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‘AGRAV’ Review – Black Holes and Frustrations

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In space, nobody can hear you scream because you were just slightly off with that black hole you placed down, careening your ship just to the side of the key you needed, flying into the barrier around the goal that you thought would be down. Maybe next time, AGRAV (Free). This game of black holes will fluster you, but it’s rewarding, and its entry price point – 30 levels for free with an IAP for more – is unbeatable.

AGRAV 1You play AGRAV by commanding black holes on the screen, using them to pilot a ship around, eventually reaching the goal, while avoiding hazards. As you have no direct control, the struggle with this game is that you have to manipulate gravity constantly in order to avoid hazards and complete levels in under the time limit. For example, you might have to put down a black hole to swing the arc of the ship to avoid an object. Or put one right behind the direct path of the ship to slow it down, but far enough back that it slows it down without turning it around. Or putting one in front so that it will fly through at a higher speed. Most of the time, a slow-but-steady pace is ideal, because “fast" is a one-way ticket to crashing into a wall or other obstacle. Though, of course, the game then throws the levels where you have to go fast to avoid danger at you. Or, ones where you have a short amount of time to complete the levels. Some levels even require very careful navigation around walls with switches to turn off and on. There’s a good amount of variety here across the 90 levels.

The black hole control system means that you’re dealing with a lot of purposeful imprecision. The physics are something you can learn, but you can and will crash a lot in this game. Also, because the effect the black holes have depends a lot on where the ship is relative to the black hole, you have a lot of factors to consider. How long you have your finger(s) down – yes, you can use multitouch for many black holes at once – may be key. And tiny adjustments with fast reactions are very important. And when you start having to deal with planets with their own gravity, a lot of thinking on your feet is required. The physics are very consistent, so that you can trust that if you do something once, it’ll happen that way again.

It’s going to be a matter of whether this game clicks with you or not. The fact that you have indirect control of the ship, and that what you’re doing to it is constantly changing as it flies around means that you have to be really careful. And it can be frustrating when you put a black hole just in the wrong spot. A lot of close calls are here. You might not enjoy this game if you’re frustrated by difficult fixed challenges, because it’s not just about being a better pilot, it’s about mastering a second-hand system. It can be really satisfying when you succeed, but rage-quit-worthy when you fail over and over again.

AGRAV 2The gold/silver/bronze/no award system feels like it could have been simplified down to a three star system. The criteria for each award are unclear, and not necessarily uniform. Do you think that getting every collectible is required? Not necessarily, if you’re quick enough, I’ve gotten gold without getting every item. Get every item, and that’s not even really a guarantee of a medal, from what I’ve seen. If there was a more concrete system, like if you got bronze for completion, silver for time or items, and gold for both, then that would be preferable. Something beyond the current system would be welcome.

Thus, it’s probably good that AGRAV uses the tried-and-true freemium unlock system to give you the first third of the game for free, and then making you pay for the last two-thirds of the game. This game is either a great example or a terrible example of the model. It’s great if you’re the player – you know what the game is like and what you’re going to get from it, and you get a great taste of it. Did you enjoy the first third of the game? Then it’s just $1.99 for 60 more levels of it. Did you not enjoy it, or did you get enough out of the game? You’re out without paying more for it.

The problem with this is that while it’s great for the player on one hand, it’s hard to sustain for developers unless you get a massive amount of downloads, like Mediocre does with their games. The conversion rates just aren’t that high, and it’s hard to make money 2 dollars at a time. And this gives away a lot of game to a point where I am concerend as to how much it’s making. And there’s no ads or anything. So, if you enjoy the game, do toss it a couple of dollars. There’s a reason why so few games use this sort of business model, despite it being the ultimate player-friendly model. But that’s the lesson of modern media: give people the opportunity to not pay, and they will take it!

But I will say that I think AGRAV is really clever. It’s a frustrating game at times becuase of the indirect nature of it, but it’s very satisfying when you succeed. Though you will die a lot, and dealing with the black holes ain’t easy. But do at least give this a download, it’s got some cool ideas and a too-friendly business model.

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