GameCentral reviews a bumper crop of new smartphone games, including Samorost 2, Unmemory, and no less than XCOM 2.
With the world’s eyes diverted by the sudden influx of good news, from the discovery of multiple effective COVID vaccines, to the launches of Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, mobile gaming is having its own mini-bonanza. Whether you enjoy the intricate puzzles and interactive fiction of Unmemory, the rootin’ tootin’ sci-fi-meets-Wild West action of Space Marshals 3, or the full-on AAA goodness of XCOM 2 there’s much to love in this month’s release schedule.
FAR: Lone Sales
iOS & Android, £3.99 (Mixtvision)
Clearly inspired by Limbo and Inside, FAR is set on a side-scrolling shoreline of ruined ships and shattered buildings. Your tiny protagonist starts the game standing alone next to a grave, before you guide them on their eternal mission to walk towards the right-hand side of the screen.
To speed up that journey you soon come across a huge and rickety vehicle that’s powered either by tossing items you pick up from the beach into its furnace, or via a set of massive sales that sprout from its roof. Fuelling, maintaining, upgrading, and clearing a path for the vehicle then comprises the majority of your interaction with the game.
Entirely wordless, and with no instructions whatsoever, you’re left to figure everything out for yourself, and along with the near-monochromatic colour palette, it’s a process that underscores the pervasive sense of loneliness.
iOS & Android, 79p (Xavier Heras Division)
With a minimalist interface, Union is a puzzle game about connecting sets of shapes. Initially you do that by rotating straight and curving lines so that alike shapes are linked, until you’ve joined every node on the screen.
Soon the game starts adding new shapes, the ability to swap tiles as well as rotate them, and far more devious and complex sets of linkages.
There are no tips, and you can’t skip levels, but the absence of a timer and the ambient soundtrack encourage you to keep trying at your leisure. It’s a pleasingly simple way to idle away an hour or two.
iOS, £23.99 (Feral Interactive)
Starting from a point where the aliens have already won, leaving the humans to regroup on a captured alien ship, your job in XCOM 2 is to rebuild your band of plucky rebels and take back the Earth.
As in its four-year-old PC and console forebears, that means engaging in tense, fast-moving turn based combat against the alien menace, while playing a long game of R&D and upgrades aboard your UFO base, while the aliens do the same on Earth.
You can no longer see enemies’ abilities during combat, and their patrols seem to be less mobile in fights, but the mobile version actually adds a 360° rotatable camera and a handy Overwatch All button.
It also fully recreates one of the best AAA games of the last few years on a phone, and while your handset may get a bit warm during play, in the winter months, and provided you’re near a power outlet, that’s almost comforting. An Android version is in the works for 2021.
iOS & Android, £2.99 (Amanita Design)
When your dog gets stolen by aliens it’s time for your hat-wearing hero to take to his own tin can spaceship and give chase, in this classic point ‘n’ click puzzler from the early 2000s.
With a peerless art style that will be familiar to anyone who’s played other Amanita Design games, every animation oozes charm, from the opening logo to the way your spaceman moves and interacts with his environment.
Samorost 2 is still subject to its genre’s dated trial and error gameplay, but it’s so refined and beautifully presented it’s a pleasure to explore from start to finish.
iOS, £Free – remove ads £2.99 (Mikkel Christiansen)
Artfully blending solitaire and match-3, you need to line up three or more cards of the same suit, which then vanish, making way for more cards to arrive from the top of its neat and tidy interface.
You’ll also need to complete short-term goals like setting up matches with cards in numerical ascending or descending order. That adds interest, but unfortunately also underlines how dependent you are on the cards you’re dealt, and those that happen to be sitting in the grid.
The game swiftly adds more suits, and you can buy power ups that let you clear rows, or give you more turns to complete goals, but even though it’s authentic to solitaire, that niggling random factor holds it back.
iOS & Android, £3.99 (Plug In Digital)
Like a great many mobile games, Unmemory starts with a notice advising you to wear headphones. Unlike almost any other mobile game, it also advises you to make notes – and lots of them.
Starting with your character waking up naked and bloodied in a strange flat, events unfold as a mixture of reading and interaction, the pages of its text neatly incorporating the props, clues, and mechanisms you’ll need to unravel its deepening mystery.
Like Simogo’s classic of interactive fiction, Device 6, this cheerfully plays with the format, exploiting both touchscreen and motion sensing for puzzles that require logical deduction, are never unreasonably abstruse and, above all, make you feel smart for solving them.
The Collage Atlas
iOS, Apple Arcade (John William Evelyn)
Set in a perfectly blank, white world that gradually populates itself with trees, shipwrecks, and fragments of architecture, the words that make up this not-quite-story swirl into sentences in front of you as you move.
Beautifully hand-drawn in black and white, you follow lines of arches or paper windmills to the next area, watching the stunning visual delights unfold in front of you.
Unfortunately, despite the high quality of the artwork the text amounts to little more than pseudo-philosophical new age gibberish, and without a plot or anything much to say, the experience is disappointingly hollow.
Space Marshals 3
iOS & Android, free-to-play or £3 (Pixelbite)
With colourful landscapes, a top-down viewpoint, and tactical gameplay that rewards stealth and judicious use of cover, if you’ve played either of the previous Space Marshals games this will be like coming home. Home in this case is a dusty Wild West space opera populated by grizzled astro-criminals and moustachioed, gun-toting lawmen.
Sharing the lofty production values of its predecessors, the third instalment continues in exactly the same vein, which is no bad thing given how universally well received the first two games were.
If there is a complaint, it’s that the aiming mechanic, where you drag your finger in the direction you want to shoot and then release to fire, is prone to inaccuracy, but honestly it’s just nice to have new levels to play through.
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Source: Gaming – Metro