We all know what to expect in the western genre - cowboys, shootouts, bar brawls... Sometimes a slight twist is needed to keep things fresh. Two iPhone games, Death Call and Warm Gun, take the classic western feel and throw in a bit of sci-fi charm.
Add an unnecessary cog here, a tesla generator there, some ostentatious goggles, and blammo, you've got a steampunk game in the old west. Despite it being a pretty small niche, each title tackles the challenge very differently. Which is better? Which is most shiny? We loaded them both up on the iPhone for an old-fashioned, new-fangled shootout, and you better believe we aimed to misbehave -- iMore style.
Warm Gun is a 3D shooter built on the Unreal Engine with a single game mode - deathmatch. The first player to hit a certain number of kills wins. If you're looking to mix it up, there's a free single-player version called Carnival of Bullets which offers simple (but fun) target practice, and gives you a feel for the controls. There are four characters to chose from, each with their own selection of weapons. The 49'er is a miner with a robot leg who packs a pistol, lever-action shotgun, and a bottle of hooch with a lighter at the ready. The Blacksmith has a rusty, decrepit minigun that never seems to run out of bullets. The creepy shaman runs around in a gas mask and a tribal stuff that doubles as a cattle prod. Lastly, the preacher stoically bears twin pistols and lays down some fire and brimstone justice like a boss. Battles take place on one of six maps which are each replete with hazards (like barrels of TNT) and interactive elements (namely shooting targets to open gates). There's offline and online modes, but online is done through a clunky GameSpy partnership, and not Game Center.
Is it any good? Well, I'm not a fan of mobile games that try too hard to be console games to begin with, even if a recognized 3D engine has been shoehorned into the mobile platform. The texture details in Warm Gun are pretty good, but there are a lot of UI elements that feel out of place, like the respawn timer and the player names when hovering the crosshairs over others. The controls could be a big bigger, especially the reload and firing button, but I do like that the fire button lets you adjust aim while shooting nonstop. Warm Gun's strongest suit is its flavour - although it's distinctly within the western genre, the game takes place in a gritty post-apocalypse setting shortly after World War III. Warm Gun will also available on PC, which means there are still a few more levels, characters, and game modes which might make the leap to iPhone at some point.
Death Call is more of a classic target range style game with a few tweaks. Enemies pop out from behind cover, and you have to shoot them down before they start shooting at you. The controls are very straightforward: pan the crosshairs with your left thumb, and fire with your right. They've included a really nice implementation of the accelerometer for reloading. Popping your iPhone to one side definitely feels like you're opening up the cylinders of a six-shooter in the heat of a firefight. There are different types of enemies with varying attributes, but those aren't the only things that pop up on screen. Sometimes there are bombs that you have to destroy by shooting at them (?!) before they blow up, and there are also power ups for cash and health that show up randomly.
Every level consists of several waves, between which you heal up, and have a chance to buy some more bullets. If you're running low on health, the protagonist has this totally sweet extendo-shield that gives him a few moments of respite to catch his breath - just make sure you pop it when you really need it, because you'll have to weather another minute of bullets before using it again. Every time you kill a bad guy, you get some cash which you can spend on various types of weapons and upgrades. There are also weapon licenses which can be subbed in for cash when buying guns. You get those through standard gameplay, but you can also spend real dollars to acquire them through in-app purchases. If that doesn't tickle your fancy, you can also earn weapon permits by reviewing the game, sharing it on Twitter and Facebook, or through the randomized daily draw. Finally, every level has a little puzzle game, which you play through to get another piece of the ongoing storyline.
I can safely say that I had a lot of fun playing Death Call, even if it isn't quite as aggressive with the steampunk styling as Warm Gun. The shield is pretty cool, and there are some tesla-themed weapons available to unlock, but not until later in the game.
How do the two compete? Well, they both don't do particularly well on the multiplayer front, simply by virtue of there being nearly nobody to play with. Death Call wins by a hair for implementing multiplayer through Game Center and providing some interesting multiplayer-only unlockables and perks. Overall, I had more fun playing Death Call for sheer simplicity of play. I'm sure if Warm Gun tidied up their control scheme, it would feel more natural, but for now it's obvious that it's being built for PC first and foremost, while the iPhone version feels like an afterthought. Not only did Death Call have more fluid shooting action, there was a much wider array of gameplay involved. Many levels in the single player campaign were interspersed with puzzles, and there were a ton of unlockable weapons which could be subsequently be upgraded. The in-app purchasing was also very compelling; you could buy in-game cash with which you could unlock and buy more weapons. There was also the odd opt-in video ad where you could earn some more coin just for sitting through a spiel for another app. One weapon could be unlocked if you convinced a friend to download the game and you get them to give you a code.
The developers, Toy Chest Games and Emotional Robots, are both smaller companies, so I've been willing to cut them a bit of slack on the production values when it comes to graphics. I definitely wasn't expecting anything Infinity Blade-quality when getting into them. That being said, I found Death Call did a better job of punching their weight by going with a simple 2D game and good art direction given the format. Meanwhile, Warm Gun showed more ambition trying to tackle the Unreal Engine for iOS. The gun models and reload animations are really, really good, but it's hard to make out much of the fine character and level detail when moving around. There were also the few interface irregularities I had mentioned earier.
As far as sound goes, Warm Gun has excellent music. Some of the sound effects are a little low-fidelity and repetitive, but overall, I was impressed. Death Call doesn't fare quite as well on audio. There are cutscenes between each level explaining a long, winding plotline, and though the dialogue is purposefully cheesy, it's also painfully cheesy. The quality of the voice recordings weren't particularly great; it sounded like it was just the devs using their iPhones to record dialogue. During gameplay, enemies in Death Call make this really gross, wet sound as their various entrails hit the ground. Not particularly appetizing hearing that time and again - bring on the Wilhelm screams instead.
The bottom line
If I had to give it to one or the other, I would side with Death Call. Not only is it free (versus $1.99 for Warm Gun), the gameplay is much smoother, and the progression with unlockables is way more rewarding. Warm Gun definitely gets points for creativity, both in terms of level design and setting. There is also a lot of potential in working with the Unreal Engine, but for now its performance is stunted by cumbersome controls.
$1.99 - [Download Warm Gun Now]
Free - [Download Death Call Now]
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