ngmoco, the developer responsible for extremely popular iPhone apps like Topple and Rolando, has released Eliminate Pro at long last. What they're billing as the "the first online FPS that fits in your pocket," Eliminate Pro is a free, micro-transaction supported FPS that allows you to compete against other players over 3G or Wi-Fi in deathmatch style arenas.
The game is completely free to download; when you first begin you have an energy bar that depletes as you play, becoming completely exhausted in a few matches. While you have energy left, you generate credits that are in turn used to upgrade your unit's armor and weaponry, improving your survivability. While your energy will replenish over time, you can purchase power cells in-app that will do it immediately, allowing you to continue playing and generating resources. The cells range from $0.99 for a pack of 20 to $29.99 for a pack of 975; if I understand the menu correctly, your energy meter caps out at 30 cells, but I wasn't brave enough just yet to spend the dollar to find out. I was out of energy after about three rounds, with a one-third recharge not happening for seventy-five minutes. When you run out of energy you're still able to play in arenas, but you cease accruing points until you've recharged. Energy recharge cells can only be purchased for cash, while gear can only be purchased with credits, although purchased power cells can be traded in for credits at a ratio of 120 power cells to 1000 credits. While out of energy I was warned that I would "queue slower," meaning that priority is given to players with full energy when match-making. Unfortunately, if you want to play anything more than casually you're going to need to shell out for the purchased energy cells at some point. After the first one-third recharges, the next recharge doesn't happen for another four and a half hours.
For an iPhone game the graphics are pretty stellar. The game is 3D, set in first person perspective, complete with requisite "training video" cut scenes that set the basis for what you're doing in the arenas as well as explaining how to play. I was extremely impressed with the appearance of everything and the visuals– from the game itself to the UI and everything else– looked amazing and very well polished. From a visual standpoint Eliminate Pro definitely raises the bar on what's possible on the iPhone.
In terms of gameplay, my impressions were a bit more tempered. When I first heard about this game months ago I was looking forward to it heavily, although I was slightly concerned about how a FPS would play on a touch screen device with no controls to speak of. Although I will give this the caveat that with the limitations of the platform I think ngmoco did as best as they could, controlling my character during an arena was an exercise in frustration. The game uses two fingers for control: your left thumb controls a virtual joystick in order to move your character, while your right thumb is responsible for both aiming and firing your weapon. You aim where you want to shoot and then tap rapidly to actually fire– there is also an "auto-fire" option that can be turned on, which makes your weapon fire as long as you have a target in your sights, and without this option I think the game would frankly be unplayable. While I'm sure it's a toggle for the masochistic "hardcore," for me it was the thing that saved me from putting the game away a few minutes in, because the attempt at aiming, moving and firing all at once was just too difficult to manage on such a small device with such a small amount of screen space.
After I cranked up the sensitivity for the look controls to their max, the game got easy enough for me to deal with that I think it's going to be a matter of just getting used to how to play, rather than a failing of the game itself. Again, although the controls frustrated me, I have to stress that for what it is I think they're really good– the iPhone itself is just not the most intuitive of gaming devices (despite whatever Steve Jobs wants to say to the contrary) and I think ngmoco succeeded as best as anyone would be able to. Perhaps ironically, in the maps I played I was consistently either in first or second place, which means I'm either doing well or the controls are that difficult for a newbie– I'll leave which to your opinions.
There are five maps for combat which are selected randomly when playing with others. The maps are pretty diverse in appearance and have a scattering of environmental hazards and powerups; the powerups range from things like accelerated health to increased damage to cloaking devices or jetpacks and give a strategic edge on the otherwise straight-shooting gameplay. Missions have a time and kill limit so they go by pretty quickly– great for a quick in-and-out experience.
Social networking is enabled over their Plus+ platform, which is responsible for both score-keeping and match-making. As games against other players are ranked, the match-making system ensures players are grouped against others with similar skills and prowess on the battlefield. In my limited experimenting it appears that skill ranking points only accrue while you are energized. There was hardly any wait to be matched up for a mission (even with the above "slower queue"), but that could depend on time of day. I'm not sure where I connected to since there was no feedback on ping or the location of other players, but while fighting there was hardly any discernible lag on Wi-Fi. 3G took a bit longer getting into a match but while playing I didn't notice a huge difference in latency there either. Rounds can either be matched with strangers or with friends in private gameplay.
When you have your shiny credits in hand, you can purchase additional armor and weapons or cosmetic skins for your appearance. At the moment, when something is purchased it's final, there's no way to trade items back in for credits. You can also use credits to purchase upgrades on items in inventory, everything from improved shielding on armor to increased clip size on weapons.
Overall the game is an impressive effort in porting first person shooters to the iPhone. Where the control schema is unwieldy, I do think it's probably as good as anyone could do on the device, and the game more than makes up for it by the impressive quality of its appearance and the wealth of customization available between armor, weapons and your character's look. The matchmaking has been handled seamlessly in my experience so far, giving you a great gameplay experience whether connected over Wi-Fi or the cellular network. All in all it's a fun game and an example of what future titles can aspire towards.
If you're on it feel free to add me as a friend: mixvio is my username.