While we’re thrilled with how fast the iPhone is growing as a viable gaming platform, we can’t help but be annoyed by the lack of online multiplayer shooters. As much as we love racers and puzzlers, it’s about time we start exercising our itchy trigger thumbs. Promising shooters like LiveFire and Modern Combat: Sandstorm, from Ngmoco and Gameloft respectively, are close to the finishing line, but an intriguing Mech shooter we’ve had an eye on has finally hit the battlefield. This is iMech.
First off, iMech is a pioneering effort on the iPhone. To our knowledge, this is the first serious attempt at an online-only multiplayer shooter on the iPhone. Running on either 3G or wifi networks, you can play up to 8 people from all over the country. That’s quite a headline feature, and a big reason to get excited about the potential here.
As you can tell from the obvious title, you take the reins of a huge Mech. As a war machine that’s more plodding than nimble, the goal is simple: destroy as many opposing Mechs as possible. With a structure ripped out of any of your favorite deathmatch shooters, the winner of the battle is determined by who has the most kills. Despite the lack of innovation with the game’s ground rules, this can still be a fun affair as long as the control mechanics and maps deliver.
Seek and destroy.
To touch on the controls first, we found the controls frustrating and unrefined. Primary movement and viewpoint manipulation are executed by two on-screen control circles. The left control circle handles 360 degree movement, while the right circle rotates the camera left or right. In a curious design decision, by default the right circle also doubles as the fire button, so anytime you want to turn your Mech, you’ll be discharging a bunch of unintentional firepower. At least in the options menu you can switch to a double-tap for firing weapons.
Quite frankly, this level of clunk is unacceptable at this stage of the game. Considering several titles (e.g. Wolfenstein 3D, Brothers in Arms, etc.) have already provided great blueprints for 3D control, it’s hard to cut iMech slack.
One key to any successful online multiplayer shooter is a good selection of maps. Unfortunately, iMech sports only one single, solitary map. It’s not the most interesting or strategic map, either. From reviewing the layout of the map, the consensus optimal strategy is to try to sneak up on opposing Mechs that are engaging each other. Sprinkled throughout the map are weapon pickups like rockets and mines. However, any enjoyment of swapping weapons around is overtaken by the control issues we’ve already highlighted.
Not all is bad in iMech though; it scores points with its excellent visuals. Virtually everything in iMech is modeled in 3D. We were impressed by the texture work on the polygons, and it all looks very tight and cohesive. Weapon effects shine too, and they look polished. Outside of some poor environmental lighting (e.g. map is too dark) on the map, we don’t have many quibbles with the eye candy.
A name too cute to kill.
We’re also happy to report that iMech has a rock solid network infrastructure, but only over wifi. We didn’t experience any lag or performance issues on wifi, but the same can’t be said for 3G. If you’re stuck on a 3G connection, you’ll experience some annoying stuttering and skipping that’ll put you at a competitive disadvantage.
Convenient canned chat selections are selectable to communicate during combat. It’s not exactly voice chat, but we consider it an acceptable substitute. To supplement the live action, you can view online stats linked to your profile through an iPhone mircrosite.
We’ll admit that we are bummed that iMech didn’t cash in on the upside we saw a couple of months ago. In its current state, it’s hard to recommend this game because it feels incomplete on several levels. To make a real world analogy, playing iMech is a lot like drinking a Red Bull. Once the immediate high of playing an online shooter on your iPhone wears off, you’ll crash hard when you realize it’s lacking in every way that matters.