First-person gore and mayhem is alive and well on these iPhone apps

Nov 4, 2009
Games

Cell phones in general and iPhones specifically are devices for twitchy people, always needing to compulsively check their e-mail more than they wash their hands, so it follows that first-person shooters (FPS) — the twitchiest genre around — has migrated to the iPhone and the iPhone App Store.    Like with literature and theater, it’s best […]

Cell phones in general and iPhones specifically are devices for twitchy people, always needing to compulsively check their e-mail more than they wash their hands, so it follows that first-person shooters (FPS) — the twitchiest genre around — has migrated to the iPhone and the iPhone App Store.   

Like with literature and theater, it’s best to start with the classics on the iPhone for running and gunning: “Wolfenstein 3D Classic” ($1.99) Originally released by id Software for a little operating system called DOS in 1992, the now-primitive graphics have been improved marginally for the iPhone. No matter, though, because the game holds up just as well as fans of the original remember it, and if you’re a “Wolfenstein” newbie, anyone can get on board as a Nazi-killing soldier. The controls float a little, but the sheer amount of game available (the original is packaged here with the prequel “Spear Of Destiny” and the ability to download user-made maps) makes that tiny flaw forgivable, even though it really should have been fixed.

From one of id Software’s first titles to one of its most recent, check out “Doom Resurrection” ($6.99). An adaptation of “Doom 3,” this parallel take on that FPS was led by creator John Carmack, making the drastic changes in the franchise much more forgivable. Eschewing the usual first-person mechanic for rail shooting — meaning the game automatically controls where you move while the story unfolds — you’re freed up to only aim by tilting the device. (Tilting can be recalibrated at your leisure as often as you’d like.) Yes, this isn’t “Doom 3,” but it’s still a worthy mobile successor to the storied series, an arcade-like take on the space-marine franchise with a pre-determined amount of quarters it’ll cost.

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It’s too bad Duke Nukem 3D (99 cents) opted to make the controls harder than it was on the PC for its mobile makeover, unlike “Doom Resurrection.” Yes, everyone’s favorite bad boy who loves to chew bubble gum and kick ass is back, and he’s worse for the wear since his 1996 adventures. With ugly graphics, noticeable ‘tude depletion (the notorious strippers have been yanked from this game), and horrible controls, there’s little reason to relive the memory of this game. You can opt for sliders or dual joysticks to aim and maneuver, but your fingers will inevitably slip, causing you to either go careening in a direction you didn’t intend to, or blankly firing at a target you weren’t aiming at.

Similarly generic but more enterprising is “Nex” (99 cents). Fusing elements of squad-based strategy and first-person shooting, “Nex” goes out of its way to point out how elaborate it is with a brutally long tutorial, but ultimately sags beneath its ambition. The levels feel very familiar after a while, unimaginative fish-like enemies just randomly spawn and run right at you (making the need to strategize your squad moot), and ultimately the overall product feels flat and boring, even if you can shoot stuff.

 “Sniper Vs Sniper: Online” ($4.99) is less ambitious but much more focused: All you do is aim and shoot. But there’s a lot of depth in that single concentration. From a stationary vantage point, you aim and attempt to take down multiple targets, all within a set time limit. As usual, the first target is the easiest, but things get much more frantic when you squeeze off a round and reveal your position to your enemies. Online, the game is arguably better since a human opponent offers a great air of unpredictability — although you’ll need to be practiced, or else you’ll spend the entire game looking for your enemy while they’ve already got you in their sights.

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“Modern Combat: Sandstorm” ($4.99), meanwhile, is the whole package. A squad-based FPS that’s also a war game, you control a chief warrant officer returning to his unit after an extended absence. The controls, however, are what makes the game’s 10 missions worth playing: A perfect mix of aiming with one thumb while moving with the other, navigating the game’s world isn’t only natural, it’s effortless. Varied missions and music, a stockpile of weapons, context-sensitive jumping and attacking, and formidable graphics are all great bonuses.

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David Wolinsky

David Wolinsky is the Chicago city editor for The Onion's A.V. Club and is also the  undisputed 1994 Blockbuster store champion at collecting bananas in Donkey Kong Country.

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