Has ‘Eliminate’ finally met it’s deathmatch with Villain’s ‘Archetype’? Short answer… Yes!
The first person shooter continues to thrive on the iDevices, and while Gameloft’s N.O.V.A still rules the roost with it’s single player campaign mode, it’s ngmoco’s Eliminate Pro that owns the multiplayer space. Both games succeed because of tight controls, and unless a developer gets that right, all the fancy graphics and presentation are worthless.
Step forward then Villain, and their new online frag fest called ‘Archetype’. Opting to take on Eliminate, Archetype is also an online only game with no single player campaign mode, so N.O.V.A can breath easy… for now!
The first thing that hits you in the game is a great looking cutscene, setting the scene and story for the super space soldiers that you will shortly become. Despite not really needing it, it’s an example of how much polish the guys at Villain have given this game, and it doesn’t end there. Even the menu screens look great as they swoosh in with a 3D effect, but it’s the in-game graphics themselves that impress the most, particularly on the iPhone 4 screen for which it is optimised.
Textures, environments and the soldiers themselves are all rendered with high detail and move very smoothly. In Eliminate everything has a very low resolution feel to it, primarily no doubt to reduce lag in multiplayer matches and keep everything running smoothly. However, Archetype runs even smoother than Eliminate despite the high quality graphics and…. get this… Five on five multiplayer. Yup! Even when playing with nine others on screen, I didn’t notice a speed drop, something which Eliminate and it’s 4 players struggled with at times, even over wifi.
There are 5 maps to choose from, and while a couple are a little dull and warrant a veto, they are all pretty well designed for the most part. They offer plenty of places to hide and ambush, as well as warp gates and jump pads to make a swift exit. One level in particular sees you frantically holding firm in a small corner area, as you fend off the enemy from the precision rifle weapon. With two access points where the enemy can rush you, it can get pretty exciting. Unlike many multiplayer FPS’s, Archetype includes a radar so you can spot the enemies general vicinity. It harks back to my Goldeneye days, and while many of you will see this as making it too easy, I think it adds to the frantic nature of the game, as well as discouraging camping.
There’s no doubt more maps will be added in updates, but one thing I would have liked to see more of is game modes. Currently it’s just team death match on offer, and up until now we have yet to see a capture the flag or HQ style mode in any game, which is a missed opportunity.
Thankfully, from the get go there are a good selection of weapons. And unlike Eliminate you don’t need to be a millionaire to get them, or sink hours into the game to gain them. Much like Goldeneye, or Unreal and Quake 3, various weapons spawn at points in the game where anyone playing can pick them up and use them… again, much like the radar it adds to the frantic pace as you all run madly for the rocket launcher, or the brutal axe! The hardcore credit fiend might not like this approach, but for pick up and play fragging it’s the best way.
For me Archetype has my favourite twin virtual stick setup of any shooter to hit the AppStore thus far… yes even N.O.V.A and Call of Duty: Zombies. They are incredibly responsive, and with a perfect default aim and move balance… not too loose and not to restrictive. I have yet to move around a map as naturally as this without using a mouse. Your weapon auto-fires, which I think works well on buttonless devices, though you can turn this off in the options. For melee attacks, you tap the radar, which can be accidentally triggered instead of your primary weapon, but for the most part it works well. You can hold two weapons at a time, as well as grenades, and much like Halo, you can switch between them at will, and swap out the gun you are currently holding with a pickup.
Now onto the negatives, and the first of these is the lobby system. It’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but it needs work. Joining a game is easy enough, simply hit Team Deathmatch from the menu and you’ll be thrown into the lobby system, where it will find a game for you based on your default location, which you can switch to other areas if you prefer (Europe, Asia, America etc). The game is created from random players, which fill the available slots in a list, with 5 slots for team orange and 5 for team blue. A 40 second time limit counts down before the game starts, in which time you can veto the chosen map until everyone is happy. Over wifi I was in an eight player game in around 2 minutes.
So, what can be improved? Well if all you want to do is play a quick random game then it’s all good. However if, like me, you have friends online you would like to play, it’s not easy enough to add them in and get fragging. Instead, you must exit the lobby and select ‘challenge’ from the menu. Here you can invite players to play you, sending them a push based invite. Thanks to a recent update, this works quite well, allowing you to play with just your friends without strangers turning up uninvited, but we’d still like to see closer integration from an in-game menu.
General friend management needs work too, currently you must exit the lobby to visit your friends list and look through the recent players list in order to find the player you want to buddify and add them as a friend. It would be better to be able to select players profiles in the lobby while waiting 40 seconds for the next game and add them there, but after a game it randomly selects new players.
Worse still, after a game you are given a rival in the stats, this is someone who killed you the most, but there is no way to directly add him as a friend or play him again immediately without faffing about in the buddy menu.
Hopefully Villain will look at these user interface tweaks in the next update, or perhaps they are waiting for Apple’s own Game Center, which should make lobby systems and friends list all the easier.
My other negative is that while I’ve already said that this game looks great, and even better on iPhone 4, stylistically though we’ve seen it all before. Halo style space marines battling it out in metallic chambers…. Yawn! It’s a small negative, but one I feel may hurt the game in the long run, without a style of it’s own. For example, setting it in the world of espionage like the previously mentioned Goldeneye would have been cool.
Finally, if i’m going to split hairs, then the death sounds in-game are very repetitive, and during a 5 on 5 match can be quite annoying after a while…. more sound variety please!
Overall then and Archetype is very impressive first foray in to the online FPS genre for Villain. It’s not necessarily better on all accounts than Eliminate though, instead I would say that it offers a great alternative experience. Yes it’s not free like Eliminate, but at least you don’t need to pay to keep up with the big boys. For $2.99 you get great graphics, one of the best control systems I have played, and smooth 5 on 5 action. Through updates and tweaks I can see Archetype, like a fine wine, getting better with age. For that reason I’m giving it a 4, allowing for plenty of room to grow.
Archetype is out now for $2.99. Get it on
This game was tested on a 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPad. Our gamertag is TouchGEN. See you online!