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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review: Archangel (iPad)

Archangel iPad GameReview by Matt S.

On the one hand, I'm glad that Unity is itself taking a hand in publishing games. It's yet another layer of support for talented indie developers by a company that has done great things for indie game development. 

But I do hope in the future it picks more compelling games to support than Archangel. This is a desperately pretty but desperately boring game, better suited to be a tech demo than a finalised release, and while it all works, it's a genre that is already well serviced on iOS devices, so being boring is just not good enough. 

There is hints of everything that the developers would need to create a truly entertaining game in Archangel. There's a compelling setting with the military arm of the Christian angels coming down from heaven to do battle with evils. It's a truly gorgeous game that shows everything that the Unity engine is capable of, and in the first few minutes of the game it looks like it's going to be one of those Diablo-clones that is pretty, and filled with action and loot and mindless, but visceral fun. 

Unity published iPad gameBut Archangel never follows through with that promise. The setting is never really fleshed out; a quick introduction to each level provides nowhere near enough context for what's going on, but that's not even close to the main fault of this game. No, Archangel's biggest problem is that the action, which has no context to make it worth struggling through, isn't nearly enough to hold up on its own. 

Touch controls are the basis of this entire game. Tap to move, tap an enemy to attack it, and then tap and hold to build up a powerful attack. Alternatively, flicking the screen will cause the angel to do a shield bash attack. There's a couple of neat abilities to pick up later in the game, such as the ability to resurrect defeated enemies to do the fighting for you, but be aware going in that there is nothing that we haven't seen in action RPGs before. 

To the developer's credit, the touch screen controls work well, and I never encountered a situation where I tried to do something, and then the game failed to register it or misinterpreted the command to mean something else. But this would only be possible if the game moved slowly; if it was too action-packed then the action would become unwieldy. So instead everything moves sluggishly, and the game constantly cheats in the player's favour. I was constantly coming up against enemies that conveniently hadn't noticed me yet allowing me to wallop them with a powered up attack. 

iOS game reviewsAs a rule of thumb I'm not a fan of games that are built around their inherent flaws, but with Archangel I'm somewhat glad they're there because otherwise the game would be unmanageable. If the enemies moved quicker or were more responsive to my presence then I would take damage constantly from opponents that seemingly come out of nowhere thanks to the camera being set an immovable, too close in, and scenery constantly getting in the way of seeing what's ahead of me. 

Even outside of the combat it's hard to find Archangel too inspiring. There's loot to pick up, sure, but it doesn't really customise the avatar and so it's hard to feel too invested in what's going on, or a bond with the character. Further compounding the lack of engagement is a largely bland environment that is mostly linear and non-interactive. For a game like Diablo the simple act of opening a chest to get a meaningful reward (be it gold or new equipment), or smashing barrels/ pots grounds players in the world and makes them move within it. In Archangel, it feels like you're moving around an empty space, and as such the space itself quickly loses all impact, and therefore interest. 

There's the odd attempt to try and break up this action; for instance an early level features a sequence where you're standing on a  moving platform and need to fend off enemies that are jumping on to attack you, but these don't adequately counter the core of the game which is so pedestrian it is, at times, a remedy for insomnia. 

There's no denying that Archangel is pretty, but in every other way it's a case of unfulfilled potential. 


- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Review: Archangel (iPad)
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