Horn Review: Top-Notch Fantasy Adventure Sets New iOS Standard
Games on iOS keep getting better and better — not just as devices improve, but also as new, independent developers come onto the scene to wow us. Phosphur Games is one such developer. After impressing last year with the horror-tinged Dark Meadow, they’ve really come into their own with Horn, a fantasy-fueled game that raises the bar for iOS adventure.
In Horn, you play the title character, a young man who must save his kingdom from a curse of magical clockwork robots called Pygons. It’s an interesting mixture of familiar sword and sorcery fantasy with some gritty steampunk elements, and it makes for a compelling narrative. It’s very linear and not the most original story, but it’s done well.
I’ve seen Horn described as “Infinity Blade meets The Legend of Zelda,” and that’s as fair a description of the game play as any. The Infinity Blade comparison is inevitable, since this runs on the Unreal Engine and uses the same basic combat setup (fixed camera, dodge left-right, swipe to slash, tap to block) and the same complex, upgradable weapons system. It’s also the same character, combat, & upgrade engine that Dark Meadow used.
But unlike Infinity Blade (or, indeed, Dark Meadow), when you’re out of combat you’ve got free, open movement in Horn — you can look in any direction and move to any open space. Whenever you have a task to perform — even something like cutting down tall grass or flipping a switch — the game reverts momentarily to fixed perspectives and cutscene animations. But the movement in and out of control is pretty seamless, and it doesn’t reduce the general open feel of the controls. It’s simply the best overall implementation of the Unreal engine I’ve seen to date.
Being Unreal, of course, the graphics are spectacular on high-end devices. The colors are muted (and sometimes a little too heavy on brown) and the lighting effects are notable. They’re paired with some excellent soundtrack work and better than average character voicing — Gourd’s voicework being a notable standout. Players of Dark Meadow will recognize both some of the voice actors (the story narrator, for one) and some of the sound effects.
Note that on lower-end devices, the game looks a lot worse. On my iPad 1, in fact, the game was very pixilated and crashed often. As such, I didn’t spend a lot of time playing it on that device.
Altogether, the story, graphics, game design and voicework combine to create a truly remarkable adventuring experience. Horn is ultimately a better overall play experience than either Infinity Blade II or Dead Space — to my mind, two of the top-tier iOS games of all time.
I could level some minor complaints at the game: it’s a bit linear in its plotting, upgrading weapons involves some grinding, and sometimes the touch controls can be fidgety. But I’d rather not dwell on those. They’re really minor compared to the positives here.
Zynga did a good thing in agreeing to publish Horn. It will help bring a much larger audience to this truly enjoyable game. If you’re a fan of fantasy adventures, or just a fan of good games in general, you should play Horn. It’s worth the price of admission.
Our Score: 5 Out of 5