The Collectables Hands-On Preview

Crytek is best known for their gorgeous CryEngine graphics engine, which has powered all of the Crysis games on PC and consoles. Now they’re bringing a modified version of their signature technology to mobile devices in The Collectables, a free-to-play game published by DeNA.

The Collectables is inspired by the personality-filled, squad-based action movies and TV shows of the 1980s (think A-Team meets Rambo). You control four mercenaries who are dropped into a jungle to complete a task, like rescuing a hostage, stealing intelligence, or just blowing up every enemy in sight.

These jungles are very attractive, with dense, lush foliage that sways in the breeze. You can zoom in to appreciate the finer details, and when a firefight results in a series of explosion, it lights up the screen beautifully.

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You can tap on the screen to move the mercenaries in a group, or drag them individually to position them behind cover. Unlike in X-Com: Enemy Unknown, your mercenaries will automatically lock onto their own targets, making combat feel very fast.

If this was the full extent of The Collectable’s gameplay, it wouldn’t be too interesting. What makes it unique are the special abilities, represented by cards that you drag into play from the bottom of the screen. For example, the decoy card will draw enemies to a hologram target. The Howitzer card will deliver a huge artillery strike, and the healing station will regenerate your soldiers’ hitpoints.

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These cards can only be used once per mission, and they’re dealt in a random order, five at a time. You can customize your deck between missions, and you’ll gradually unlock more powerful cards as you progress. Think of them as the military version of spells from a fantasy game—you’ll feel like a military commander dropping bombs on your enemies from afar.

Like the ability cards, your mercenaries can be customized, too. They’re also represented by cards, and you can upgrade them using fuel (the regular in-game currency of The Collectables). Plus, if you register for the game early by clicking here, you’ll receive an exclusive character when The Collectables launches next week.

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Freemium action games like The Gate and The Drowning are increasingly common on the App Store, but The Collectables has a distinguished pedigree due to Crytek’s history. It plays very quickly and smoothly, with standout visuals, and we can see how the card-collecting aspect can easily catch on. The Collectables will be out next week on the App Store for free, and on Android shortly afterwards. If you’ve got a New Zealand account, you can start dealing death from a pack of cards right now.