing. It is so far beyond the other sniper games we look at today that there’s no comparison or reason to even consider spending the money or time on the alternatives, assuming that you’re willing to put up with a lot of rough edges to enjoy what’s here. We found the controls and story sequences so aggravating that we didn’t want to continue playing, but based on the thirty included levels and low price, we wouldn’t be surprised if readers wanted to give it a try anyway.
Shooter puts you in control of a sniper who needs to handle everything from initial battlefield surveillance to taking out multiple targets, reloading, and occasionally using multiple weapons. In terms of scope and game concept, it’s very ambitious: you first use binoculars to monitor a large panning map of the level to find targets, zoom in with your rifle’s scope to see several targets, then try to take shots, using the accelerometer to move your head, a breath-taking on-screen lever to steady yourself, a button to fire, and another lever to reload your gun. Later levels give you different rifles, close-combat grenades and pipe bombs, and other weapons to switch between.
The problem here is that Shooter feels as if no one bothered to actually try playing it on a real iPhone before releasing it. Even the simple act of finding targets is rendered frustrating based on the game’s odd accelerometer positional requirements, and going to an overly complex, poorly designed in-game recalibration scheme doesn’t help at all. Dialogue scenes inbetween stages are awful, filled with on-screen and spoken scripting that is worse than a C movie and aggravated by annoying voices. It’s obvious that this game never received the polish it needed to shine.
But we’d encourage the developer and Paramount to finish work on the title, which in our view has the potential to be worthy of more than a $1 asking price if the controls are improved and the cut scenes can be, well, cut by the player. Thanks to impressive in-stage art, plenty of missions, and a good overall concept, Shooter has a lot of potential; if you can get past its annoyances, you’ll discover the depth for yourself. iLounge Rating: C+.
We can’t be as positive about MASQ Interactive’s i Sniper ($2) and i Sniper Lite (Free), two titles which illustrate just how amazingly bad iPhone games can be without oversight from a Nintendo-like entity ensuring minimum standards of quality. If you want to skip reading about these titles and just get a sense of how bad they are for yourself, download the free Lite version, and you’ll get the whole picture.
It gives you a single “Practice Mode” stage where you can see how the game works: you get a one-screen look at an environment populated by horribly animated bad guys. Click on one of the bad guys to zoom in, and you can shoot at him, using a precision aiming mechanism on the left to slow down your motion. Take out all the targets before the clock or your small lifebar runs out. That’s it; the $2 i Sniper is the same, only with more awful stages.
Rather than waste our time and yours going through everything that’s wrong with these titles, we’ll just mention a few: awful animation, boring, pixelated environments, repetitive music, terrible cinematics in the full version, and an amazing number of spelling mistakes. Yet these titles have one thing going for them that Shooter doesn’t – straightforward controls; they’re easy to aim and better for precise shooting. That’s not enough to make either the demo or the full version of i Sniper worth bothering with; unlike many of the close-but-no-cigar games we’ve seen for the iPhone, we don’t think this one has the potential to become good even with additional development. It’s amateur hour with a fancy title screen. iLounge Rating: D.
Finally, there’s Super Sniper ($1) from Coresoft, a title that is similarly unambitious but a little more fun to play. As the only sniper title played in vertical orientation, Super Sniper is more like a police trainer, giving you the task of finding and shooting criminals in repetitive urban settings—they’re all in the windows of high-rises.
From stage to stage, the game does nothing more than present you with a zoomed-out view of a bunch of buildings, using a voice and on-screen prompt to tell you which numbered building your next target is in. You tilt the iPhone to find the building, then look for the window where the criminal is standing, either with a gun or a hostage. Take too long and you lose; shoot the hostages and you blow it. In its only graphically impressive twist, Super Sniper boasts “smart zoom technology,” a feature that automatically zooms in on your target once you’ve found him, enabling you to take a clean shot. Early stages have few buildings, and the difficulty goes up primarily by increasing the number of buildings, or cutting the amount of time you have; your targets are poorly animated and don’t seem to get smarter.
With detailed but uninspired artwork, repetitive music, and highly repetitive stages, the only reason to even consider buying Super Sniper is the low price. We’d hold off. The developer is promising a “major” update, which just might make the title worthwhile, but in all honesty it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tolerate shovelware releases that keep promising to become better later. Super Sniper is a prime example of why iPhone and iPod touch gamers have plenty to choose from in the App Store, but so little reason to actually keep playing after spending their money on a title. iLounge Rating: D+.