When the first Epoch came out a couple of years ago, it was further evidence that AAA production values could be coupled with the unique opportunities of a touchscreen environment to provide an exciting gameplay experience for iOS. Its elegant and uncluttered control scheme, gorgeous graphics, and cool cover-based gameplay gave us a fierce little game that showed just what our iPads and phones were capable of if someone were willing to put in the work.
Now comes Epoch 2 and with it comes a much lengthier campaign, some meatier and more involved gameplay, and a whole host of problems that give us a game that’s a bit of a mixed bag. Epoch 2 follows the continuing story of our intrepid robotic hero as he tracks down the missing Princess Amelia and attempts to end a war between two battling robotic armies that have ravaged the world.
The gameplay is deceptively simple. To attack an enemy, you simply tap on it and Epoch will automatically start shooting. You can swipe down to take cover, swipe left or right to move across the screen, and in some instances, if you’re in the right position, swiping up will do a super-move which will flip Epoch to the other side of the screen. There are other times when he can use his rocket-pack to float in the air and rain down death from above. If Epoch runs out of ammo he will automatically reload, but you can also force a quick reload while in cover and, if timed correctly, can also net you a damage bonus too. There are also times when Epoch can fly up and smack an enemy robot to pieces, if you happen to notice the correct visual cue telling you when to do so.
These aren’t the only moves in Epoch’s vast arsenal, though. There are buttons on the screen for his various bonus attacks. You can throw grenades, launch missiles, and activate a Max Payne-like bullet time effect that slows down the action. Epoch comes to each battle loaded to bear.
Levels are quick and snappy, and most battles won’t last longer than a few minutes. A lot of attention was paid to the design of the levels though, giving Epoch a lot more options for movement and cover than he had available to him in the first game. Some sections have multiple floors to bounce around between, some have girders or wires to hang from, and most have a sense of scale to them that the first game was sorely lacking. Adding to the variety is the fact that you can replay levels in two different modes, which gives the game a good bit of replayability.
One of the cooler aspects of the first game makes a comeback in the sequel, and that’s the idea of using different weapons and tactics for each level. Before you jump into battle you’re given an idea as to what kind of weapons to bring and what kind of defense you should have. In some levels a poison or electronic based attack may be best, while it may be in your best interest to have some armor that can protect you against explosive weapons. I loved this idea as it gave me a chance to play around with a bunch of different styles.
Good luck being able to afford a lot of the different upgrades though, as Epoch 2 is shockingly frugal when it comes to handing out money. If you’re lucky you may be able to afford one upgrade after a level. There are “destructibles” littered around the levels that if destroyed can net you some bonus cash, but you’ll be so busy trying not to die that taking the time to shoot at these will be the furthest thing from your mind. During my time playing the game I never once upgraded my missiles as the leap in price from one level to the next was so prohibitively expensive that doing so would have stopped me from buying more critical things like more powerful guns and armor. You can also sell back equipment you don’t want anymore, but at such an insultingly low fraction of what you bought it for that it’s almost not worth the bother.
And that elegant, non-messy control scheme? It doesn’t work as well as it should this time around. It sometimes took me multiple taps to target an enemy (a problem made even worse by fast moving, dodging or flying enemies) and on more than one occasion I would end up doing a move I had no intention of doing while I was trying to pull of a different move or target something on screen. These kinds of mistakes can be deadly as a wrong swipe or missed tap can sometimes be the difference between success and failure.
The game is also brutally difficult, at times unfairly so. The action is so fast and so intense that you’re bound to end up doing the wrong thing, and when battles are happening so fast, Epoch seems to move at a snail’s pace. His reactions times are criminally slow and I often found myself wondering why the heck he was just standing there watching things happen around him. In later levels there is simply no way to move around a screen full of lasers, grenades, bullets, and enemies flying at you while literally every avenue of escape is being covered by something that can kill you. The game tries to be a graceful dance of mayhem and destruction, but it ends up feeling like you’re moving with two left feet.
There’s also no way to heal Epoch, at least not that I found, and when you die and reload your last checkpoint, you restart with just barely a smidge of health left. You will replay battles over and over again, hoping that this one time may finally be the time when luck is on your side.
Epoch 2 is a good example of trying to do too much and not finding the right balance. The control sensitivity needs to be improved, Epoch needs to be faster, and either the difficulty needs to be reduced, upgrades need to be cheaper, or money needs to be more easily attained. I had quite a few really enjoyable moments with Epoch 2, but for every awesome feeling, I had an equally frustrating number of times when I just had to put my device down and walk away for a bit.