iPhone Game Review: Mission Europa Reviewed by Tim Harvey
Every game has a story, and not just the one that exists as a fabricated way to move you from level to level. No, what I'm talking about is the story behind that one, the one that tells us how and why the game entered existence to begin with. These stories have their own protagonists?Shigeru Miamoto, John Carmack, Sid Meier, Ryan Mitchell. They're the ones who have made the contributions that determined the stories behind the stories were told.
Wait, what's that you say? You've never heard of this Ryan Mitchell fellow? That's no surprise; Ryan isn't an industry A-lister like those others. It's for just that reason his name serves well to typify the occult secret of iOS gaming, which is that its true strength comes not from the mega-corporate entities like Activision and EA, (although EA in particular has done a good job keeping pace with others who have been pushing the hardware) but rather that, in a creative sense, it is the independents that are doing the lion's share of the work progressing the platform. The best indie devs represent the ideas, the guts, and in Ryan's case, the ambitions and strong back of iOS gaming.
So what's Ryan's story and why should we care? As to the first question, you can always ask him for the specifics yourself, (his website is linked at the end of this review and he is remarkably responsive to customer e-mail); but essentially, he's a yeoman, a one-man band of a dev that calls his company Bansheesoft, who has been engaged in the massive task of creating iOS's most ambition action RPG, a titanic first-person-shooter with 170 missions spread across more than 50 unique, randomly-generated levels with a game length estimated conservatively at over 50 hours. As to the second question, the ?why should we care?? part, well...the guy has actually pulled it off. He calls this Frankenstein's monster of a sci-fi/horror, RPG/FPS epic Mission Europa.
Mission Europa has a scale and scope all its own on Apple devices, and that is reflected through and through in the amount of sheer gameplay it provides. You find your character, a soldier, stranded on Europa after something has gone horribly wrong, (a bit of an understatement, there), your only recourse to band together with a holographic computer avatar to figure out just what is happening under the surface of the satellite of Jupiter, and hopefully how to survive it.
Circumstances being what they are, you have little choice but to battle a host of gruesome foes to complete quests and advance the storyline. This leads to the real meat of the game, which may remind players of Diablo or System Shock?combat and loot. There is practically no end to the amount of different items you'll find when fighting your way through a floor, and the loot, like the levels, is randomly generated. You can also buy new items at a shop located near your hologram friend who doles out the quests.
There's even an item creation system which requires materials?looted, purchased or gained through disassembling other items?be used with schematics you will find or buy. Needless to say, gamers that enjoy complex loot systems will be very pleased with Mission Europa.
In addition to items, skills will be gained as you progress in the game. They can be combined with like skills to level them up. You'll level yourself up as well, adding stats to strength, agility, intelligence and energy, which, along with your items and armor, affect all kinds of character stats.
Even armor is highly complex. You wear 16 distinct pieces of armor at all times and there are a total of 30 different armor sets that you will find piecemeal throughout the game. At any point, by the way, you can link to your character's profile on the Mission Europa website from the main menu to see your avatar, achievements, and stats such as total kills, boss kills, head shots, deaths, and more, which are also ranked on a leaderboard.
Clearly, with all these items and all that leveling, there is a ton of depth to the RPG aspect of the game. However, the gameplay itself is an even bigger strength as it just feels great to use all the unique and juiced-up weapons you find. Controls are responsive and work well, utilizing the by now commonly implemented virtual joystick and swipe anywhere onscreen to move the camera model first popularized by Gameloft's FPS. I found the default position of one of the item bars a bit awkward, but the control interface is completely customizable and allows you to move anything onscreen to any other place onscreen.
There is also a lot of customization available for the controls themselves, such as the option to invert the y-axis, adjust the swipe/look sensitivity, and even an ?auto walk? option if you're someone who doesn't like to have to continually keep your thumb on the screen just to walk in a straight line. Obviously, this is a game that has been designed around the gameplay, and as such it is just a blast to play.
It's also quite a challenge. Boss battles will really test your mettle and even as you power up, your enemies will get a lot stronger, more intelligent and more numerous as well. This, the incredible degree of depth, and the length of the game ensure that Mission Europa is not necessarily for everyone, so casual gamers be warned?you will need to sink some real commitment into this game to get the full experience, which is a demand that perhaps not everyone will be able to meet.
There is also an online arena for one-on-one battles, although it is currently in a beta state and as of this writing I have not been able to find a match. This could be due to a dearth of players in my time zone participating in the arena, so hopefully as the server fills with players there will more more opportunities to play online.
If there's an aspect other than the somewhat demanding nature of the game that will put gamers off, it's probably cosmetic, so let me say this now?graphics and visual design are not the game's greatest strengths. With games like Infinity Blade, Dead Space and Rage having been released in late 2010 and early 2011, some will not want to take a step back in the graphics department, and to be fair there are certainly some design choices in the UI and menus that feel like they could use some refining.
However, if you can appreciate garish horror films and colorful comic books, I think any shortcomings can be easily forgiven, especially when the incredible amount of enemy and environmental designs, (over 180 and 50, respectively), is glimpsed. These aspects make the game feel unique and give Mission Europa a distinctive identity.
Textures are occasionally a bit low res, but mostly the game's graphics are nice in a PS1 era way, and retina display support means that edges are sharp and have a clean, non-jagged look. Also, while the game may not compare graphically to Dead Space, for example, unlike that game it runs well on a device of any generation and it scales up nicely on an iPad.
The music is a strong point, as it provides a strong ambiance. It has an odd sort of Spaghetti Western mixed with horror vibe, at times. The game has nearly 10 hours' worth of fully-voiced cutscenes (!) and sometimes the voice acting is suspect, but the boss monster voices are great in an old sci-fi TV show sort of way. Several of them reminded me of the Daleks from the old Dr. Who series. I half expected to hear ?EXTERMINATE!? when they appeared onscreen. Oh, and the bosses and other enemies do talk to you when you meet them in battle, and indeed it sometimes just might scare the hell out of you!
There are other ambient sounds within the levels that add to the atmosphere, reminiscent of a great B-horror film. It is certainly over-the-top, but if you like movies with gratuitous blood-splatter and schlocky special effects, you'll love the mood this game strikes, and the sound is a big part of its success in doing it.
While perhaps not the most beautiful bride, Mission Europa is a game that you can feel certain will make for good company for a long, long time to come, continuing to reveal its charms long after the honeymoon has passed. For the hardcore gamer looking for great gameplay, lots to do and master, buckets of blood and an incredibly satisfying and fun experience, Mission Europa could very well become your new favorite game. It may not be perfect, but it's an instant classic and for now, I'd say it is the most ambitious action RPG and best FPS available for iOS, and I do not say that lightly.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 3.5 - While it can't compare to some recent 3D offerings from the big houses, the PS1 era charm, a myriad of horrific characters and kick-ass weapons make for a good graphical experience. Sound: - 4.5 - Seriously atmospheric music and ambient sound that George Romero would endorse heartily really suck the player in. Controls: - 4.5 - The customizable button interface is more functional than it is pleasing to the eye but you'll be glad you made the tradeoff when you're dual-wielding explosive energy crossbows and summoning demons on the run without missing a beat. Gameplay: - 5 - Guns kick like they ought to, loot piles up almost as fast as the bodies, swords and battle axes slice through techno zombies like hot butter, and it's all absolutely glorious. Overall: - 4.5 - If you love real FPS gaming on your PC, Diablo style dungeon crawling, or you're just looking for the biggest and baddest action sci-fi/horror experience around, buy this game. Now.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Watch the tutorial video on the main menu before jumping in.
Don't forget to level up your skills by using the ?create? menu.
Using a map can help you to navigate floors much easier.
You can purchase the Standard Edition of the game for $3.99 or the Collector's Edition for $9.99. The Standard addition includes the first 10 levels and the other four level packs can be purchased for 99 cents each, or all at once for $2.99. The Collector's Edition includes all the level packs as well as some bells and whistles such as the ability to wear enemy armor and skins, a nice sword and armor to begin with, 100 energy potions and 100 health potions.