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‘Radiation Island’ Review – Get Chased by Katana-Wielding Zombies and Have Fun!

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Take the most irrational and demanding mobile gaming fan – you know the kind, the person that only wants paid games and hates in-app purchases and ads in any form – and ask them for a dream wishlist of everything they’d want from a mobile game. What they will describe to you is basically what Radiation Island ($4.99) from Atypical Games delivers on. It’s a game that pushes iOS devices to their absolute limits, provides PC-style gameplay on the go with gamepad support, doesn’t do much hand-holding, delivers dozens of hours of gameplay, offers online multiplayer, and oh yeah, it’s only $2.99 for the entire package. And there’s not in-app purchases to be found anywhere in the vicinity of the game, because those are for suckers, right?. Atypical Games decided to make a game for this most vocal and demanding of irrational consumer.

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I don’t think many other developers could make this kind of package and hope to live off of it – Atypical Games has a track record and possibly even the financial ability to take risks thanks to the long-running Sky Gamblers franchise. If I see a developer make a game like this, I have to say “why are you disrespecting yourself, try to actually make some money off of this!" This game should at least be $6.99 if not more. $9.99 would totally be a fair price given the quality and value, at mobile scales. But hey, for $2.99, maybe the irrational people who don’t want developers to actually make any money have won here. But I’m glad they did because Radiation Island is fantastic. And if what I described sounds like the ideal game, you need to go buy this even if you aren’t a fan of survival crafting games, because you need to buy this for philosophical reasons alone, to justify other developers making something like this.

What is Radiation Island? Well, it’s an entry in a genre we really need to lock down a good name for, as while I call it a survival crafting game, not unlike Minecraft ($1.99), elongated, it’s a first-person open-world wilderness and zombie survival simulation. The story is that you wake up on a mysterious island that was occupied by Japanese forces in the 1940’s, and find that you’re surrounded by wildlife, need to find some food as you’re quite hungry, and oh yeah, there’s that zombie with a sword that’s chasing after you, that’s a real problem too.

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There are two key objectives in Radiation Island and they also kind of form the sequential progression of the game. Your first objective is just plain surviving. You have not only your health bar to keep an eye on, but also your hunger, and have to deal with other ailments that may befall you in your time here. This means that you have to find sources of food, whether it be hunting rabbits or catching fish in order to get meat from them. But how do you do so? Rabbits are fast and run away from your puny fists. Well, the game is about crafting tools and equipment in order to help you along and to take out the more dangerous wildlife, like slingshots and bow & arrows. Additionally, you can craft equipment that provides protection from damage and the night’s cold. Yes, there are day and night cycles to deal with. Hope you have some torches!

This is far from the most hardcore crafting sim, admittedly. All the crafting recipes are given to you, it just becomes a matter of figuring out how to get the materials. Thankfully, flint and twigs are readily available on the ground, and these are the basic building blocks of the first tools you need to survive. So you can pick those up and make crude tools to chop down trees and mine rocks, which will let you make better tools and start to hunt wolves and sheep for clothing materials. You have to find and create medicine and splints for when you get poisoned or break your limbs from a high fall. The game steadily stacks all the crafting on top of each other for you to learn.

It can be slow and daunting to figure this out, especially if you’re not that familiar with the genre, but Radiation Island is actually a fantastic jumping-in point for survival crafting games thanks to the fact that those basic materials are always literally everywhere, and there’s documentation for everything readily available. Tips on how to operate many of the game’s elements are available in the journal, and each item has descriptive info in order to tell you how to find them, which is a major help when starting out.

Figuring out all this is key to the beginning of the game, as you need to be able to make weapons and tools of reasonable quality. Ideally, when a zombie starts running after you, you’ll be prepared to kill them instead of just getting marauded. Respawning is actually part of the game’s narrative, inventively enough, though not to the degree of Infinity Blade ($5.99).

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Thankfully, everything with the crafting system becomes second nature after a while – if you’re familiar with the mechanics of survival crafting games, you’ll probably pick up on it pretty quickly. Still, it is accessible once you put your nose to the grindstone. It may be tempting to go investigate the weird things going on, but hanging out near the first respawn point (with other houses that can be accessed as quick travel spots), getting your bearings and learning how to survive, collect materials, craft items, and then thrive in this world, will go a long way in this game.

So, once you have the ‘staying alive’ part of the equation down, what comes next is the key goal to actually making material progress in the game. There’s a number of electric Tesla towers that have to be disabled. Just what they are and what they do is steadily revealed through the journal pages you find, and you eventually find the six-digit codes for each station in order to shut them down. The codes for each tower are usually found at the start of each island and at each base, and so the game does kind of take on a linear progression, in that there’s generally one place that you can go to. You could go to the other towers and get the other codes early on, but that’s kind of a waste of time unless you have respawn points nearby. Each island essentially has a sequence to deactivate each tower, and there’s not really anything I found that’s stopping you from visiting the other islands whenever you make it there.

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Now, the problem with shutting down the towers isn’t just with the codes to shut each one down, but with the crazed undead haunting each one. And they’re out for your blood. As such, you need to manage fighting them off. You can’t craft guns, but you can find them in chests and on the zombies. They actually become enemies that you want to find at times, because they offer some of the best rewards and often give you items that you can’t craft. They’re just deadly and relentless in their pursuit. I once was running around at night with a torch in hand and the indicator that enemies were behind me, but I needed to know where the gate to this one Tesla tower was. I found it, and turned around to deal with the enemies behind me, realizing that at least a couple dozen katana-wielding undead had been chasing after me, their group growing in size from the quartet I originally discovered at sundown. It was quite the surprise. Fortunately, I had a nearby river I could dive into and swam to safety.

There are a couple of vehicles you can craft, including a canoe and a glider, the latter being a way to fly from great heights, but problematic due to the fact that it requires a decent amount of leather to craft, it breaks if you fall, and it can break your legs as well. The boat at least has lesser material needs and won’t break so easily, though it’s not as much fun as the glider because you’re not flying through the skies. Still, there’s more to do than just walking everywhere.

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The game does unfortunately get a bit repetitive once the tower-disabling portion of the game picks up, because the fun of the game is really in the discovery of how the crafting works, and getting to the realization that you can make bullets and titanium items with no real trouble. Then you become armed well enough to take on the enemy hordes, and the game becomes about getting from tower to tower. Granted, the game manages to get more difficult to the point where there’s more zombies, and tougher entry points into the towers, but the game’s goals do stagnate somewhat in that phase, which is unfortunate because the game is so creative up until that point. The game becomes far more like an FPS, but I mean, it is possible to perhaps dodge the enemies and not just fight everyone, if you’re smart about it and move like the wind. And it’s going to take long enough to get to that point that you really can’t complain if it starts to feel sluggish, you had so many hours already put in!

Radiation Island does use your standard dual-stick moving and aiming controls, but there’s loads of handy auto-aiming to make hitting targets quite simple. There’s even a sort of auto-sensing of creatures to make hunting animals even easier. The game does support MFi controls, but it’s not perhaps the ideal way to play the game, as inventory management is infinitely simpler with the touchscreen. It’s just a testament to how well the touchscreen controls work so that I’d rather play this game with a touchscreen than a controller. I’m not going to hate on the gamepad support, but this is the sort of game that works better with your fingers. Also, setting map waypoints and fast travel requires the touchscreen. If you’re playing this on TV, I’d probably recommend playing this on a controller with the device clipped to it, like an iPhone to the MOGA Rebel, or the MadCatz CTRLi gamepad, or perhaps that Gamevice controller for iPad when it’s available for purchase, so that you have the touchscreen options along with the advantages of gamepad control.

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Visually, this game is an absolute stunner. Atypical pushed the pedal to the Metal and made a game that pushes iOS devices to the limits. This game will kill your battery. I drained my iPad Mini 2’s battery twice in one day playing this game, which is a testament to just how hard this game is pushing iOS devices (and how much time you can spend playing this game), and while the framerate could be better on the Mini 2, the game runs smoothly on the iPhone 6 Plus. As well, this game serves as a convenient hand-warmer for winter months, just load the game up and feel the blazing inferno in your hands! The game has to render a huge world to explore here with impressive draw distance to see things ahead in the world, lighting effects, a rudimentary weather system as the world gets cloudy, and impressive radiation-influenced sunsets that are as gorgeous as they are forbidding for the dark and cold night that is happening. That this game even runs on these devices is a sign on how far iOS gaming has come.

Radiation Island is a stupid value, and I mean that in two ways: one, for $2.99 without in-app purchases, there’s a absurd “hours played per dollar spent" value to be had here, and that’s without touching the multiplayer options, which are only available after you beat the whole game.

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Two, I think Atypical Games are fools for charging only $2.99 for this game, considering how much work clearly went into designing a game with such a large world to explore, and making the game be an absolute battery-killing stunner. There’s so much game here that the price is absolutely criminal – and there’s replay value to be had in not just the multiplayer, but with a hardcore survival mode where one death means game over. I appreciate the exploration mode as well – there’s such great sights to see here, that people who don’t want to worry about surviving and just want to check everything out deserve to have an avenue to do so.

If you’re the kind of person who complains about any kind of IAP, and was mad about paying for Monument Valley‘s ($3.99) “Forgotten Shores" expansion, buy this game. Radiation Island is a measly $2.99, and you’re making enough of a statement with your wallet by buying this game. I understand why some of y’all are hesitant to pay for games, I was once a kid myself who didn’t have a lot of disposable income, but scrounge together the cash for this, you’ll get so much out of it, and you can help encourage other developers to give you what you want.

But no matter who you are, if you want a big PC-style survival crafting game that is as good a fit for mobile as this sort of game can possibly be, or want way too much value for a $2.99 purchase, you need to pick up Radiation Island. It’s a massive, and immensely enjoyable experience.

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