Breach & Clear (iOS)

Breach &Clear (iOS) screenshot
Breach & Clear. Mmm, sweet movement lines and cover symbols and area of coverage indicators.

I played the second Rainbow Six title, Rogue Spear, more than any game before it. The game was split into two parts: first you planned your assault on a terrorist-held location in minute detail, outlining every operative’s path and angles and use of weapons and equipment on a second by second basis through the whole operation. This was a very involved process thanks to a not very user friendly interface. Then you played out the operation, controlling one of the operatives in first-person, which was the phase I always dreaded as it called for very quick reflexes and absolute confidence in the plan, even if it always went out the window at some point. But the satisfaction of a clean, successful operation was something no other game in the same vein has been able to offer ever since. SWAT 4 and the original Ghost Recon gave you some of the same kicks, even though without the tactical pre-planning. The properly tactical shooter has been dead ever since, the subsequent Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon titles going for out and out gunplay, completely losing sight of what made them great to begin with, but now the tactical shooter is making a comeback thanks to the promising Takedown.

While waiting for Takedown we have an interesting smaller game to delve into: Breach & Clear takes the tactical planning part of Rainbow Six and turns it into a full iOS title. You take control of a real-world special forces team and hit a sequence of realistic, small locations to, well, breach and clear: enter and take out all the hostiles. You’re given all the tools you would expect, save for off-site sniper support, which is a somewhat puzzling omission.

You plan the action turn by turn, each turn giving you enough time to clear roughly one room, moving your four soldiers and hitting the “go” button to see how it plays out once you’re happy with the plan. Anticipating enemy locations and getting the first shot in are paramount. When that isn’t possible, you need to come in from several angles at the same time or utilize tools like flashbangs.

This leads to the game’s one design problem – it needs a way to control time. Rainbow Six had the idea of assigning “go” orders to chosen moments. The soldiers would wait until you gave the correct code, allowing you to stack up on multiple doors to a room and going in at once. Without this you’re essentially eyeballing to try and get guys to move in a synchronous fashion. It’s just about acceptable as you can imagine that after the initial breach (which kicks off every scenario) a team would move through a target as fast as they can, relying on initiative to see them through. But as a player, it feels like I’m missing a tool.

Another issue has to do with the way the campaign is laid out. Your main motivation is amassing money to customize your gear with a large array of real-life options. There isn’t enough information on the options to really make it appealing, though, and the cumbersome user interface gets in the way.

There is also an in-app purchasing system. Based on my time with the game, it doesn’t look like it upsets the game balance, but it’s a little hard to tell because of lack of feedback and transparency in the game mechanics. There appears to be a nice selection of attributes that affect the outcome of a confrontation, but you’re never told how they add up. Is mobility more important than reaction time? What about accuracy? How does movement and cover affect things? It all looks like the kind of tactical system I would design for this kind of game, but as you’re never really told how it all hangs together, it feels vague.

My biggest gripe with the game is responsiveness. From the time it takes to load on an iPhone 4S – and I understand this is primarily a tablet game – to the fiddliness of the buttons – it’s often unclear whether I hit a button or not – I spend too much time fighting the game to get things done. The “cancel” button sees a lot of use due to not managing to hit the correct grid coordinate when planning your moves or rotating your guys. (And how exactly do you cancel grenade throws?) When you do have everything lined up as you’d like, the action leaves too much in the dark. You’re not shown when your guys engage or spot hostiles; it’s up to you to align the camera so that you can see what’s going on during your action phase.

So there’s a bit of a learning curve to gettings things done and experimenting blindly is never that much fun, but the core action works so well that I can’t help but spend time on improving my grades and boosting my soldiers’ stats. Recommended, if you already know you’re into it, but without prior exposure to this sort of game, I imagine the shortcomings get in the way of enjoying it.


Best of iOS gaming (iOS)

Super Hexagon screenshot
Super Hexagon

I’ve been playing on the iPhone 4S a lot. What’s been worthwhile since my first post on mobile games circa 2012?

Civilization Revolution: one day I got up from the computer to clean up the apartment. I picked up the phone to complete one turn of Civ Rev. Two hours later, my battery was dead and my feet ached. I plugged in the phone and completed the game, taking a further hour or so. It’s simple and small, but it’s still Civilization.

Gridrunner: the best shooter on mobile. Beautiful 8-bit graphics, wonderful punk attitude. It makes me want to make games. You’re supporting llamas when you buy this game.

Gauge: sublime one-button, minimalist gameplay with audio-visual execution bar none. You control a… progress bar, which goes up and down. The game does its best to distract you from doing a simple task. Also super inspirational, making you want to make games.

Radiant Defense: the best tower defense on mobile. Field Runners doesn’t have a patch on this. Gorgeous game with great feedback.

Super Crossfire: the second best shooter I’ve played on mobile. It’s Space Invaders made modern with the twist of being able to warp to the top of the screen and back.

Elder Sign: very interesting single-player mobile take on a board game. It’s a bit too abstract for it’s own good, but totally works, and presents a worthwhile challenge. If you ever obsessed over Arkham Horror, you need to try this.

Spell Sword: slightly wonky controls, but otherwise a great game with super nice graphics and sounds. You play a single screen arcade challenge, jumping around, swinging a (spell) sword, made interesting by the ever changing challenge conditions and the collectable spell cards which can turn the tide at any moment.

Super Hexagon: I thought Gauge was perfect. Super Hexagon is more perfect. You are capable of feats you had no idea of until you spend a while with this game. Rocks the best soundtrack in years.

Minecraft Pocket Edition: so it’s smaller and doesn’t have all the features, but it’s still Minecraft. My initial session lasted a whole day.

Jetpack Joyride: the best endless runner game, finally a design so comprehensive it actually beats Canabalt.

Clash Of Clans: I’ve been surprised by how much time I’ve put into this game. It’s basically Travian on iOS and really very sweet presentation. The one thing they’ve got so very right is the asynchronous multiplayer, and you should check it out for that if nothing else. It’s doing over 300 000 USD per day right now, and deservedly so.

Games iOS

iPhone 4S as a gaming device

Infinity Blade II screenshot
Infinity Blade II screenshot

I’ve started using an iPhone some months ago. I’m not surprised that there’s twenty-six games on my phone right now, plus a bunch I’ve deleted, but that they hold my attention better than the PlayStation Vita games I got my hands on at the same time is surprising. This is a look at what I consider must-play titles.

Death Rally: Remedy’s remake of their old-school PC original (1996) is mobile action gaming at its finest. The one problem I have is due to constant contact with the screen, your driving finger develops nasty friction within a race or two, necessitating finger switching on the fly. Everything else is completely as it should be. The structure of never knowing exactly which races and tracks are going to be playable on the next round keeps you interested, and grinding to max out all the cars and guns keeps you going. The multiplayer is lots of fun.

Triple Town: Triple Town is the best new puzzle game in years. It’s not fully developed yet and the iOS version is not quite as far along as the browser version, but this is casual, engaging, deep puzzling at its best. Cutesy graphics meet hardcore challenge as you get a little bit further into the campaign. It’s essentially match three (think Bejeweled), except you’re building a town, and there’s multiple levels of matching that you need to take into account. Add hostile bears to the mix and you’ve got just the right combination of luck and skill.

Drop7: Drop7 is the other big new puzzler. So well tuned it approaches Tetris levels of “casual” addiction, perfect for killing a minute while waiting for something.

Hero Academy: This was the first iOS game that changed the way I play games. The now very much in vogue asynchronous multiplayer (I play, you play – just like play by mail used to be) works very well in this team-based fantasy sports title. It’s kind of like Blood Bowl meets League Of Legends, with teams of fantasy characters trying to destroy each other’s crystals. Played on a single-screen grid, the scope is just right to allow for varied tactics while remaining easy to grasp. The different teams add the right amount of variety.

Ascension: I thought you couldn’t possibly squeeze a card game into the iPhone screen. You can, at least on the 4S screen it works just fine. The same game is available as a physical card game, too, and I’ve had so much fun with the iOS version I wouldn’t object to picking it up for face to face play. This also sports asynchronous multiplayer, but it’s not a great fit here, as Ascension plays very fast. It would be better with same-time lobbies, turns taking a couple of minutes at most.

Infinity Blade II: I started with the sequel and haven’t yet played the original. This is a gorgeous game with super high production values and unusually strong visual design. It’s a bold take on swords and sworcery fantasy fiction, completely embracing the nature of the platform. The heroic journey is condensed to choosing from a couple of possible routes by clicking on a hotspot, checkpointed by glorious duels. The journey is completed in 15-30 minutes. Then you start again, retaining your experience and gear. The twist is, the journey changes a little bit every time you play. New paths open up, new chests appear, the monsters change, the sparse dialogue changes… a little. The grinding of experience is addictive, the amount of gear lures you in, and the timing and direction based dueling is always tense, always rewarding. Different weapon styles make sure there’s always something different you can try. The addition of “Clashmobs” recently is reason enough to log in daily to see what prizes you could get by participating in global challenges where all the players combine their efforts to meet a goal (kill 65 000 demons in 12 hours, that sort of thing). The gameplay and world remind me of the sublime Vagrant Story and the more recent Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. It is a glorious game, every bit the mobile game I would’ve loved to make.

So there’s plenty to play and it costs next to nothing. Controls are the one thing that can be a problem, but with all the games above, they’re not. Many of the games plain wouldn’t work without a touch screen (Infinity Blade, Hero Academy) and cases where you genuinely miss a controller are typically bad fits for the platform anyway. All of the games above work as a couple of minutes of play, or hours spent on the small screen. That a game can be so adaptive to whatever time and space you can give it is revolutionary – not because of the portability as we’ve had portable games for a while now, but because of them feeling like viable alternatives to turning on the Xbox. Mobile gaming has grown up and to me, it’s as proper a gaming platform as anything else.