How much action can your touchscreen handle?
Madfinger Games’s last release, Shadowgun, was a triumph of hardcore gaming on mobile platforms; a rock-solid, full-featured Gears of War clone, with nearly console-quality graphics. Yet, both its greatest triumph and ultimate failing was that it never compromised its vision for its platform.
For their latest go-round, Madfinger has released a game that is no less hardcore, but embraces its platform – and the realities of selling games thereon – in a way that Shadowgun never did. Dead Trigger is not just Left 4 Dead in portable form, it’s a uniquely mobile experience that combines the fundamentals of console-style first-person shooters with the bite-sized play sessions and addictive pick-up-and-play qualities that make all those casual phone games so addictive.
At its core, Dead Trigger is a zombie-blasting first-person shooter like so many others out there. Admittedly, hoards of undead are probably the most played-out enemies in all of video gaming right now, and Madfinger has done little to make life after this apocalypse any more interesting than the countless others we’ve seen. The story is mundane at this point and there isn’t much about the world that is compelling, but as a vehicle for pure, unadulterated action, the walking dead still can’t be beat.
You’ll start each game staring at a map screen, littered with shopping, various options, a casino to gamble “tokens” awarded daily, and a variety of missions. Most of these are randomly generated quests of four types. In survival, you must defend yourself for a set time limit; in kill missions, you must eliminate a quota of zombies. Delivery missions have you picking up packages and delivering them to checkpoints, and in defense missions, you must protect and repair key installations. Aside from the four mission types, maps have randomly placed barriers that give each mission a slightly different layout. Story missions sometimes combine elements of multiple mission types for some added variety.
Each mission is designed to be completed in around three or four minutes, making this the perfect pick-up-and-play game for a quick action fix. This fits the portable format very well as we rarely wanted to be tied to our phone screens for very long. To lend staying power to the quick-fix style, there are the usual host of upgrades to your character and arsenal, unlockable with “gold” credits and in-game currency earned from missions.
As in so many mobile games these days, gold and money can be had either by making in-app purchases, or by grinding away in missions. To truly work your way up to the top levels, it’s almost necessary to fork over some cash, but Madfinger has done a good job of making sure that there’s always something interesting to buy even for those that prefer to keep their wallets tightly shut.
Even for those who chose to play for free, Dead Trigger offers quite a lot of game. Production values are just as high as we’ve come to expect from the Czech developer. Alas, some graphical effects like particles and water have been locked out from devices that don’t sport a Tegra 3 processor regardless of if their system can handle them, but these effects are largely superfluous and the game looks amazing regardless.
Once you exhaust the game’s story missions, the randomly generated quests can fast grow repetitive. Without a multiplayer component, there is little to motivate further play other than upgrades. And while there’s a wide variety of weapons with unique advantages and play styles, Madfinger has done little in terms of level design to create scenarios that favor these different play styles. You will be fighting the same enemies over and over again, and eventually it does grow tired.
Despite this, Dead Trigger remains arguably the best first-person shooter on the mobile platform, and one of the few that really embraces the format with short, intense levels, stitched together with addictive RPG leveling and upgrades. This is a quintessentially hardcore shooter, with blistering, almost Serious Sam-like action that still learns from the casual games that dominate the Android marketplace. As phones get more capable, it’s good to see developers embrace what makes them unique, even as they approach console-quality graphics and production values.
Is it Hardcore?
A mobile shooter that isn’t afraid to be hardcore, and a hardcore shooter that isn’t afraid to be mobile.