Like Aliens? Remember Team 17's Alien Breed on the Amiga? Own an iPhone? Then get downloading Crimson World. Put simply, it's one of the best shooting games I have yet come across on the platform.
The plot is a well-worn one with a lone marine having to take on a planet full of hostile aliens. Each level takes place on a single, static screen and in order to progress you have to kill a certain number of aliens. The concept may be simple, but the gameplay is incredibly engrossing, atmospheric and addictive.
The game opens up well with a series of excellent comic-book style panels to introduce the story and the reason for your mission (this is fairly inconsequential since the game boils down to "shoot everything that moves", but it adds an extra level of polish to proceedings). This high level of presentation is carried on throughout the game with some excellent graphics and atmospheric sound. The top down perspective of the game allows you to have a good view of the playing area, spot incoming threats early and react accordingly. I was initially concerned that the small playing area available (due to the screen size) would cause problems, but the well-designed and well-proportioned graphics stop this being an issue.
Graphics are, for the most part, crisp, clear and well-drawn. Although the action is limited to a single screen per level, there is still plenty of room to manoeuvre, as the planet is barren and bare, meaning there are few obstacles in the way. This does give the game a slightly sparse look, with most of the colours limited to various shades of brown, but it actually works extremely well, establishing the atmosphere of a hostile alien world. There is a good deal of imagination and graphical variety in the various aliens that attack you, whilst the weapons you collect throughout the game all sound very different and many are very satisfying to use, creating on-screen carnage amongst the attacking alien hordes!
As already mentioned, in terms of look and feel, the game is heavily inspired by Amiga classic Alien Breed - and that's no bad thing. This is one of the few games that can induce a real sense of claustrophobia and terror in the player. The action is so frantic and fraught that there were a number of times when I found my palms were sweating and I had to take time out between levels to dry them. Now that's what I call an atmospheric game!
There's also a genuine sense of variety to the game play which introduces a skill element that is not immediately apparent. The various aliens don't just look different, they behave very differently too. Some are fast and quickly surround you, unless you kill them as soon as they appear; others hunt in packs and will be a little slower to attack if there are only a couple of them on-screen. Some are slow and lumbering but take multiple hits with even the most powerful of weapons before they die. This introduces a real level of strategy to proceedings, as you have to make a quick decision as to which aliens pose the greatest immediate threat and dispose of them, whilst avoiding the others. It's a test both of your shooting skills and your manual dexterity, as you will need to weave your way around the screen to avoid the onrushing hordes.
As aliens die, they leave behind a variety of additional bonus weapons and extra items which can be picked up and used. As with the aliens, there is considerable variety in the different weapons: some are incredibly powerful and allow you to put a greater distances between yourself and your enemies, allowing you to shoot at them from a distance; others are little more than pea-shooters and are very weak and ineffective. Careful collection and use of weapons is a key part of the game and you'll quickly learn which the best ones to pick up are and which to leave lying on the ground.
One slight issue I have with the game in that the on-screen writing and icons are incredibly small and often difficult to distinguish. For some things (such as the score) this is not a problem as this is summarised at the end of each level. However, it can cause problems with weapon selection. Running over a weapon left behind by a dying enemy automatically switches to that weapon - and this is not always a good swap. Since the icons for the different types of weapon are hard to distinguish (particularly in the middle of an adrenalin fuelled game), you can actually find yourself picking up a weapon which is less powerful than the one you are currently using, thus putting yourself at a disadvantage.
Controls-wise, there are two options. I found one worked well, but couldn't get on with the other at all. The default is to use two virtual joysticks: one controls movement, the other fires your weapon. I found this very difficult to master. The controls felt rather twitchy and unresponsive and I frequently found myself dying because I was unable to get my character to react in time to the threats surrounding me. Indeed, I almost gave up on this game and dismissed it unplayable...
... Until I found the option to turn on AI mode, which instantly makes the game far more playable and enjoyable. In this mode, autofire and a limited auto-targeting option are switched on, leaving you just to concentrate on movement. Movement is controlled using the iPhone's accelerometers, and is far more responsive. As soon as you get an alien line up with your gun sight, a shot is fired. This mode does make the game slightly easier, but it also makes it a lot more fun, turning it into a fast-paced, frenetic shooter with responsive controls. There's still a considerable element of skill involved as you have to line up the aliens in your sights and so must carefully position your marine in just the right spot to be able to kill them.
The only downside to AI mode is that because you are not actually touching your phone's screen. As such, it will assume you have finished using it, and go into standby mode (turning off the backlight) every few minutes, plunging the screen into darkness (usually at a critical moment!)
Even in AI Mode, the game still represents a considerable challenge. Although there are only 25 levels, later levels really ramp up the difficulty, increasing the frequency, number and aggressiveness of the alien attacks. Once you've completed all the levels, you can go back to try and improve your score or shooting efficiency, or even try completing them with AI Mode turned off. A couple of additional modes (Survival and Rush) further increase its long term appeal.
As a fan of the old Alien Breed games, this is a superb, stripped down version for the new generation of hand-held machines. The simple control mechanics (in AI mode at least), stunningly addictive and atmospheric game play and excellent presentation make this a must-have title for any fans of shooting games. At only 69p, there really is no excuse not to own it.
© Copyright SWSt 2011