Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Stargate SG-1: Unleashed Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/stargate-sg-1-unleashed-review-d177863b72bc#.60m3pctc6

The Stargate franchise has had a pretty tumultuous relationship with the video game world. I remember hearing about an MMO called Stargate Worlds in development years ago, but their money ran out and the game was never released. A third-person shooter called Stargate: Resistance came out in 2010, but less than a year later they pulled the game from stores and shut down the servers. I was really disappointed that I missed out on it, but Stargate SG-1: Unleashed looks like it is here to stay.

Unleashed is a third-person adventure game for iOS and Android. I can understand the desire to bring console-grade gaming to mobile devices, but despite the fact that the power in our phones is increasing at an incredible rate I don't think this will ever be a viable option.
One very obvious reason is graphics. Unleashed tried to go for photorealism, and as you can see it's pretty bad. This could easily have been avoided if they went with a different art style; for example, some nice cel shading could have given it a comic book feel similar to The Walking Dead. My Nexus 5's Snapdragon 800 is about as high-end as they come right now, so the game ran smooth as butter. Even so, it drained my battery pretty fast so I usually only played when I knew I had access to a charger.

The other big reason that console-like gaming doesn't work on mobile is the way the game is consumed. When I play something on my computer, I have probably made sure that I have a decent chunk of time available. I play mobile games when I am out and about and I have a few minutes to kill. Unleashed acts like a console game in this area, expecting me to sit down and play it for an extended period of time. It doesn't let you save manually, instead relying on checkpoints. I ended up replaying quite a few sections because I had to step away before hitting the next checkpoint.
Gameplay and controls is another area where third-person mobile games struggle. Unleashed uses the expected twin-stick emulation in most areas where you move around, and it works pretty well. Combat is pretty simple: you are crouched behind cover and have to strategically decide when to pop out and shoot at enemies. If you get hit you can just stay behind cover until your character stops panting. Almost everything else in the game is based on quick time events. Seriously. Shimmying along a ledge? Quick time event. Taking out a guard from behind? Quick time event. Drawing a bucket of water out of a freaking well? You'd better be ready for a quick time event, my friend! Ugh.
Let's talk about some positive stuff! The story was well-written and interesting. Most of the voice acting was by the actors from the show, so it was both congruent with my expectations and it was quality voice acting. If the story or acting had been worse you can bet that I would not have finished the game.

Ultimately Stargate SG-1: Unleashed is only worth playing if you are a super fan of Stargate. I am interested in the story enough to get the second episode, but I am seriously disappointed in its quality as a game.