Summary:

Infinity Blade is possibly the most-hyped iOS game release to date. The title, developed by Epic Games’ ChAIR Entertainment studio, uses the Unreal Engine 3, and delivers amazing graphics unlike any yet seen on the iPhone. But does it also deliver great gameplay?

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Infinity Blade is possibly the most-hyped iOS game release to date. The title, developed by Epic Games’ ChAIR Entertainment studio, got a lot of attention thanks to an early demo of its graphics engine in the app Epic Citadel. Now that it’s actually arrived as a game you can play, how does it stack up? Be warned, there be spoilers below, but also know that story is not what Infinity Blade is about.

Definitely a Looker

Let me make something abundantly clear: This is a gorgeous game. It’s the best-looking game I’ve seen on my iPhone 4′s Retina Display, and the best on the iPad, too. I haven’t had the chance to see how it works on an iPhone 3GS or iPod touch, but it runs very smoothly on Apple’s latest phone and tablet hardware. You can see many pretty pictures of just how nice Infinity Blade looks in the gallery at the end of this post.

Gameplay

Gameplay initially held some disappointment for me. Unlike in Epic Citadel, you aren’t free to move about the game world in Infinity Blade. It’s an on-rails experience, with pulsing circles directing your attention to places you can travel to. Generally speaking, you have one choice. Sometimes, you have two. Along the way, you can tap gold, potions or chests to get items, and you can change the camera angle, but there is no exploration or open world environment.

When you start the game, you’re presented with an opponent barring your way. Tapping on that enemy puts you into combat, or you can tap a circular blue “i” icon to get more information about him. You can block, dodge or parry attacks in order to get opponents to drop their guard, and then attack with your weapon. If you attack without first breaking an enemy’s defence, you’ll only do minor damage. You can also use a special power attack when fully charged, which automatically breaks an enemy’s guard. Finally, you can also use magic to cast spells with gestures you draw on the screen, which can be either offensive or defensive.

Fighting opponents earns you (surprise!) experience, and money, which you can spend on equipment. You “master” equipment by using it in battle, which grants you skill point upgrades. Levelling up also nabs you new skill points which you can assign to your attributes as you like.

Story

You’ll probably be amazed at how fast you burn through the various battles with the castle’s guardians and wind up facing the God King, the game’s boss. I know I was. And you’ll probably be even more surprised when the God King kills you incredibly quickly. But death isn’t the end. When the God King kills you, you start again, with all your weapons, equipment, gold and experience intact. Because you’re the previous hero’s son. Enemies are tougher, but you earn more defeating them. The cycle repeats as you gain experience and better equipment, getting killed by the God King until you’re strong enough to take him down. It took me four runs (or generations) to get to that point.

Verdict

Infinity Blade is short, and repetitive. Even within the individual “lives” of the hero, the enemies you face have repetitive fighting styles and character model designs. Despite its brevity and repetition, though, Infinity Blade is a good game. Why? Because I still want to keep playing it, even after having seen both possible endings to the game.

When the credits first rolled, I admit I felt betrayed. The game does cost $6.99 after all, and I expected something completely different after playing Epic Citadel. But then I just started playing again, and didn’t stop for a long time after. Collecting and upgrading items feels so rewarding, as does refining your combat abilities and identifying enemy patterns. In fact, in that regard, it feels very much like old-school games where you have to know the boss patterns by heart to win. GigaOM colleague Kevin Tofel noted that Infinity Blade reminded him of gaming classic Dragon’s Lair, which is another pretty good comparison.

Infinity Blade is a great tech demo. It shows that Apple’s iOS devices can run games made with the Unreal Engine 3, and the level of detail put into armor, weapon and environment design is amazing. But more than that, it’s a really fun experience based around RPG fundamentals, yet light enough that it remains a great casual game: one you can pick up and put down at your leisure without feeling like you’re breaking the mood as you might with, say, a Final Fantasy title.

Here’s what you might want to think about before making a purchase:

  • Highs: Gorgeous graphics, fun gameplay with solid controls. Addictive RPG elements.
  • Lows: Short on story, repetitive.

It’s also good to keep in mind that Infinity Blade’s developers have promised more content to come, including a multiplayer mode. I can see player-vs-player combat being really fun using the mechanics already in place. The promise of future updates doesn’t affect my overall opinion of the game, though. I’d gladly recommend it either way.

 

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