Review: Infinity Blade
For those of us who are constantly searching for a gorgeously detailed action RPG we could play on our phone, Epic Games and ChAIR Entertainment (known for Shadow Complex on XBLA) have delivered.
There aren’t a lot of games for the iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) that cater to the non-casual gamer who is looking for a portable console experience, and even games that have tried and pulled it off well like GTA: The Chinatown Wars and Assassin’s Creed 2: Discovery have had some degree of translated controls, like a virtual D-Pad. But Infinity Blade, brought exclusively to the iOS, not only comes equipped with phenomenal graphics running on the Unreal Engine that rival the PSP’s crisper-looking games, but also utilizes a fantastic swipe-to-slash attack system that feels both natural and native. Games like GTA: The Chinatown Wars aren’t 100% successful in masking the fact that they’ve been ported from another system, but Infinity Blade feels like it was never meant for anything but the iOS, despite it being originally planned for Kinect on the XBOX 360.
The story is both mediocre and clever at once. It opens with your character – an armored warrior – about to fight the God King, but he must first get past the King’s guard. This opening fight against a much larger armored warrior starts as a battle tutorial but ends with your defeat – and death. And this is not the kind of RPG where you wake up in a seaside village with no memory of your past. This is a darkly toned action RPG based around dueling, and where the opening character perished, his descendent arrives 19 years later to take revenge on his father’s death.
“Ah,” you might say to yourself as you read this, “Another son-looking-for-revenge-for-his-father’s-murder plot.” And in response I would say not exactly.
The game is a tap-to-explore adventure in which tapping on highlighted portions of the environments collects an item, opens a chest, activates the next scene, or begins a duel. You are free to pan the camera and stare, mouth gaping, at the incredibly crisp details of the environment – the likes of which you’ve never seen on a phone before. But you don’t do any actual moving. There’s no virtual D-Pad, no slider bar to run, nothing like that. You tap to investigate the indicated points on the screen to progress, dueling your way into the castle and into the upper level where the immortal God King sits slouching and unimpressed upon his throne.
The reason I say it’s not just another “revenge thy father” game is because when you first return to the God King, probably around level 3 or 5, the God King is level 50 and quickly slaughters you, absorbing your essence into his sword – the Infinity Blade -- as he did with your father’s body, thus ending Bloodline 1.
Bloodline 2 begins shortly thereafter, his descendant returns to the castle 19 years later looking for revenge on his father. An almost gimmicky plot device that ends up being quite clever on a device like the iPhone, that has a limited horsepower and battery supply as compared to other portable gaming systems. Being on a phone, it’s a game that will be played in short bursts, which is why it works (I can’t speak for the iPad experience). This repetition focuses the game on grinding until you’re strong enough to defeat the God King. Each string of fights is called a "Bloodline". There's even a GameCenter achievement for completing 20 bloodlines called "This is on a phone!", which showcases the fact that even the developers are impressed with their product. But don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll need to get your warrior up to a ridiculous level to win – it seems like you could win at a low level if you’re really on your game and at the height of your reflexes with well-planned gear, a mastery of dodging and the patience to chip away at his high health.
Should you make a significant dent in the God King’s health, you are given a choice to join him (as you have proven yourself worthy) or continue the fight. Joining him rolls the credits and starts you back right before your battle with him, though upcoming DLC planned for next year indicates we may see more of what the God King has planned.
The meat of the game is the dueling. You can swipe in any direction to swing your weapon and it feels good, slashing quickly in varying directions to create combos. Your opponent will often block, and your job is to tap the bottom left or right corners of the screen to dodge his attack depending on the way he swings, hold down the block symbol in the bottom center of the screen, or swipe toward his oncoming attack at the correct moment to parry. Successfully pulling off a chain of these defensive moves will knock your opponent off balance, leaving him vulnerable to your blade or magic.
Magic and your super attack move (which instantly knocks the opponent off balance) each charge up with the attacks you land, and are activated when you tap their respective top corner symbol. What magic you can cast is dependent on the ability of the ring you have equipped, and you must quickly draw the spell’s rune to cast it. For fire, you draw a circle with your finger; for lightning, a zig-zag line, etc. These spells are typically more powerful than a couple of sword attacks, and can become stronger as you raise your magic stat. Healing and shield spells become particularly helpful at higher levels.
After each battle the total amount of experience earned is divided between each of your equipment while all of those points also go into your level’s experience, with a level cap of 40. If you level up you are given a couple of points to divide among your base stats, and if you master a piece of equipment you are given a further stat points. Mastered equipment can also be sold for a higher amount of gold, and as you accumulate gold from battle, finding money among the environment, and by selling unneeded armor and weapons, you can at any time outside of battle purchase better equipment.
Any armor you equip is immediately seen on the character in-game. This is one of the many great graphical perks the Unreal Engine brings to the app, as each piece of armor looks like part of a full character design and not like a changeable portion of him. Though because of the game’s graphical intensity it leans on the heavy side of battery use. In just 7 minutes on my iPhone 3GS my battery had gone down by 5%, and if you lose track of time while playing you can easily lose a very large chunk of your battery quickly enough.
As you move through the world you’ll encounter several branching paths which may lead you to a chest and send you back to where you were, or take you on a different route altogether. At one point halfway through there is a choice to go upstairs, which leads to more fights, or go through the large doorway taking you through a more direct path to the God King - probably intended for higher levels who just want to run through and fight him. And ChAIR Entertainment has stated that next year they will release a free update that includes more portions of the area to explore.
On a 3GS you’ll encounter some minor lag here and there, but it’s mostly smooth and never ruins the experience unless your phone decides to act like a phone. When I received a call while playing, picked it up and went back to the game, the sound effects were gone until I restarted the app. ChAIR has pushed the game to its limits, and I was impressed to see just how smoothly it ran on a 3GS despite that bug. Load time takes place at the start of the game, taking its sweet time to bring up your one and only autosave file, but after that the game runs smoothly without any loading at all. Cut scenes can be fast-forwarded (but not skipped) and you are able to tap the pause button at any time no matter what’s happening.
With 45 Game Center achievements and leaderboards at launch, and an upcoming multiplayer mode, Infinity Blade will leave you with a fun game and plenty to do and strive for. And with December 21’s update you’ll get five new swords, five new shields, five new helmets, one new set of armor, the level cap raised to 45, a new enemy, the ability to play your own music within the game, and various bug fixes and optimizations – a steal at the launch price of $6.99 for the game. Pick this one up and prove your father proud.