Review: Infinity Blade for iPad PDF Print E-mail

Epic Games, loved by hardcore gamers for its two most popular franchises, Gears of War and Unreal (or Unreal Tournament), went on stage at Apple's Worldwide Developer conference last year and demonstrated a gorgeous-looking game for iOS.

Known then simply as 'Project Sword', it was the first iOS game to run on the hugely popular Unreal engine – the same engine behind games such as Mass Effect, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Borderlands, Mirror's Edge and the two main franchises already mentioned. And that's just naming a few of the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 games using the technology. Needless to say, it's good stuff, and that it can now be found on a handheld device is even more remarkable.
 
Project Sword soon had a tech demo made available on the iTunes App Store. It was called Epic Citadel, and offered users a chance to walk through the virtual world and take in the scenery of the upcoming title. Even this was impressive. Finally, early in December last year it released the retail version of what we now know as Infinity Blade.

As both the current and code name suggest, blades and swords are involved. Based on a rudimentary role-playing system, players progress by fighting enemies, gaining experience and collecting gold. The former unlocks certain items while the latter is used to buy those items.
 
The in-game store has shelves stocked with the meanest-looking armour, swords, shields and helms this side of a First World War museum. There are also magical rings, which serve as a reminder that this is a fantasy adventure RPG and also help set your enemies on fire.
 
Gameplay is simple, yet addictive. Navigating the world isn't as it was demonstrated in the Epic Citadel demo. Instead, players can progress by tapping on highlighted points, be it a new area in the game or an awaiting enemy. Usually an enemy, though.
 
For the first few experience levels, fights are easy and there's no real strategy to it. The block and shield buttons remain mostly unused except for the two boss battles. With enough experience you'll soon be in tougher fights, with even better weapons. The selection is satisfying and there's always the allure of coming back to unlock the hideously expensive and eponymous Infinity Blade – a sword that can defeat most foes in three or four hits.
 
The combat system is well thought-out. Battles are fought by swiping the screen, tracing sword paths across your enemy. Do a few back and forth, or up and down motions, and you'll be slicing and dicing like a pro in no time.
 
Epic clearly spent some time on making sure that it'll work on a touch-screen device. Other developers would do well to see how touch-screen controls are supposed to be done – having virtual buttons and directional sticks that take up valuable screen (and viewing) space is no way to play a game.
 
That said, the fun only lasts so long. Infinity Blade has a terribly shallow plot – and I use the term loosely.
 
I usually refrain from covering a game's story in a review but here I'll break with tradition. In the opening scenes you face the God King, the last boss in the game, and after a short fight he defeats you, quipping that maybe your successors will be worthier foes. This drops you at the real start of the game taking place between 18 and 23 years later. You fight 10 or so warriors, depending on which of the two paths you take through the castle, and you face the God King again. Rinse. Repeat.
 
Worst of all, when you get close to defeating him in battle he offers you a choice to become an ally. Accept, and you're given the game's alternate ending. Deny his request and you can go on to defeat him, take his throne and... start playing from the beginning, again. Even Pac-man has a more compelling reason to continue doing what he does (those dots are delicious).
 
Lack of story aside, there's only one other quibble: the graphics on the iPad are really disappointing. For technical reasons Epic has yet to disclose, textures on the iPad are visibly poorer than those on the iPhone or iPod touch. Both the smaller devices have remarkably crisp textures and polish on their visuals. The only possible explanation is the iPad's higher native resolution, but even that shouldn't be a huge impact on performance. It's baffling.
 
This is made worse by the fact that the iPad version of the game is so much nicer to play. That big screen gives more room to chain together your attacks, and browsing the store is a lot easier when you don't have to be super-careful with your selections.
 
Other than that, the game holds a lot of promise. At the time of writing one major update has already been released, offering more weapons, a higher level cap and other slight tweaks. A future update is rumoured to contain multiplayer support (this was demonstrated on stage, so is inevitable) and we can hold thumbs that more combat areas get introduced, too.
 
IN SUMMARY
 
Good: Simple gameplay; addictive; great visuals
Bad: iPad graphics; no multiplayer yet
Rating: 8/10
Price: $6.99
Contact: http://www.epicgames.com/
Tested on: iPad, iPhone 4 
Also available on: iPod Touch 
Genre: Fantasy Action 
Age rating: 9+

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