Mass Effect: Infiltrator review: play on your iPhone, win on your Xbox
Run, sneak, and blast your way to intergalactic victory in Mass Effect 3 by playing its little brother on iPhone and iPad.
Mass Effect: Infiltrator launched on iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad last week to accompany the highly-anticipated Mass Effect 3 game on PC and consoles. At its core, Infiltrator is a classic duck-and-cover third-person shooter, with the usual Mass Effect twist of biotic powers, which are incredible, seemingly-magical abilities. This creates a great fast-paced environment where at one minute you're sliding behind a spaceship bulkhead just as your cloaking device is running out of juice, the next you're rolling out and unloading a plasma-fuelled shotgun into some brainless robot drone, and the next you're levitating foes where they helplessly scramble mid-air as you sprint by to escape.
Unlike a lot of mobile spin-offs, Mass Effect: Infiltrator plays a direct and significant role in your experience with the Xbox 360, PS3, or computer game. It's all a part of the Galaxy at War system. See, the premise of Mass Effect 3 pits a grizzled war vet against an unstoppable space menace, which culminates in a big final conflict. By playing Mass Effect: Infiltrator on your iPhone or iPad, you gather resources for the intergalactic war effort by way of intel dropped by in-game enemies. Even if you don't have Mass Effect 3, you can trade that intel for in-game cash to purchase new guns, abilities, armor, and other goodies. Of course, you earn that cash just by playing through missions, plus you can also pay real money for Infiltrator money through in-app purchasing. Progression through these upgrades is a little slow, but that just gives you a lot of time to chew on the game. There's definitely enough variety to let you create a highly-customized character that suits your playstyle. Now, I haven't bought Mass Effect 3 yet, so can't comment on exactly how rewarding this Galaxy at War system is, but I can tell you that the more I play Infiltrator, the more I want to just stop everything and get through playing Mass Effect 2 so I can move on to 3.
The controls were good, and though they were still steeped in the dual-joystick mentality, there were no clunky overlays like you often see in console-to-mobile ports. Instead, you have a whole touch region at either side. The left side is used to move around, and hop between/around cover with swipes, and the right side controls which direction you look in. I found my self occasionally straying from the touch area, leading to stupid moments where I was staring at a wall while being shot at from all sides, but for the most part it's smooth and accurate. Your touch input leaves a cool, high-tech trail which is a nicely subtle form of feedback. There are additional buttons tucked into the top-left and -right corners to access biotic powers and weapon selection, and they're implemented with a very slick drag-and-release mechanism.
Combat was relatively straightforward, but relied heavily on precision. After tapping an enemy, you don't have to worry about tapping a trigger button, you just have to aim with the right thumb. You need to make sure the crosshairs are right on the bad guy (preferably near the head) since you'll just keep shooting until your gun overheats and you have to duck behind cover again. Shortly after dropping an enemy, you have a second of slow-mo Matrixy goodness to switch targets before going back to regular movement mode. The more enemies you can drop in quick succession, the more style points you rack up. If you're caught outside of cover, it doesn't take long to get torn to shreds. I would have preferred to play this Infiltrator on an iPad, if only to be more screen to work with when zeroing in on enemies and running where you mean to in the middle of a firefight. For some reason, I found with this game more than others that having big hands on such a small screen made fine maneuvers hard to pull off.
Gameplay is broken up into combat encounters, which are rated out of fives stars based on style, time, and health. I've found style a finnicky scoring criteria, but it's supposedly graded based on how quickly you kill enemies, and switching weapons mid-gunfight, but I still don't have it nailed down. The storyline deserves a big shout-out. The premise is that you start off as a part of a human supremacist group called Cerberus, but eventually go AWOL to pursue your own objectives when it becomes obvious your boss is crazy. You're occasionally provided with decision points to be a good guy or a badass, but really, you're winning whichever way to you go. Combat missions usually have a little nugget of storyline wedged in-between, along with some pseudo open-world exploration where you can get credits just by tapping on hidden consoles. Though the dialogue is pretty to-the-point, I've found the plot to weave nicely into the Mass Effect universe.
The graphics and sound are both awesome. In that sense, I would say the game is at least on par with Infinity Blade, which is unsurprising, seeing as EA made that one too. A lot of the sound effects you'll recognize from the Mass Effect franchise - gunfire, UI elements, voice acting... It's all very familiar, and that's a good thing. The developer also made the mobile port for Dead Space, and if you've played that at all, you'll find that the 3D models and lighting are very much in the same ballpark.
One feature that deserves a footnote is the integration of Origin. This is basically EA's answer to the Steam distribution network, and has a lot of the same features, like friends lists with chat, joining games with friends, and buying new titles. Since I've already invested a lot into Steam, I begrudge Origin existing in the first place, but the fact that it's tied into mobile games now while Steam isn't may tip the scales for me. Origin has started Steam-esque sales, with many of their PC titles currently half off, which is great and all, but that's not quite enough to sell me on the paltform. As is, the installed base isn't there, meaning none of my friends are actively using the system, which makes its addition in Infiltrator needless bloatware. I have no doubt that consistently shoving Origin down our throat game after game will eventually work, but the fact that it needs to be forced just goes to show the lack of any real need for the system.
- Great sound and graphics
- Clever tie-in with console title
- Good mix of stealth, shooting, and light role-playing
- Controls a little too sensitive for iPhone (as opposed to iPad)
- Charm of franchise may be lost if you've never played Mass Effect
- Origin presence feels forced
The bottom line
Mass Effect: Infiltrator is an excellent buy for fans of the franchise. The game is high enough quality that it merits the $7 pricetag, but odds are that if you don't already have a history with the Mass Effect games, you aren't going to be interested enough in the game to drop that much. Even though Infiltrator plays a big role in the Galaxy at War system in Mass Effect 3 for consoles and PC, I still had a ton of fun playing it as an entirely stand-alone game. Infiltrator is a universal app, but I would suggest playing on the iPad, not only to appreciate the graphics, but also to have an easier time with the controls.
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