I always find that the arrival of a traditionally non-mobile developer on the iOS platform fills me with equal parts excitement and skepticism for their prospects; wondering if we're headed for the next Rayman Jungle Run [$2.99] ...or the next Final Fantasy: All the Bravest [Free]. Case in point? Our announcement last week about Uber Entertainment's foray into iOS. The developer of Monday Night Combat is bringing a game to phones and tablets!? And it's based off of that awesome series? Excitement...Oh. It's an endless runner. Skepticism. After diving in and playing the title, I find myself surprisingly caught in the middle.
Set in the same dystopian future as Monday Night Combat, Outland Games similarly lampoons reality TV by introducing players to the latest and greatest bloodsport: combat running. For the amusement of onlooking millions, you're forced to dash through fiery caverns and hazardous deserts, and battle your way through small armies of deadly robots for good measure. In your arsenal for survival is a mean pair of jumping legs and a handy assassin's blade, controlled with taps on the left and right side of the screen respectively.
The company's genesis as a developer of sleek PC content shines immediately in the game's unique, top-tier visuals. The backgrounds break the mobile runner mold with a hand-painted style that drops you right into the outskirts of a futuristic metropolis. The looming, bombastic MNC stadium and a gladiatorial expanse of caves offer more visual panache than many recent additions to the genre.
Meanwhile, the expert use of the game's engine is apparent in the details. The colorful cast of flailing, firing, and charging robots ooze personality as they pop from the screen with a mixture of cell shading and 3D sheen. And as fun as they are to look at, Outland Games makes them even more satisfying to kill, with combat and running animations that feel and sound varied and over-the-top, despite being powered by two buttons. Aesthetically, the whole package is like a bite-sized Borderlands 2.
Just like what you see, what you get also has more nuance than the barrage of runners fighting for room on your device. Certainly, on the surface, you'll be running, jumping, and attacking your way as far as possible to the right, but some clever physics soon prove to make all the difference. In most endless anythings, it's a game of getting as far as possible before the challenge and speed of the game goes beyond your human limitations for success. The difference between something well received and something hated comes down to how well the developer balances that line.
Here, Uber turns your attack into a forward-propelling dash that can be executed both on the ground and in mid-air, while allowing you to double jump right off the bat. The result is a subtle undertow of strategy that makes setting records and snagging coins a matter of mastering the right moment to surge forward. You'll need to gauge when to exhaust your last jump and when it might be best to use your attack as its own little push, all while toying around with small hops. That invisible wall most definitely exists in Outland Games, but by delivering fluid aerial acrobatics, Uber helps you feel like it doesn't, making repeated rounds a much more interesting prospect.
Yet while I'd defy anyone to claim that what's there in Outland Games isn't enjoyable, its major shortfall ultimately comes from what isn't there at all. When any category of games balloons as big as the runner has on iOS, it becomes impossible not to hold each title up to a sort of genre-wide standard. And with free staples like Jetpack Joyride [Free] and Punch Quest [Free] having introduced things like mission progression, mini-bosses, and a dizzying array of upgrades and abilities, it becomes comparatively harder to stomach the fact that all that's available here is a mostly cosmetic set of purchases.
Every weapon you can buy is purely there for, shall we say, the badassery; and while there's nothing wrong at all with a healthy dose of badassery, I found myself with very little drive to save up (or buy the coin doubler) to snag the 10,000 coin flame sword, knowing it wouldn't unlock residual abilities that might help me go the distance. That's to say nothing of the array of costumes, which are evenly split between in-references that cater to Monday Night Comabat fans and nods to the team's internet-famous acrobatic animator "AZO" (Aung Zaw Oo). As a newcomer to that world, I found myself constantly hungering for progression, waiting to discover a new combat ability to complement the game's power-boosting "juice", and genuinely wishing that Uber's excellently crafted micro-world offered more compelling ways to play.
This, then, is the double-edged sword of reviewing apps. Uber should be congratulated for making the smart decision to expand their existing universe in a way that plays utterly to a platform's strengths. Their first step into mobile is one to be taken seriously. That said, I'd be wary to recommend a purchase right now to anyone except power-players of their existing PC catalog, who will no doubt love a miniature outing with the company's fearless assassin. It pains me to place this one at the middle of the scale, as it's really a 4.5 waiting to happen. At this exact moment, though? Runner aficionados will find little to keep them hooked in a playing field full of meatier options.
Team member Chandana Ekanayake has said on Twitter that Outland Games is the result of a speed project that's clocked an average of 6 months in development time. With plenty of room for updates, take this 3.5 very lightly. I'd say toss Uber your dollar out of faith in their major chops. If not, pass temporarily while keeping a very close eye on added content.
Would you look at that...there's that excitement again.
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