Published on October 15th, 2012 | by Travis Fahs0
Death Dome Review
Is the cost of free really worth it?
Infinity Blade and its sequels are among the most envied iPhone exclusives. Designed as a showcase for the mobile version of the Unreal Engine, its unique touchscreen gameplay and incredible visuals made it a flagship title for Apple. Glu Mobile has been keenly interested in capitalizing on this with two Blood & Glory titles that follow Infinity Blade’s template closely. Death Dome represents the publisher’s third attempt at the emerging genre, this time helmed by the capable and experienced Griptonite Games.
While the basic gameplay and structure is pretty similar to Glu’s previous efforts, Death Dome brings with it some much needed personality, as well as a lot of polish. The opening cutscene, rendered in a comic-book style that evokes Borderlands, sets the stage for you, a lone female freedom fighter who makes it her goal to take down the giant “Behemoths” in the hopes of lifting the quarantine imprisoning her and other survivors. Despite the dark themes, this is a lighthearted game, with wacky weapons like a honey badger on a stick or a reanimated, severed arm and it brings back some fuzzy memories of the late ‘90s ultraviolent video games like Mortal Kombat and Time Killers.
The world is colorful in its own way, and the enemies are varied, fun, and interesting, ranging from zombies, to robots, to 200-foot giants. The graphics sport some impressive details that help to sell the wacky cast of mutants and misfits, and the animations are genuinely top-notch. Of course, the stages are just small sets with no interactivity, so this might not be technically impressive, but the artistic flourishes are commendable.
Griptonite has not strayed far from Infinity Blade’s gameplay. You square off against a series of one-on-one fights (usually three or four in a stage), carefully dodging or blocking enemy attacks and then swiping furiously once you get an opening. Well timed dodges and blocks offer further opportunities to attack, and help to charge up “Flux Mode,” which allows you to wallop your foe with impunity for a few seconds. It’s pretty basic stuff, and most of the game comes down to watching and reading your opponent’s animations. At first, this seems like a simple affair, but as the game progresses, some of the enemies get maddeningly good at disguising their attacks.
There’s also an RPG component, allowing players to build their level through experience as well as purchase new weapons, armor, shields, and perks. This brings us to Death Dome’s most frustrating flaw: its “freemium” model. If you’ve played many free games on Android before, you probably know the score: There are two types of currency, silver coins earned in the game, and the universal Glu currency that is incredibly scarce in the game.
Items can only be purchased with one or the other, and they’re staggered in a way that absolutely forces you to amass Glu Coins in order to progress. This means either coughing up some money with an in-app purchase or participating in Glu’s “offers” – mostly downloading other freemium apps. Doing an obnoxious amount of the latter will allow you to get past the first barrier, but before you reach the end, you’ll hit a wall once again. Even the regular in-game currency proves to be a stopping block, as the amount of money gained from replaying a stage is often trivial compared to the initial reward, which means endless grinding if you hope to save up.
In-app purchases don’t have to be a bad thing. If they offer something compelling, yet optional, I have no problem coughing up a dollar or two. But Glu wants outrageous bounties for both of their currencies, and by the time you reach the third boss, they become utterly necessary. Although you can build experience to boost your health, your attack only goes up by purchasing better weapons, and while it may be technically possible to progress with a lower level weapon, it’s usually more tedious than fun.
Everything about Death Dome is designed to pressure players into spending money or completing offers. Even the death screen offers a chance at resurrection for 5 Glu Coins, and lengthy load times for those that decline the offer, rather than a button to retry. It is unfortunate that, in their zeal to earn money, Glu has gutted the appeal of an otherwise enjoyable game, and removed my desire to actually hand over any of my money. I’m not averse to in-app purchases, and I’m happy to fork for them if they enhance an enjoyable experience. But rather than tempt players, Glu has chosen to punish them by sapping their game of enjoyment unless they pay a $10 tax, only to do the same thing to them a few hours later. While there’s a lot to like about Death Dome, without a means to progress organically, it simply isn’t worth it.
Is it Hardcore?
Summary: Death Dome sports great animation and loads of personality, but is ultimately undermined by oppressive leveraging of overpriced in-app purchases.