Since the App Store launched, it was only a matter of time before someone got their act together to create the perfect confluence of handheld hardware power and touchscreen-focused game design. Truth be told, there have been a few contenders on iOS this year, but I think this really deserves to be the first.
It is, of course, graphically stunning. Ridiculously so, in fact, on an iPhone 4’s screen, and that it was able to make people forget about Rage within days of id’s game’s release says something. But beyond that it’s a great little RPG lite, designed to be played as you might play a game on a phone – that is to say, for a few minutes, which is enough to get in a few fights – and just as at home if you’re pumping a couple of hours into grinding and mastering every item. Word is that it started out as a concept for Kinect, and although I can see that working, it’s better suited to a portable. Getting me physically tired is probably the quickest way for me to get bored of it.
With more content already arriving and some significant expansions promised, I fully anticipate this being a mainstay of my iPhone for some time, and for more than a graphical showpiece for when I want to show off. Chair has also batted two for two as far as my lists go since the beginning of its relationship with Epic (see: Shadow Complex), and even if its future is in classy short-form downloadable releases while the parent company does the big jobs, it’s rightly cultivating a reputation that makes people sit up and take notice when it unveils a project.
Maybe this year will be the one where iOS devices start getting taken seriously as portable gaming systems, because when put next to my DS and PSP in 2010, in terms of play time it wasn’t even close.
If you’re an owner of an iOS device who’s looking for a way to show off your hardware, Infinity Blade is the obvious choice. It looks simply gorgeous, and on the high-res iPhone 4 screen the image quality is astounding, giving many 360 and PS3 games a run for their money. When something as good-looking as Rage HD is being outdone so quickly, it suggests that iOS gaming is really going somewhere.
But at the same time, if you’re of the opinion that gaming on a phone is no substitute for buttons and a D-pad, it could qualify as your Exhibit A as well. It’s limited, largely on rails, consists mostly of the same 20 minutes or so of gameplay repeated infinitely, and the occasional death because you missed the on-screen dodge button isn’t out of the question.
I’m firmly in the former camp on this one, though. But beyond being a technical showpiece it’s a great little action RPG, ideally suited for playing on a phone and being quite unique in its ability to blend Demon’s Souls with Punch-Out. It’s also nice to have a game from Epic that looks so different to what we now expect from Unreal Engine games, and the fact that this was developed by Chair, the team behind the similarly impressive Shadow Complex, suggests great talent in that studio.
Rage HD is somewhat disappointing in that, beautiful as it is, it’s largely a tech demo with some on-rails score-chasing shooting, whereas Unreal Engine 3 has had its iOS tech demo in the awesome Epic Citadel – and didn’t charge for it. Infinity Blade is a big advert for the engine as well, but it’s also a brilliant little game that would still be worth buying had it looked like a PS1 game. Having put hours numbering well into double fingers into this already, I eagerly await the promised updates with new loot, new areas and – YES! – online play.