We’re genuinely sorry to tell you that ExZeus isn’t as cool as it looks, because it looks positively awesome. It immediately reminded us of Iron Man: Aerial Assault, one of our favorite games on the App Store. It’s similar in goal and design–you control a flying robot (you have your choice of 3, and they’re actually different from one another, which we love), and blast lots of enemies to powder from an over-the-shoulder viewpoint, using tilt controls to steer and touching the screen to fire. Alas, ExZeus’s confusing, uneven gameplay keeps it from reaching its full potential.
ExZeus seemingly has it all for an iPhone action game–free flight through various locales; lock-on missiles and free-aiming cannons; tons of powerups and armor upgrades; and neat end-of-level bosses. But it’s simply not a very easy game to play. For instance, aiming your gun using the tilt controls is extremely difficult, even with lots of practice and absolute concentration (we would definitely not recommend trying to play this in a bus or moving object). We never even got close to using it proficiently. This leaves you with the targeted missile system, which actually works a little too well… at least until you run out of targeting juice, stranding you with the guns while you wait for the bar to refill.
The worst part, though, is the incoming fire. Normally, we have no problem dodging missiles or bullets or whatever else while playing App Store offerings, especially when we practice as much as we did at ExZeus. Not here. We eventually reached the conclusion that effective dodging is impossible in ExZeus. As an experiment, we tried abandoning all pretense of attack and sweeping our screen around the room, moving constantly and targeting enemies only when we had a free moment. No luck–we were still killed multiple times per level.
To its credit, ExZeus does give you a lot of content, as well as five continues to make sure you have a fulfilling experience. But how is that fun? We wanted to survive based on our own skills and reflexes, not just by Kamikaze-ing ourselves over and over until we finally killed everything. Keep in mind, too, that we’re on the high end of the gamer skill level. Casual gamers and novices will absolutely get their butt handed to them by ExZeus.
There are many things to like about the game, as we said. There’s a tutorial to help you out at the beginning, the menu screens look cool, and the intro and storyline are impressively deep and embellished with silly voice acting… and that’s all before you even start playing the game! The graphics are beautiful, and the on-screen action–fast and furious from the very first level–is rendered smoothly, even with a huge number of explosions, particle beams and other crazy effects constantly manifesting. The music is appropriate if a little heavy, but both that and the sound effects have their own volume knobs, and you can play your own stuff off your iPod. Another feature worth raving about is the auto calibration: simply tapping the option and holding your iDevice where you intend to hold it will automatically adjust the angle of your screen. It’s incredible, it’s efficient, it’s perfect, and every game with an accelerometer-based control system should copy it wholesale.
However, these strengths can’t make up for the fact that ExZeus is not as fun as it should be. At $5.99, it’s not too expensive for the quality, but we ended up showing off the graphics to our friends more than we actually played it. That, of course, is never a good thing.
Editor’s Note, 2/12/09: The review originally stated that ExZeus allows unlimited continues, instead of the correct number (five). STP regrets the error.