Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Review: Infinity Blade (iPhone/ iPad)

Few, if any, iPhone games have reached the level of hype that Infinity Blade reached. Within only minutes of its release, thousands of gamers were already downloading and playing the game.

You don't like this guy. But you don't know why.

So why all the hype? Well, for one thing, the game is powered by Epic Games' Unreal Engine 3, which also just happens to power the Xbox 360 fan favorite, Gears of War 2. The graphics are nothing short of stunning, looking pretty much on-par with a current-gen console game -- a thing currently unheard of on a handheld device. But did the developers at Chair Entertainment deliver a fantastic game, or is it merely a glorified tech demo?

At first, everything seems great. The game kicks off with an impressively animated cutscene. A guy clad in armor apparently has some issues with an entity who calls himself "The God King". They draw blades and the guy quickly gets the fabled Infinity Blade run through his gut. Twenty years later, his son is out for revenge, and the game begins. Eventually, you'll go up against the god king, inevitably die the first time around, and the cycle continues forever -- regardless of whether you manage to eventually defeat him or not.

The minimalistic, cliche-ridden story works in the game's favor. Along with the gorgeously rendered citadel and garbled Latin-sounding voice-over, Chair has managed to create an amazing atmosphere unique to the game. You'll likely be in awe during your first couple Bloodlines.

The actual gameplay is where everything falls flat. As you make your way through the citadel, you're on a fixed, linear path, and in order to progress you simply touch at points on the screen. It's functional; it works. But after having been taunted by the free-roaming Epic Citadel tech demo, we were expecting a bit more.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
But that's only a small quibble. The battle system is where you'll be spending most of your time, and at best it's a mediocre version of the NES classic, Punch-Out!! You're pitted against gargantuan monsters who have a variety of sword swings, kicks, charges, etc. The only way to deal them some serious pain is by timely dodging or parrying these moves, randomly getting a "break", and then flailing at the screen until they recover. The formula's been proven to work, but Chair's implementation left something to be desired. It's not all that satisfying, and after a few bloodlines the level of intensity is decreased. There's only about five movesets total, which are shared between twice as many monsters. The formula is based upon making the player constantly learn new moves to counter, and when there are so few (which are repeatedly recycled), it doesn't take long to master them all.

Fortunately, the game's equipment and leveling system helps to keep things interesting. There are dozens upon dozens of swords, shields, helmets, armor, and rings available to buy, which will keep you busy for a good amount of time. As you gain experience points from fighting monsters, your equipment also gains EXP until it's "mastered". Once you gain enough EXP, your character levels up and you can use skill points to increase his stats (such as health and attack power).

Between mastering all of the equipment and getting all of the 40+ GameCenter achievements, you can squeeze an impressive amount of gameplay hours out of Infinity Blade. I certainly did. At the same time, it's hard to overlook how shallow the battle system really is -- the game is more addicting than fun. Epic has promised more enemies to fight, new areas to explore, and online multiplayer in a future (and free) update. Hopefully these will give the gameplay more depth. Until then, Infinity Blade is in the ritzy kiddie pool.


- Review by pixelman
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