We take to the medieval streets of Camelot, to kick some Unreal Engine powered butt.
It’s been a long time coming, but here is that Unreal Engine-based game we’ve been promised from Gameloft for some time now. If you are not already familiar with Wild Blood, it’s not a first person shooter that we expected when Gameloft announced they’d be using Unreal Engine 3 to power their future games, nor is it an Infinity Blade clone (part of me expected it would be). No, it’s actually a new 3rd person action adventure, akin to their Hero of Sparta series of games.
In it you play as Sir Lancelot, who after copping off with King Arthur’s wife, must defeat Morgana and her demonic minions that Arthur inadvertently released when he threw the hissy fit of all hissy fits! Never rub another mans rhubarb fellas!
It’s your usual action-adventure fare. Bash the action buttons in a variety of ways to pull off various attacks – which can include special elemental attacks of Ice, Fire and Lightning – and clear each area of nasty demon spawn.
As usual, Gameloft’s virtual-stick and action button combo controls are excellent, allowing you to move Lancelot around and execute moves with ease (well as much ease as you can without real buttons). It’s not quite up there with Hero of Sparta 2’s action control however, and if there is one gripe, it’s that the camera controls could have been tighter. Perhaps with a dedicated turn-180 button, as Lancelot often find himself facing the wrong way.
Despite this being a button masher, it’s not all without it’s need for some skill. There are a good variety of enemies, ranging in size and strength, and with differing attacks. Some come at you at close quarters, while others choose to attack from a distance with arrows or fireballs. These differences require a different plan of attack of your own, and so while dodging the flurry of demons you’ll need to keep your wits about you and switch between melee weapons (sword or dual axes) or long-range weapons (bow and arrows). This not only keeps the action intense, but also stops it becoming too repetitive.
Unlike Hero of Sparta, and many other action games, Gameloft have added a decent amount of weapons customisation. This lets you spend your coinage earned in the game on power-ing up your favourite weapons. Each time you save our game at once of the many checkpoints, you can spend you cash on attributes such as; Damage, Critical, Quicken, and your elemental power too. The level to which you can upgrade each attribute increases in price after each upgrade boost, so it pays to pick up all coins and loot as many chests as possible.
But, be warned, there is the lure of In-App-Purchase at every corner. Don’t have enough coins to upgrade your weapons? Don’t worry for a few $/£ it can be yours. Did you die half-way through a hectic battle, and you don’t want to go back to the checkpoint. Don’t worry a few more $/£ will revive you exactly where you left off.
If fact Wild Blood seems to be Gameloft’s most shameless money grab to date, with the whole game’s difficulty seemingly centered around trying to push more and more IAP (In-App-Purchase) on you. As I said before, every time you save the game, it drops you into the upgrade shop. To make matters worse these items seem to be priced just beyond the financial reach of the hard earned coins you may have picked up in the level before. You can go back and play previous levels and get more coins (as I did to power up my bow for a mid-game boss fight), but the lure of IAP purchase might be too great for those without the patience to grind through the game.
I can understand a gamer wanting to pay an extra $5 or $10 on powering up Lancelot, but $100? Come on Gameloft, that’s just taking the piss! That option simply should not be there. Like Morgana, it’s pure evil. When a game is $6.99, you don’t expect to be quite so bombarded with calls to spend your cash.
So, this brings us into the question on most peoples lips and that is the visuals. The Unreal Engine 3 visuals in fact. Well, to be honest, on first look I didn’t really notice anything that couldn’t have been done with Gameloft’s own in-house engine (which gets more impressive each year e.g. NOVA3). But look closer, and the detail – particular geometry – is finer. The same can be said for the textures which, while not consistently of a high quality, do look more realistic, and feature better lighting and bump/normal map techniques that Unreal does so well. A peculiar omission though is that of any realtime shadows. If there was one thing that the Unreal Engine does well, it’s shadows. But here each character simply has a gradiated semi-transparent circle at their feet.
Overall though, it does look great for an iOS game. Levels have a grand scale to them – not open world large, but enough to give the game an epic feel. And the enemies, while not original (some even look recycled from previous games), are detailed, varied, and well animated. However, it seems an odd choice of a game to use as their first step into Unreal Engine technology, particularly when they have only scratched the surface for what it’s graphically capable of doing on iOS (see Infinity Blade 2)
Music is beautifully composed, and a real standout. Sounding like a mix between Gladiator and Game of Thrones, it perfectly captures the tone and beats of the story, where the writing and voice work can seem a bit dumb. The voice work, really is not great – bordering once again on 80’s porn in its delivery. It doesn’t help that the limited facial animation makes them all look like ventriloquist dummies. In fact in the end sequence the animators seemed to go on strike with the characters did not even moving their lips – and this during one of the key moments in the game.
Speaking of the ending to the game – a showdown with a cyclops – it’s a real cheap shot. [SPOILER ALERT] After an epic battle with said cyclops (which is very Metroid-elda in tone) it turns out you can’t defeat him after all, and that Merlin will send you back in time to find a stronger bow. Sure, you get to keep your powers and earnings from the game before, but your looking at a further 6-8 hours gameplay (against harder foes I might add) just to get the full ending… That’s if there even is one. It seems Gameloft don’t quite get the idea of Game+. It’s there for additional content, yes. But you should still get a full ending on the first play through.
The multiplayer mode – not usually seen in a hack’n-slash – brings FPS-like modes to Wild Blood. Team Deathmatch and Capture the flag are available to play with up to 8 players over WiFi or local, and across the six or so environments. Interestingly, the multiplayer removes your characters stats and starts you out a fresh, so don’t think that $100 you spent on IAP will give you the upper hand, it won’t. I think this is great, particularly for those who come late to a game, only to find everyone has super-powers. While fun, I don’t see the multiplayer of Wild Blood, with it’s limited options, will become a hit of the likes of NOVA3 or Modern Combat 3.
Wild Blood leaves me both hungry for more, and cold for it at the same time. At it’s core there is a great hack ‘n slash experience, up there in fact with Gameloft’s Hero of Sparta series, and at times even God of War (the definitive slasher). However, the constant badgering to spend more money through in-app-purchase leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Then, the kick in the teeth, after six plus hours of enjoyable romp through Arthurian lands, is that crappy ending, which removes any lingering happy memories for the story mode of the game, with only the fun, if short-lived, multiplayer to keep you warm at night.
Wild Blood is out now for $6.99