Review: Archangel

By Sean Clancy 20 Jan 2014 0
"Yeah, you can still pet the rabbits guys. Just, *sniff* just don't turn around..." "Yeah, you can still pet the rabbits guys. Just, *sniff* just don't turn around..."

There's a hasty, poorly-reasoned argument to be made that we're all just trying to be gods when we play games. Gods as fathers, mothers, masters, lawmakers, lawbreakers—all-powerful, all-knowledgeable and all-important, essentially. This power fantasy is all the more explicit in post-Diablo action-RPGs, what with that genre-refining game's quite literal treatment of human-seraphim relations.

In Unity Games' iOS action RPG Archangel, you'll call flames forth with a swipe of your finger, freeze foes with quick flicks of arctic wind, and raise the dead by drawing sacred circles of regenerative magicks (the “k” makes a difference). All the powers of the cosmos are manifest in your digits. And damn if you won't still manage to screw everything up--like a mortal--anyway.

You have to give props to Archangel just for the sheer amount and variety of abilities your avenging avatar can possess. For a title that at first glance comes off as a glorified tech demo for the Unity engine, there really is a surprising amount of depth in terms of character progression. You begin the game with naught but a basic fireball attack which can also be charged for knockback and extra damage. Tap or hold on your target and you'll launch some cleansing flames their way. (Archangel's titular angel, despite holding an axe and having melee weapons as equipment options, doesn't seem to have a melee attack, which would be a problem if said attack was replaced by anything but easily spammed finger fire.)

Soon after you'll learn to shield bash to knock enemies around, create walls of fire by dragging along the ground, conjure icy explosions with a quick check-mark sweep, and even summon meteors by writing a lowercase “r” for... some reason. It all works pretty well. The flame wall is particularly effective, either as a trap for melee enemies (oh yeah, they're, like, demons) closing into attack range, or as a long-range strike more precise and reliable than the fireball. The introduction of the freeze opens up several crunchy combos, and there's nothing quite as satisfying here as immobilizing a whole gaggle of nasties and calling a meteor down in their midst.

Team Round Shields v. Team Tower Shields: who you with? Team Round Shields v. Team Tower Shields: who you with?

Keep in mind these are the basic moves you'll always have at the ready. Archangel also employs an equipment-based system for further specializing. Gear boosts stats like attack, defense, and movement speed—naturally—but items can also be associated with new abilities which dramatically change how you play.

A pendant, for example, can gift you with a beam attack which replaces your fireball's charge, or a cleaver weapon might give you a so-called “magic blade” which swaps out for your fire wall. The handful of items are arranged in sets (a few lower-tier, a few middle, and a few endgame sets), and new powers can be associated with both individual items within a set and with the bonus associated with wearing all four of a kind. My angel rolled for a time with a flame set which gave him a damaging aura, and faster cooldown for special moves; then later with an illusion set which sported two tricky clones, and a passive which could automatically teleport me out of harm's way if it hadn't been activated recently. Archangel also mixes up these powers among sets, with, say, the teleport available in a set with magic beam emphasizing a different play style than the pure illusion build.

Conceptually, it's great. And even though the upper-tier gear is fairly expensive (and, yes, there are in-app purchases for in-game currency), they don't seem entirely out of reach, especially considering Archangel's attitude towards loot. After the completion of a level, you can wager the loot and coins you collect (just from killing things, really) to get a boost for the same in the next level. Complete that next level, and you get everything, plus the boost. Fail, and you lose what you wagered.

Sooner or later, the house always wins. That's doubly true when the house is run by demons and you're a clumsy teleporter. Sooner or later, the house always wins. That's doubly true when the house is run by demons and you're a clumsy teleporter.

Oh, and you will fail, even with all your power. That's the thing with Archangel: as great as its complexities are, they step on each other a bit. The game feels crowded. It gets the character-building right, it gives you a slew of neat powers, the story is... well, at least they don't pretend to have a good story (DEMONZ ARE BAD). But overall the thing is janky as hell.

The most basic example comes from the “interaction” between your teleport move and the basic fireball attack. You see, in addition to walking around all mundane-like through Archangel's (too similar, too uninspired) levels, you can double-tap anywhere in sight to teleport there—just another example of the game's full commitment to giving the player all the power they could ever want. Except... this funks the combat up a bit. As you're flinging fireballs at a foe—usually one of the chunkier, mini-boss fellas who can knock you out in a few blows—you're going to be tapping on them rather quickly, and it's very easy for the game to misconstrue a double-tap on a foe with a double-tap immediately next to a foe, teleporting your character smack into a crippling blow.

This is a minor misstep which happens enough to become a huge issue. Play it long enough, and you'll start to see Archangel's many, many ambitions chafe some under the natural limitations of designing an ARPG for touch devices. Special moves are mostly accurate, but never enough where you feel complete confidence in your ability to execute a freeze or teleport when you need it. The moment to moment of combat feels mostly good, but never reaches that fever of unbroken slaughter which action RPGs trade in—rather, it's combo, combo, kite by teleporting and shield bashing away from danger, try to whittle down a foe with fireballs, screw up, try to freeze the demons surrounding you, accidentally trigger a magic blade, run away, and so on. You're not a sure-handed god twisting the fabric of reality to Its will, but an unsure mortal overburdened with but a fraction of cosmic power, and using it for magic tricks.

Aww, the red flaming skull just means he *likes* ya. Aww, the red flaming skull just means he *likes* ya.

This tedious imprecision rarely results in death, as enemies' strength scales up and down with your health (which also functions as a score multiplier, and goes up as you kill things), but it's also just not enjoyable. The game has an artificial skill ceiling no amount of practice can surmount.

Still, Archangel is a nice bit of cheese. I appreciate that, with all its imperfections, it lets the player pull off some cheap stuff as well—hitting brain-dead enemies from outside their sight range; teleporting to pedestals outside of melee range; re-summoning the same minion after it dies, over and over again; and so on. If you're fine with blustering your way through levels, face-checking everything, taking most projectiles to the face, and occasionally pulling off something slick, you'll have a good time. Come the late game, though, and you'll find Archangel speaks more to what could be than what is, and that its heavenly intentions come crashing down to earth in glorious fashion.

Archangel was played on a 3rd-gen iPad for this review.

Review: Archangel

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