Version tested: iPhone
After the brilliant Binary Domain reminded me how wonderful shooting robots could be, I happened across EPOCH on the App Store, which promised further mech-blasting fun. One problem: it was a third-person shooter.
Third-person shooters on iOS tend to fall into two categories: clunky and slightly less clunky. So it was with some surprise and more than a little delight I found that EPOCH has a control scheme I'd almost be tempted to describe as elegant.
Rather than forcing you into awkwardly manoeuvring your avatar with virtual sticks, developer Uppercut has opted for a system of taps and swipes. Slide your finger downwards and you'll duck behind the obligatory waist-high wall - or reload if you're already crouching. There are pillars at either side that you can glide to with lateral swipes. Then, when those robotic fools are reloading, you slide your finger up to pop out of cover and tap them to lock on, with your shots automatically heading towards their titanium target.
With the aiming and firing handled by the game, it's merely your job to move, dodge, reload and emerge at the right time. It doesn't sound quite as satisfying, but after a while you honestly don't miss lining up your sights and pulling the trigger. Besides, you've already got enough to contend with. Staying out of trouble isn't as simple as waiting it out.
Some enemies lob grenades, while others fire charged shots that can pass through cover. A third type sweeps a powerful laser beam horizontally across the screen, forcing you to pull off the best move, a somersault that takes you from one side to the other. Time all your moves well, and not only do you look brilliant, you'll be rewarded for your efficiency at the end of the stage, with an extra cash bonus based on how much armour you have left.
There's an oddly rhythmic feel to it all, and combined with the short but readable tells, the sharp, precise movements of its avatar and the clever control scheme, and you've got kind of a halfway house between Infinity Blade and underrated GameCube blaster P.N.03 (Chris Donlan is no doubt heading to the App Store right now).
I don't even mind that its settings are generic UE3 post-apocalyptica, because the murk only makes the bright flashes of laser fire and grenade warning lights that much easier to spot. It's probably more happy accident than smart functional design, but hey - it works.
What doesn't work so well is the upgrade system. You can buy new weapons, grenades, missiles and armour, but even if you ace the levels without taking any damage, the piffling amounts you're paid aren't nearly enough to afford anything half-decent. Of course, you can buy credits with real money, but with no restrictions on what you're able to take into a level it's all too easy to pick up a really strong weapon and breeze through. If you stick with what you've got - or what you salvage from the various containers scattered about the ruined environments - you'll probably have to grind quite a bit on the harder settings, otherwise it all gets rather attritional.
Nonetheless, EPOCH is worth persevering with, and not just for the surprisingly well-written text logs you can collect which offer a bit of context to the bot-on-bot conflict. Get rid of the crappy in-app purchases and you've got the perfect template for a smartphone shooter; here's hoping a few iOS developers are taking notes.
App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.