The Drowning might sound like the emo band that the kids in the flat downstairs are into this week, but no — it’s a new iOS shooter from Mobage that’s making a lot of heady claims about revolutionizing touchscreen action games.
The mobile FPS is a damsel in distress with a lot of would-be white knights right now. The many games in development claiming to “revolutionize” first-person action games for mobile devices is a tacit admission of something that anybody who’s ever spent five minutes playing an iOS shooter knows: the genre just plain sucks on a touchscreen device.
Surely there will be great rewards for the game that manages to make the world’s most popular video game genre work on the world’s fastest growing games platform. Let’s see if The Drowning can pull the sword from the stone.
Let’s get some basic stuff out of the way. The Drowning is a game by Mobage — if that means nothing to you, it suffices to say that that means this game is freemium out the wazoo. The act of playing the game is frequently obstructed by timers, and cooldowns, and macguffins to collect, all of which can be circumvented by those willing to part with currency. Let’s not waste time tsking at the inclusion of this stuff in a Mobage title because that’s like being totally shocked when your cat tries to eat your goldfish.
We can dispense with the plot pretty quickly, too: a horrible calamity has befallen the world and most of your fellow humans have been turned into zombies who resemble BillyWitchDoctor.com from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. You kill them and they drop geegaws which can be assembled into weapons, so you can kill more of them and they can drop more geegaws, ad infinitum. The levels where you play time-limited “horde mode”-style missions have an Eastern European rust belt feel that recalls Half-life 2.
It’s more interesting to look at The Drowning’s revolutionary control scheme. Here’s the revolutionary bit, are you ready? Instead of tapping on the screen with a finger where you want to shoot (that controls movement in The Drowning), you tap two fingers on the screen and your bullet will impact a point between them. Ta-da. That’s it. That’s the revolution.
The fundamental problem with touchscreen shooters isn’t hard to spot. On PC or console, you control your actions with a mouse/keyboard or controller — on the touchscreen you’re tapping the monitor, covering up the thing that’s showing you what the heck is going on. You’re basically pulling the trigger of the gun with your eyeballs. On top of that, there’s an ergonomic problem: console and PC shooters assume that you’re sitting up facing the screen from a certain distance. On touchscreens, there’s a much bigger number of possibilities to consider. Are you holding your iPhone in your hands? Is it propped up in your lap while you’re on the couch? Is it on a desk or table in front of you?
The Drowning seems to assume that you’re playing with your device in front of you on a table — playing one-handed while standing up (as you would do in the cash machine queue or on the bus) is a proper chore. The Drowning attempts to design around this limitation by giving you little reason to move.
Being zombies, your enemies charge at you like teenage girls trying to catch a glimpse of the Beatles arriving at Kennedy Airport. Enemies with ranged attacks who keep their distance show up after the first few levels, but there’s never any reason to move behind cover or consider different approaches. The optimum solution is always to stay in place, pumping rounds into the Billy Witch Doctors as quickly as possible. With little reason to move your feet, you’ll spend the average mission pirouetting around like the most heavily-armed prima ballerina in the Bolshoi.
If you’re utterly desperate to play an FPS and don’t have a PC or a console, then The Drowning might be worth a spin. But this isn’t the Half-life of iOS shooters. It’s not even the Mortyr of iOS shooters. Judged as a shooting gallery game it’s mostly inoffensive, but if this is the revolution then I’ll have the ancien régime back, if you don’t mind.
The game was played on an iPhone 4S and iPad 4th-gen for this review.