Sometimes with a multiplayer game, simplicity is the best way to go. It makes it so friends and family can pick up a game and play with little explanation and in turn, you can all jump into having fun with little setup. Sandstorm Interactive's iPad-only title, S.U.B. Steampunk Underwater Battles [$1.99] does just that.
For most, all you'll need to know is that you're in control of a submarine and your goal is to kill your friends, who are also in control of submarines. Each of the four different submarines has a different weapons loadout and require different strategies to be successful. You get a good variety of control options to fit your needs, but considering you only control the left and right turns, a tap to shoot and a few buttons for special attacks, most of the options should be just fine for everyone. Which brings us to rule number one of enjoying S.U.B.: find three friends with iPhones.
That's because Sandstorm Interactive has built a remote control for iPhone and iPod Touch that allows each player to use their own device to control their ship so you don't have to huddle awkwardly around an iPad. Setup is a cinch and only takes a couple seconds, although we did have trouble getting the WiFi synch to work and had to resort to Bluetooth. You have to play together in a room, no WiFi multiplayer here.
The second rule to enjoying S.U.B. is to ignore the streampunk in the game's title. Other than a few menu choices, there isn't really anything steampunk about the game. You don't control an avatar of an old man with a giant beard and goggles, you don't pilot dirigibles and you certainly won't be forced to embarrassingly explain to your friends what steampunk means. Instead, you'll control some submarines that look sort of steampunkish, but could just as easily be anything else. There is certainly a lot of bronze in the UI, but that's it.
The third rule is to keep your expectations in check. This isn't an in-depth game, nor is a game with a ton of options. You'll get a few maps to play on and the goal of each is to kill each other before they kill you. There is an endless wave mode available for single player, but it's not particularly enjoyable or interesting. The only way you're going to be happy you dropped $1.99 on this title is if you play it friends. It's a fast paced, arcade title where you float around arenas and kill each other, nothing more.
It's not without its problems, of course. Although there are several different arenas, they are nothing more than backdrops and don't change the core gameplay style. The lack of variety and modes might turn people away as well, as there is only one option for multiplayer. The endless mode of the single player seems like it would have been a good fit with multiple people too, so its curious it's not in the game.
The fancy visuals are certainly nice to look at, but the murkiness of the colors can make it difficult to tell exactly what's going on, especially if you've got four heads eying the screen at once. Thankfully the ships are lit up nice and bright, but it can be difficult to aim and shoot correctly.
It's simple, stupid, fun and it absolutely requires multiple people to appreciate. The arcade action lacks depth or strategy, but it does allow anyone to drop in and play immediately, a reasonable trade-off in a multiplayer-centric game like this.
It should be clear this is a game with a concentration is on the multiplayer dynamic. Where other games might add it in, or worry about it in updates, S.U.B. is preoccupied with the idea that a submarine game can be fun for multiple people at once. The concentration pays off, and although it's probably not going to keep you entertained for days on end, it will provide you with a short relief from talking to friends and loved ones.