Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! This week, we’re looking at four action games: three are brand new, and one is the iPad-only update to a game we reviewed several months ago.
Our top picks in the bunch are both from Gameloft: 9mm is more noteworthy because it’s a universal title with support for iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches, while Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard HD is a belated iPad release of the excellent iPhone and iPod touch title. Read on for all the details.
If you’ve played Max Payne, love over-the-top coarse language, and appreciate inner city gangs or drug runners, you’re going to love Gameloft’s new universal iPad/iPhone/iPod touch game 9mm ($7, 1.0.0). This over-the-shoulder third-person shooter gives you virtual thumbstick, camera-swipe, and button-based control of John Kannon, a mostly good cop who blasts his way through gritty Los Angeles-inspired urban and suburban locales—plus Mexico—on a quest to blow away as many gang members and drug dealers as possible. Between the respectably acted but consistently profane dialogue and the fact that you’re playing as a cop who’s willing to beat information out of suspects and use drug money to pay prostitutes to become informants, 9mm wants you to know that it’s packed with turn-of-century-caliber edginess and moral ambiguity. And it tries too hard; the environments, action, and music all work so well together that it would have been great, anyway.
While the action’s formulaic, bringing you from area full of bad guys to another area full of bad guys, the challenge of keeping Kannon alive when he’s surrounded by well-armed gangbangers is pretty thrilling. Bullet time-style slo-mo is available for brief periods, as are cinematic diving, crouching, and numerous weapons, all working together to make the action feel different from area to area. If there’s any major failing in 9mm, it’s that the controls are a little finicky—picking up weapons with on-screen taps doesn’t work as precisely as it should, for instant—but you have the control you need to do most of what you want, and Gameloft gives you enough life to move through the story. The game is dominated by a single-player story mode with 3-D cinematics, but there’s a multiplayer mode with four maps and support for 12 players, as well.
9mm also looks and sounds great. Licensed hip hop music combines so well with nice audio effects and changing scenes at the start of the game that you’ll feel completely drawn into the action, even where polygonal seams in the 3-D characters and backdrops are obvious. There are so many environments—and areas within the levels—that the somewhat generic objects inside of them are forgivable.
And Gameloft’s decision to release 9mm as a universal app for the iPad and smaller iOS devices is great, as well, though it modestly stretches the iPhone- and iPod touch-optimized textures to the point where they don’t look wonderfully detailed on the iPad or iPad 2. Apart from the dialogue, which is peppered with enough F-bombs to distract from the story, 9mm is a nicely balanced, well-conceived third-person shooter. It’s definitely worth checking out. iLounge Rating: A-.
EA’s Mirror’s Edge wasn’t anywhere near as impressive on the iPad as it was on game consoles and computers, but the company used a 2.5-D side-scrolling perspective to capture enough of the completely 3-D original’s action to at least evoke some of the same thrills. Unfortunately, Marvel’s new Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty ($5, version 1.0.1) is a pale imitation of Mirror’s Edge, replacing the more interestingly acrobatic character Faith with legendary shield-bearing hero Captain America. By using a running and jumping game with modest fighting mechanics as the inspiration for a melee-heavy action game, Marvel miscalculated the sort of experience that Captain America fans would have wanted to have, and wound up with an uneven, halting adventure.
The concept: Captain America runs, and runs, and runs. You use swipes to make him jump, slide, and fight, tapping a button to throw his shield, which destroys obstacles and stuns opponents. Though the action changes a little bit from level to level, adding in the pole-swinging, wall-jumping, and other elements found in later Mirror’s Edge levels, the repetitive backgrounds, gimmicky voice samples, and “stop to fight” action quickly make the game feel underdeveloped. For instance, you learn combos to more quickly dispatch opponents, but then the game feels like it can’t decide between whether it wants to be showing you slo-mo close-up battles or making fighting faster.
Twenty-four stages of this are spread out across three different environments, and we were ready to stop playing after two of them. But having persisted, we were treated to boring backdrops and challenges that were only modestly entertaining, bolstered modestly by the title’s universal iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch support. Your incentive for exploring the largely linear levels is a set of folders which, when gathered en masse, unlock tiny pictures of old Captain America comic book covers, and additional costumes. They’re not much of a draw, and neither is the rest of this game. Our advice would be to save your $5 for something better. iLounge Rating: C.
As a cheaper and decidedly casual game, Honey Tribe: Colony Collapse ($1, version 1.0) from Honey Tribe Studios doesn’t raise the sorts of high expectations we’d have from a licensed property that’s five times as expensive. And for what it attempts to be—a single-button flying and collecting game with a kid-friendly theme—it’s pretty good. You control a bee that flies across landscapes grabbing pollen and dandelion bits while trying to avoid getting eaten by a bird, drowned by raindrops, or attacked by other animals—flies, crabs, praying mantises, and the like. All you need to do is touch the screen to change the bee’s height, and collect as much as possible to avoid slowing down and getting eaten.
Simple though the concept is, Honey Tribe manages to surpass the standards of most $1 casual games by interestingly evolving its levels, using music strategically to build tension when you’re being pursued by the bird, and varying the pacing so that the intensity builds at higher speeds: the challenges of bobbing up and down to touch flowers for pollen, dodge rain and—eventually—work with a fellow bee all become better over time. While the artwork is a little on the plain and underanimated side, it’s bolstered by gentle colors, lots of parallax scrolling, and occasional surprises. Honey Tribe is the definition of a “good casual game,” and worthy of checking out if the theme interests you. iLounge Rating: B.
Having reviewed Gameloft’s Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard back in March for the iPod touch and iPhone, there’s not a lot to say about the surprisingly later but highly similar iPad and iPad 2 version, Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard HD ($7, version 1.0.0). In keeping with Gameloft’s hopefully and thankfully abandoned past practice of repackaging the same game for pocket and tablet device users, Shadow Vanguard HD essentially just brings the prior 960×640 title up to the iPads’ 1024×768 resolution, and sells for the same price.
While we wouldn’t advise readers to buy both versions, and strongly prefer Gameloft’s more recently universal games, Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard HD is as impressive on the iPad and iPad 2 as it was on Apple’s smaller-screened devices—apart from one thing. It’s the same first-person shooter with intense squad-based gameplay elements, complete with seriously impressive 3-D backgrounds and characters, 11 single- to three-player missions, and five 10-person multiplayer maps. The graphics and sounds are spectacular by portable game console standards, and very nearly approach what gamers would expect from a PlayStation 2: holographic objects, realistically shadowed and textured characters, and plausible environments are joined by earpiece radio-style voiceover work and stirring music. Full details are in our Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguardoriginal review, and they’re every bit as noteworthy on the iPad.
The only issue that comes up in the iPad versions is attributable to the tablets’ larger screens. While joystick and most button interactions are handled by edge-of-screen virtual controls akin to other first-person shooters, squad and door interactions are critical to Shadow Vanguard HD, and reuse the same “tap on floating icons” system found on the iPhone and iPod touch. With smaller devices, you could pull these commands off without moving your hands around, but on the iPads, you’ll sometimes need to stop for a moment and bring index fingers to the center of the larger display to bring your squad into formation, trigger a spycam, or pop a door open. Little inconveniences like this are a small price to pay to experience an otherwise highly impressive action-adventure on the iPad; this version is worthy of the same high recommendation as its smaller-screened predecessor. iLounge Rating: A-.