Those of us who grew up with the likes of X-Com and Jagged Alliance have long been waiting for something -- no -- anything in that vein to come up in the App Store since its inception. We've seen plenty of turn-based strategy games come and go, but nothing has captured the RPG-centric squad-based tactical combat we've been yearning for (save, perhaps for the recent release of Tactical Soldier - Undead Rising). Hunters: Episode One [Free / HD] wants to scratch that slow-moving turn-based itch and does so by offering you a few maps for free.

Hunters uses the same in-app purchase style of recent Gameloft games, you'll get a tutorial and a couple of levels for free and you can decide from there if you'd like to purchase the game. That's not the only quirk, it also has a 24-hour mission cycle -- so every day Rodeo Games drops new maps into the cloud for you play through. This is a great idea in theory, but that "always connected" feature also happens to mean there will be ads on the mission select screen, which is a weird thing more than an annoyance. If you're passionate about checking the ads, you'll get some snazzy loot.

Being a turn-based strategy game, the goal is generally to either kill everything on the screen in a nice bloody mess or to retrieve an object and wander away. To accomplish those tasks you upgrade, unlock and beef up your soldiers in a variety of ways. Each move takes away action points and is done through an intuitive and easy to grasp system that works remarkably well on the touch interface. Because of the increased screen real estate, it feels better on the iPad, but it works well enough on the iPhone. You'll wander blindly (and often straight into fire) through a fog of war, trying to gain an understanding of each levels layout without dying. Most gestures you've grown used to work here, including swiping and pinching to slide the map around. You'll double-tap to select your soldiers, which can cause some frustrating moments, but not being in real-time keeps it from causing your teeth to grind.

As you move along, you'll gather up soldiers and weapons and you'll be able to customize them to your liking. Different weapon and skill upgrades allows you to build a relatively diverse crew of killers and the fact you can replay missions ad-infinitum during the 24-hour cycle means you can farm XP and gold as much as you'd like. Since there isn't a linear story-mode, difficulty is shoddy at best. It seems to cater enemy type and variety according to your current level, but at no point is the game particularly difficult -- especially when you factor in the lack of perma-death among characters, a feature sure to ruffle the feathers of a few long-term strategy fans.

Why are you doing all this, you ask? Well, because shooting things is fun, apparently. There is some ramshackle backstory here dealing with a world of mercenaries and contract-for-hire nonsense, but it doesn't get much deeper than "you've been hired to clear the screen." For most people, that's all well and good, but at the same time, the lack of a narrative of any kind also comes at the price of a cohesive world environment. From a technical standpoint, the graphics are rendered well and function perfectly fine, but there isn't much soul poured into the universe itself. For most people that probably won't matter, but many might find the cookie-cutter science fiction universe and bland, toned-down color scheme a bit of a drag -- or at least a disappointment. That's not to say the level design isn't solid, because it is, but the generic art style is a bit underwhelming.

Most people aren't going to care about that little niggling complaint because the gameplay is solid and works well. There isn't a huge layer of strategy depth here, you're only offered a few weapon varieties and soldier types and you can't prone, kneel or sneak, but as an entry-level strategy title it should tickle your fancy enough to keep you coming back. The mission structure is interesting and as an immersive technique does make you sort of feel like you're really a mercenary with daily updated objectives. Once you've figured out the systems and upgraded your soldiers you might find things a bit on the easy end, with the tactical aspect borked down to something like, "eh, I'll just wander in here and shoot some stuff," but don't let that shy you away from checking out the first few levels. It's a good title, but its lack of innovation in anything except its content delivery keeps it from being great.

One thing worth noting is the possibility of multiplayer in the future. Currently, the game is set up as a single-player only experience, but Rodeo Games assures that multiplayer is in the works down the line. They're also claiming a more cohesive story mode is coming soon as well, which might fix a few of the complaints listed above. Either way, you'll be able to spend a reasonable amount of time with it for free and it's most certainly worth that much.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Chris Matchett

    That trailer owes me some whelm

  • drelbs

    Don't forget there are honest-to-goodness Julian Gollop games available on iOS through the Commodore 64 and Spectrum ZX epps! (Lazer Squad on both platforms and a whole IAP pack dedicated to his games on the Speccy!)

  • Anonymous

    I'd love to see a scientific study of how many "Episode 1" apps get an Episode 2. Just a thought.

  • bennehftw much is it? Lol.

    • alienmeatsack

      Free for the "demo". $4.99/$7.99 USD for IAP to unlock. Then you can spend money on game credits as well thru IAP.

      Seems steep to me. But, I've paid way more for apps I use never. So, take it as you will.

  • Jay

    Sounds like another promising game ruined by gimmicky, pushy "marketing" via IAP and network connectivity.

    Most of us prefer to buy a complete game and enjoy it at our leisure, not having to be online or having to purchase the core levels, (especially if they're only available for 24 hours at a time?)

    Sad also because there are so few good games in this genre as it is.

    For now, I'll pass.

    • Ben

      Hi Jay,

      My name's Ben Murch. I'm one of the four man team at Rodeo Games, the creators of Hunters: Episode One.

      Let me re-assure you. There is no network connectivity required to play Hunters. It is very much an off-line game. The reason we chose to make the game free, then unlock with IAP was so players could test it out, then make an informed choice as to whether or not they want to buy the full game. Doing it this way also allows players to continue using their team of Hunters and not have to start again.

      Hunters is perfectly playable without having to buy in game credits too. The only reason we included those was to help players who were struggling to complete missions and wanted the option of a boost.

      If you, like us, are a fan of the TBS genre, then give Hunters a try. As you say, there are so few good games in this genre as it is. We're trying our best to remedy that, one step at a time.

      Best regards,

      - Ben

      • Stelph

        Good to hear from the Devs of this game, I really like Hunters as I used to love Space Hulk type Games and this is a very good adaptation of that, some of the levels are very clever as well like the one where all the enemies are hammer weilding nutters so you have to stand your men back to back to avoid getting pummled.

        Only critisms are although the missions refresh every day, they are still quite samey (either protect the VIP/reactor, find the valuable object or kill everyone on the map), it would be great to see some more variations, like perhaps:

        1) A variation of the protect/salvage map where you have to both protect something (a door perhaps that can be destroyed) but also go find an object that you have to collect and take back to the door to complete the mission - adds the strategic element of deciding how many to send to get the object without sacrificing the protection of the door

        2) A "rush" mission, a map where the player has to find a spot to hunker down and defend, once he has done so a never ending flow of enemies are unleashed and the player has to survive for a set number of turns

      • Jay

        Ben, thanks for taking the time to reply and allay some concerns. That's actually really cool of you to do that.

      • Anonymous

        Just wanted to say that I gave in and tried it out and you were right. This game is really well made and enjoyable. I sprung for the $8 full version. My presumptions were incorrect and I see now how the game offers daily Contracts and such without needing to be online. Very cool. Thanks again for your reply.
        (Note: I tried to leave this same comment several days ago with my primary Discus account but for some reason every attempt to post here no longer seems to actually appear. My account works just fine on other sites so it must be a TouchArcade issue.)

  • Leo Tard

    I've enjoyed it so far.

    My only criticism is the lack of cover on the maps - I keep thinking I'm hiding behind a wall, only to find out that it's not a wall at all when some big dude with an assault rifle starts shooting at me. Turns out it was just a big whole in the floor.

    I guess this all adds to the strategy, where you have to move in and out of range etc, but I like a more duck and cover style of combat.

  • ksmith

    I've been loving this game. Granted it's not as deep or strategic as X-COM, but its lighter nature means I can squeeze in a mission in as little as 15 minutes. This game reminds me of Laser Squad so freaking much!

    I'm almost to level 10 with all my hunters, so hopefully this title continues to see some developer love. Even though there are new mission every day, they're starting to grow repetitious, so I'm not sure the urge to play this game will still be there once I max everyone out. Fan made maps and missions could go a real long way to help this...hint, hint, as well as a more cohesive story mode.

  • Jeffrey Draper

    I so wanted to like this game. I remember those nights with X-COM back in the day, where my palms would get sweaty with every turn and my men would get picked off oen by one by the slimy violence of the evil alien invaders. Even with the 90s graphics, music and sound effects, I was hooked. Each alien reveal from the black areas my men couldn't see would surprise me and make my heart race. Watching my heroes being picked off one by one felt like, well, the movie Aliens.

    With Hunters HD, I find myself yawning as I play. The muted graphics are only part of the problem. The music and sound effects are okay but nothing seems designed to give me an intense gaming experience. So few surprises, no connection to the characters I'm controling. Seeing my generic men die one by one by the generic men they are fighting is like playing chess, without the complex strategy. This is so close to being good, but yet so far from what I wanted.

  • Trevor

    I downloaded the free version and bought the full version. I like it. It has a few quirks and glitches but nothing I can't deal with. I'd definitely like a few more weapon and equipment choices. That and more variability in missions. On the whole it's a decent game. The ads are there but you can easily ignore them.

    I'd say the game has a lot of unexplored potential. Alien races to fight. Maybe some sort of boss character. Lots of possibilities.

  • Dan Short

    from a technical perspective, this is the best TBS game I've played on iPhone. I also dig the art style, the controls are solid, and it's just a lot of fun. Big fan!

  • Amit. Agarwal

     good game

Hunters: Episode One Reviewed by Thorin Klosowski on . Rating: 4