First-person games are hard to create in the mobile space.
The fidelity and control found when using a mouse-and-keyboard combination or a console controller’s two analog sticks can’t really be replicated on the smooth surface of a touchscreen. But these obstacles certainly haven’t stopped developers from trying.
Deus Ex: The Fall [iTunes link] came out Thursday, and the iOS exclusive big-budget game attempts to bring the full console experience of the Deus Ex world to mobile — and it’s much more successful than we would have guessed.
The game graphs itself on to the world of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which came to consoles and PC in 2011. Human Revolution set a high bar for a mix of great story and a play system where your combat and dialog choices mattered. Square Enix’s choice to bring the next chapter in that saga to only mobile was a bold, risky one, so maybe Deus Ex: The Fall should be judged on the fact that it’s pushing the boundaries on the space.
Gold-Tinted Glasses and a Barrage of Weapons
First, let’s appreciate what The Fall does right. It’s a great example of another company picking up a franchise and translating the look of it perfectly to a new medium. Developer N-Fusion worked with Eidos Montreal to ensure that gamers who loved Human Revolution would immediately jump in to the The Fall, including covering the world in its familiar gold tint.
We’re introduced to Ben Saxon, a new face living in that Deus Ex gaming timeline. A lot of exposition is thrown at the players during the first 10 minutes, and it might not make sense, even if you’re familiar with the series. Initially, it’s hard for me to care about Ben and his need to get drugs for his augmentations.
But once you get a little more invested, it’s easier to move past the exposition and enjoy the gameplay. The app offers a great mix of gameplay, as you really can approach combat as stealthily or head-on as you’d like — though The Fall gives you greater rewards for non-violent solutions.
The game offers a full suite of weapons, including more than 20 guns and lots of grenade types, as well as active and passive abilities to employ from Ben’s mechanically augmented body.
And the story does get much more engrossing. I finally found myself clipping along, avoiding thugs and cops alike as I explored the grisly futuristic Panama City.
Since Deus Ex: The Fall is the first part in a presumed series, you’ll abruptly run into a “To Be Continued … ” screen.
Working With Mobile’s Restrictions
N-Fusion did its best to make controls that work on a mobile device, but they still take some getting used to. I felt as though I spent some of the first hour moving herky-jerky between stacks of yellow-tinged crates, trying to avoid detection but sometimes running smack into an enemy’s legs while crouched. Oops. But it gets easier; just expect a learning curve.
Motion controls mimic virtual joystick concepts. Dragging anywhere on the right half of the screen changes your view, and the left half the screen controls your movement. You can double tap on any location to move there, a feature I found too easy to accidentally activate.
Shooting isn’t totally precise, as you just move your cursor with fingers over a target. There are fire buttons on the left and right side of the screen, and buttons to crouch and take cover.
The weapons, grenades and power-ups all worked on buttons that would open drop-down menus with more options when held. It was a nice way to save space, but it made it somewhat difficult to change weapons in the middle of heated combat.
One neat trick buried in the menus was the ability to move around items on your HUD, so I was able to play with the positioning of the fire buttons to make the game better for me.
The rest of the menus, for the game’s store and power-ups, were all easy to navigate through touch. You can spend credits you pick up on the fly for new weapons, ammo or power-ups, all without visiting a store. And it wouldn’t be a mobile game without the option to pick up more credits for real-world cash.
There are some scary-looking, low-res models for other NPC and enemy characters you encounter, and the whole graphics level of the game could be better. This is all pretty forgivable considering the game fits on your phone or tablet.
Deus Ex: The Fall is definitely worth playing on an iPad instead of iPhone. You’ll want that extra space to hit buttons and see everything clearly. It works on iPad 3 and above, and takes 1.6 gigs of free space, so make sure your device of choice has the space.
For $6.99, Deus Ex: The Fall is worth picking up, especially if you are a fan of the franchise. The faults are forgivable for what is truly a great experiment in mobile gaming, and it shows publishers are really staring to invest in platform for real storytelling and gameplay.
Images courtesy Square Enix