Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Infinity Blade

Another iPhone and iPod app with the definition: Looks can be deceiving...
Review By ZTEX
The God King has slain your father, and, using the Infinity Blade, absorbed his power. At the age of maturity, you will seek revenge, and the God King will be waiting.

Infinity Blade is a sword fighting game, where the player uses finger swipes to emulate the direction and kind of attack. The player must dodge, block, parry, string together combos and even use a little bit of magic in order to take on the God King and his Champions. In between fights, the player can look around for bags of money, health potions and treasure chests.

As the first iPhone game to utilize Unreal Engine 3, developed by reputable studio ChAIR Entertainment and published by Epic Games, Infinity Blade launched with high expectations. With staggering production values and considerable hype leading up to its release, how does it measure up?

In terms of production value, Infinity Blade is well-oiled and polished. The graphics are console-quality. The environments are vivid and the textures are highly detailed. The animation is sophisticated. The frame rate is smooth and reliable. The UI is navigable and intuitive. The musical score and sound effects are adequate and appropriate and help to establish the game's pseudo-medieval fantasy atmosphere.

The path to the God King is short and linear with a couple of optional fights. The game hinges on its “New Game+” mode, or as it is referred to in the game, a new “Bloodline,” whereupon you restart the game with all of your experience and equipment, but must face tougher and varied enemies. It should be noted that a Bloodline can be completed in under an hour but that it will require more than a dozen Bloodlines to properly max out your character's stats. A leveling system allows players to increase their health, attack, block and magic. 

The trick is that the player must level up by filling their equipment with experience, and each piece of equipment has a preset limit. Once an item has reached that limit, it becomes mastered, and will no longer yield XP gain for the player; this applies to any duplicates of the item (present or future) that the player has acquired as well. Effectively, this means that the player is level capped by the amount of equipment they can afford and that, at some point (currently level 45), they will no longer be able to increase their character's level whatsoever. 

Outside of the equipment and leveling system, the game play has very light RPG influences, with weapons having elemental attributes and characters having certain elemental resistances/weaknesses. However, it is important to understand these things only play a support role in combat. It is also worth mentioning that there is really no plot development. 

To put it bluntly, Infinity Blade is really nothing like a traditional RPG, but more akin to a “sword fighter on rails.” The game play stands on its combat system alone, but it does so successfully.

The reason for that is simple: the combat system is very fun. The folks over at ChAIR have nailed the “easy-to-play-difficult-to-master” concept here. Fights are fast-paced, requiring focus and quick reflexes. These engagements are not won charging your opponent with a flurry of attacks, but by reading your opponent, waiting for openings and striking accurately. 

Breaks occur when you have dodged, blocked and/or parried a series of attacks and the enemy is left vulnerable. In certain contexts (elaborate moves, parrying), a small circle will show up on screen, highlighting an exposed enemy weakness. Tapping inside the circle before it disappears will perform a stab, instantly creating an opening. Having a strong offense is useful but having a strong defense is absolutely vital.

Blocking is the easiest but least rewarding method of defense, with the player sometimes only achieving a “broken” block or still taking elemental damage from a weapon even though they blocked the physical attack. Dodging is somewhat more difficult, requiring the player to anticipate the direction of attack and to move left or right to dodge, but this rewards the player with more openings while letting them avoid all damage. 

Parrying is the most difficult, where the player must deflect an enemy attack with their own counterattack, but this results in the most openings and breaks. This system of risk and reward allows players to create a dynamic play style which keeps game play fresh and exciting. However, due to the fast-paced nature of the game, combat does not always work as smoothly as it could.

For instance, when you are performing several swipes per second, the subtleties of a “short” swipe versus a “long” swipe—or a vertical swipe versus a thirty degree swipe—become difficult to control, and if you swipe too fast in succession, your attacks will not register. This adds an element of timing to performing combos that is not entirely problematic but is, initially, counter-intuitive. 

Furthermore, magic spells are cast by selecting the “Magic” button and then drawing in the symbol which represents your desired spell. In the heat of combat, it can be difficult to accurately cast spells until you learn to draw them with an exaggerated sense of scale. All in all, these are very minor qualms in what is an otherwise very refined system; many games fail to deliver their core game play experience so successfully.

In fact, the biggest problem with Infinity Blade is not any particular design flaw or technical issue, but simply that it is lacking in content. There are only about a dozen enemy types and the game only offers about forty-five minutes of entertainment per play through. Only a handful of enemies are randomly generated (many remain the same, just stronger, each play through). The randomly generated money bags are both clever and insipid, but even the possible spawn points can be memorized in a few Bloodlines.

That said, there was still enough content to keep me busy for about fifteen hours. For the price, fifteen hours of gorgeously-rendered, fast-paced entertainment is hard to complain about. Honestly, it seems a bit unfair to criticize a game simply because my biggest problem is that I want more of it. Nevertheless, every time that I am looking around for money bags to poke or starting another Bloodline, I can only imagine how much better Infinity Blade would be if it were simply bigger. With a longer, perhaps less linear path to the God King and a greater variety of enemies, it might feel as epic as it looks.

But looks can be deceiving. Although Infinity Blade looks like an Xbox 360 game (which may have to do with the fact that it was originally developed as a Kinect title), it plays like an iPhone game. And like most iPhone games, Infinity Blade is deceptively simple and meant to be enjoyed in small portions. It is extremely easy to be critical of a game that looks and plays like Infinity Blade because, by contrast, any shortcomings will be glaring. How can such a beautiful game with great game play have no story? No adventure? It is true, the game could be better if there was more to it, but the real question is this: should that really matter? For the price, it's tough to find a better value than Infinity Blade.

PROS
*Amazing visuals
*Polished combat system

CONS
*Leveling system lacks depth
*Not enough content

NAME: INFINITY BLADE
SYSTEM: iPod, iPhone

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