Mobigame’s stealth platformer innovates and entertains, but leaves room for improvement.
The folks who brought you EDGE, one of my all time favorite iPhone games, have brought a very different kind of platforming game to the App Store. Perfect Cell is a stealth-action game that, at first glance, looks like an iOS port of Shadow Complex (XLBA). That’s not a bad thing, as Shadow Complex was an award-winning “metroidvania” title that gained high praise among critics. Perfect Cell doesn’t put you in the shoes of a human protagonist, though. Rather, you are put in the… er, tentacles of the perfect cell itself.
Scientists discovered a strange cellular organism that hitchhiked to Earth on a meteor, and have barricaded it in a maze of labs deep beneath the ocean. Unfortunately for them, this cell has a knack for dividing and conquering (literally), and soon becomes a sentient being. This is where you take control. Using your finger to slide or touch the screen, you navigate the glowing, purple, squid-like protagonist through 35 levels of increasing difficulty as you try to find an escape route. I am generally against controlling a character by swiping and touching the main part of the screen on an iPhone, as you end up not being able to see what you’re doing. I was pleasantly surprised with the controls in Prefect Cell. The cell follows your finger whether you tap an area of the screen or drag your finger there. You will instinctively use different methods of control in different situations.
There is an immediate moral choice in the first level of Perfect Cell: “Do I rampage through each area, killing, maiming, and butchering every human I meet? Or do I try to sneak by without killing a soul?” Fans of the Splinter Cell franchise will be very familiar with these choices. One of the members of Mobigame actually worked on the mobile version of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, and you can see the influence in Perfect Cell.
On my initial playthrough, I chose to kill everyone in site, and found kills to be extremely satisfying. The default kill move is your dash, which is enabled by swiping across the screen quickly in any direction. You can also use this move to break through walls and other materials to find secret areas. Later in the game you get the ability to draw a path for the cell to dash along. This move is flat out badass, and allows you to kill multiple targets instantly, or quickly blaze past security guards and bots. Limbs, torsos, and other body parts will fly based on where you strike your enemies. The physics engine is superb, and creates some great kill moments, especially when you bloodily plow through more than one soldier at once! Take out an enemy at the knees, and he fall on his stumps, standing for a second before tumbling over. It’s gross. It’s awesome. You will also gain the ability to divide yourself into smaller cells at some point, which works well for a distract-and-kill technique.
The AI enemies in Perfect Cell are surprisingly impressive. The lab has apparently been taken over by some sort of military/terrorist group, and these guys mean business. If they hear you or see you, they will search out your last known position. They will also react to dead bodies of comrades, or freak out if you brush past them. Luckily, the cell has the ability to turn invisible if remaining still for a few seconds. The trouble is, oftentimes the enemies won’t give you that leisure, and you will have to frantically dash for cover before they turn you into grape jelly. Later on there are actually enemies that can’t be killed, and some that have to be killed from behind. This makes for some great strategic play, even if you choose the easier “run-and-gun” route of killing everyone. I should mention that the game took me 3 1/2 hours to complete using this method of play. I guarantee that play time will double when I attempt to play the entire game without killing a single person. Unfortunately, there’s no way to save your game mid-level. So if you die or make a mistake, you have to start completely over. The levels aren’t necessarily huge, but having to start over makes playing through stealthily a bit frustrating.
Both the graphics and sound in Perfect Cell are absolutely superb. When using headphones, you can hear the lasers buzzing in your ears, and both the direction and intensity of the sound will tell you how close you are to getting fried. (I strongly recommend playing with headphones.) The rest of the sounds are done well too, including some great music for various parts of the game that will get your blood pumping. Perfect Cell’s visuals are a great mix of realistically rendered 3D graphics integrated with old 16-bit styled sprites. All of the enemies and scientists are sprites in the foreground, but the level itself and objects are fully rendered. It sounds odd, but after a few levels I didn’t even think about it. It makes enemies pop out a bit more in the environment, which isn’t a bad thing. The lighting is also impressive as you flash through narrow corridors, misty rooms, and elevator shafts. Seeing a pinkish glow as you charge a draw dash just looks plain cool.
Perfect Cell is very exciting for the first half of the game as you evolve your cell and learn new moves, but things flatten out a bit after that. Sure, the levels get increasingly tough, and there are a couple new elements
that appear, but ultimately you aren’t really doing anything new for the latter half of the game. While I enjoyed myself overall, the last 10 or so levels really seemed to drag on. I was really hoping to learn cool new moves, like being able to control a guard, or perhaps being able to throw down some sort of projection to distract them. Unfortunately, you pretty much learn everything you will use halfway through the game, and the only really cool maneuver is the “dash draw.” I was also disappointed in the way achievements and leaderboards were done. There’s not an obvious indication that you are completing achievements or beating high scores until you go to “Options” and “Scores” from the main menu. Even then, you have to open up that terrible Game Center interface to see anything. I wasn’t even aware I was being timed for playtime as a score until I went here. Also, while you can see your individual level time in the selection menu, there isn’t a leaderboard for this. This seems like a missed opportunity, and having to open up the ugly Game Center interface detracts from the style of the game itself.
Despite some annoyances and a bit of a dry experience towards the end, I really enjoyed my time with Perfect Cell. I’ve completed the entire game – killing as many people as I can – and now it’s time to start over with a focus on stealth. I’ve already played about a 1/4 of the game without killing anyone, and it’s tough. While Perfect Cell isn’t a perfect game, it does a lot of things right. It provides a fun and compelling stealth/action experience in a style that iOS gamers have never seen before, and it does so with all the polish and audio/visual finesse that I’ve come to expect from Mobigame titles. If you decide to play through Perfect Cell using both a peaceful and violent manner of play, you’re easily looking at 6-8 hours of gameplay, which goes far to justify the $5.99 title. Some may find it too “pricey”, but I applaud developers/publishers who are willing to price a game closer to what it’s actually worth, and not the ridiculously cheap 99 cent price point we see so often. Did you enjoy Shadow Complex? Do you have a place in your heart for Sam Fisher, Solid Snake, or other popular stealth action titles? If so, go get Perfect Cell now, it’s worth it. If you’re not a fan of stealth action games, the simple joy of slicing through baddies while limbs fly may be enough to warrant a purchase. Either way, you’re paying a solid price for a damn slick game.