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Generally speaking, games based on films are pretty cruddy. They are little more than lazy ties-ins designed to cash-in on the limited period when a film is on general release and at the forefront of the public's mind. As the years have gone on and we've grown wiser, we have increasingly come to accept that film tie-ins generally suck. Which is just as well because Total Recall on the iPhone/iPad is not about to change anything.
Nor is it going to win any awards for imagination. It's an on-rails First Person Shooter (FPS). You play Quaid (the Colin Farrell character from the remake) and must fight your way through hordes of enemies to find out exactly what is happening at ReKall. Basically this involves being taken through a series of locations, shooting anything that looks vaguely dangerous. Along the way, you can pick up extra ammo, weapons, money and health packs to heal your wounds.
I mean, come on. This is exactly the same sort of gameplay that Quake was using back in the mid-1990s. Back then, the free-roaming (notice that crucial word, we'll come back to it in a minute) atmospheric gameplay, combined with the cutting edge graphics and sound thrilled gamers. OK, so it's a sign of progress that a game originally requiring a high spec PC can now be played on a phone: I remember buying a new PC just so I could play Quake II. I wouldn't even get out of bed to play Total Recall.
It feels like a game stuck in a time warp, a fact compounded by the on-rails gameplay. One of the big attractions for games these days is that you can go where you want and do anything. OK, sometimes this is taken to extremes and can leave the gamer feeling lost, but done well it can create an incredibly realistic and immersive world. Total Recall is on-rails. You can only go where the computer allows you to go. So, you are moved to one location, bad guys appear, you shoot them. As soon as you've done that, the computer moves you to a new location where you do the same again. It leaves you feeling totally out of control. There were many times when I wanted to hang around and explore, because something looked interesting, but I wasn't allowed to because I wasn't in control of my own destiny. I know this is a feature of on-rails shooters, but it's not a genre that suits the world of Total Recall.
Worse still, this has an impact on the gameplay. As noted above, various collectibles (ammo, money, health) can be gained by shooting them (because obviously shooting stuff makes it usable, right kids?) However, the game makes it really hard to collect them. Pretty much as soon as you kill the last enemy in a location, you are whisked away, so any goodies lurking in that area are lost. This means that if you want to collect stuff, your best option is to shoot it while there is still an enemy on screen. Of course, whilst you are busy blasting away at an item, the remaining enemy is busy blasting away at you. Great design decision, guys. Would it really have been too much to give us five seconds after the death of the last enemy or even given the player the choice of when to leave a location, even if there's no choice over what that next location is?
They can't even be bothered to use the film properly. They carefully say that the game is "inspired" by the film i.e. they contain lots of stuff that was nowhere near the film and merely look futuristic. From a graphical point of view this means lots of dark, metallic buildings and corridors with computers and flashing lights everywhere to make everything look dystopian and hi-tech. Human characters look artificial and unconvincing and there's not much imagination shown. There's nothing wrong with the graphics as such, it's just that (like so much else about the game) they are rather insipid and uninspiring. They look like the sort of graphics you'd have seen running on a PC FPS around the turn of the century. As such, they look rather dated. I accept the iPad doesn't have the same processing power as a PS3 or an XBox, but the graphics don't just look dated from a technical point of view, they feel tired and old from an artistic perspective too.
Sound is exactly as you would expect: unimaginative. Bangs from guns, bleeps from computers and a generic futuristic soundtrack. There's not really much attention been applied to any aspect of the game, but sound has fared worse than other areas and was clearly one of the last things they bothered to think about.
There are not actually that many controls, but somehow the game feels cluttered. The first level seems to thrown everything at you at once (Here's how you reload, here's how you duck behind cover) rather than introducing you to things gradually, so you feel like your head is going to explode. Controls themselves work fine (they mainly consist of a series of buttons to press). Since there is little character movement involved (other than moving your cross-hair) the controls issue that afflicts so many other iPad games doesn't really affect Total Recall, so that's at least one thing in its favour!
A more serious issue is the stability of this game. I've lost count of the number of times it has crashed on me. Sometimes this happens immediately on loading (which is annoying, but not too bad) but sometimes it happens mid-game so any progress you have made is completely lost. I can't think of a surer way of annoying a gamer than releasing a bug-ridden game that crashes with monotonous regularity. Even worse, the developers have the audacity to claim on iTunes that the current software version (which I have installed) has "No more crash issues". Wishful thinking, guys.
As if the game hadn't done enough to alienate you already, Total Recall further cements its hateful nature by throwing no end of adverts at you. From pop-up ads to (not-so-) gentle reminders about in-app purchases and links to the website containing all the other games they have produced, it's all there, in your face with monotonous regularity. Still, it's done me a favour because (assuming their other titles are of the same "quality" as this one) I now know which games to avoid on the App Store
OK, so it only costs 69p to download but when you consider all the other games available at that price point, then it looks a pretty raw deal. Still, at least I wasn't disappointed. I expected a cheap, shoddy film tie-in, and that's exactly what I got. I'm just relieved I got my copy when it was free so I didn't actually part with any cash at all. I haven't seen the remake on which this is based, but from what I have heard and read, the game and the film probably deserve each other.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2013