iOS gaming status quo and outlook part 1: “Deus Ex: The Fall”

Two remarkable iOS games have been released within the last weeks. Take Two Interactive ported their round based tactical “Game of the Year 2012” winner “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” to iOS and Square Enix brought the Deus Ex series with the standalone title “Deus Ex: The Fall” to mobile. Both IPs are well regarded in the gaming community and have been successful on other platforms as well. And both of them approach mobile gaming wildly different.

I´d like to describe both of them briefly and then speculate on their meaning for iOS as a gaming platform. For ease of reading and to force myself to update that thing here more frequently I´ll split this up in three pieces.

Lets start with the similarities: Both titles are definitely AAA titles, at least for the iOS platform. The production value seems high. Both have very nice graphics, both offer cutscenes, have deep and engaging gameplay compared to your everyday iOS game, both run sufficiently fluent on my devices (iPhone 5 iOS7beta3 and iPad3 iOS6).

Now to some more details about “Deus Ex: The Fall“:

title

It feels very familiar to anyone who has played “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”. Art direction wise it features the same brown-orange hues which some people might already be bored of. I can see why one might have wished for a more courageous approach and a little change in style. Technically it really looks sophisticated. Obviously one cannot compare it with a AAA PC or console game as of today, but it is easily one of the graphically most advanced iOS titles.

The FPS controls work, are severely limited by touchscreen input in a first person shooter though (D’oh!). One can either use two virtual analogue sticks placed wherever your thumbs are for moving and viewpoint changes. Or one just double taps on the point to which the character should move. The latter works surprisingly well. Nevertheless you will never get the same feeling of direct control that a real controller gives you. Especially on iPhone all the interaction elements also add up quite quickly and make the screen feel really crowded. Luckily one can customize the position of every onscreen element, which helps. Bottom line: This interface is probably one of the best FPS interfaces on iOS yet. Which does not automatically make it a good interface in general.

 

interface

 

And unfortunately “The Fall” seems not to support iCloud savegames yet. At least I was not able to continue the same savegame on phone and iPad. Which is super sad because multi screen capability is one of the main strengths of mobile. Being able to seamlessly continue my commute play status from the phone on the iPad on the sofa in the evening is IMHO an absolute must have!

Story- and gameplaywise “The Fall” is a true successor to Human Revolution, for better and for worse. For my likes and compared to Deus Ex 1 the story is again too preachy and the characters are quite one-dimensional. Its absolutely no “Call of Duty” type black and white story, but neither here nor in “Human Revolution” I felt as questioned in my beliefs and taken seriously as a thinking adult as in “Deus Ex 1”. The fully english voice over dialogues are also more on the Michael Bay side of complexity and the german sub titles make it not exactly better. In general the german translation feels rushed: The “Back” (as in spine) slot in the augmentation menu is translated to “Zurück” (Back as in going back), which shows an interesting amount of lacking care for international customers.

 

dialogue

 

The high praised freedom of how to approach a level boils down to which path leads from scripted event to scripted event (“Air vent or guns blazing?”), which agreeably also holds true for “Human Revolution”. The new games give you some freedom in the choice of your corridor of more or less wide, but always carefully crafted set pieces, whereas the original Deus Ex just dropped you into an environment in which the path to the objective had to be defined by you. I like the strong sense of player agency that the old approach gives and could´ve lived with a bit less cinematic experience. Oh well…

 

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Is “Deus Ex: The Fall” on eye level with “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”? Absolutely. It has all the shooting, sneaking, hacking, notes, books and emails, takedowns, multiple paths, weapon- and player upgrades. Can it hold its ground against “Deus Ex 1”? Not so much.

And probably Square Enix just could not have resisted, but there are In-App-Purchases. The player can find credits ingame and earns them for silent takedowns, hacks, good shots and so forth. With these credits one must then buy new guns, augmentations and yes, even ammunition. I haven’t gotten to the point where my guns would actually have went dry and there was no ammo to be found in the game world, nevertheless the notion alone of paying real money for ammo in an FPS feels really weird. In a bad way. I´m not saying that I have the impression that any additional money besides the first buying price is actually needed to complete the game, mind you. But it still feels not right. I would have much preferred “XCOM”s fixed pricing model.

 

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So, bottom line for the game? If you can live with the generally sub par FPS controls on a touchscreen device, like the Deus Ex universe, are not expecting a Dostoyevsky-type of story and have 5,99€ spare, you will not be disappointed. “Deus Ex: The Fall” is enjoyable.

Now, why do I think this release marks something significant for iOS as a gaming platform? Well, The Fall caused a huge uproar in the Deus Ex community when it came to light that it will in fact be an iOS title and not be release on other (non-mobile) platforms. The way Square Enix marketed this game it sounded like this will be the first time a major IP is launched with an iteration just for mobile as opposed to an afterthought marketing-ish Me-too app as normally for AAA IPs (think Battlefield: Bad Company 2) or a stripped down niblets-game such as GTA: Chinatown Wars.

“The Fall” tries to live up to that promise, although the In-App-Purchase have a significant “Lets milk the mobile stupids” smell. Anyway the signal seems to be that it is not outlandish for the games industry anymore to deliver full scale games with no compromises to iOS. Even the fact that “The Fall” is mainly compared to “Human Revolution”, a game for full blown gaming PCs and consoles, and not to other iOS FPS games, speaks for its impact. At least I cannot remember a case where the distinction between mobile gaming and gaming was so much blurred.

IMHO XCOM: Enemy Unknown works way better as a showcase for iOS´ gaming capabilities, but I´ll come to why in the next post…

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