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Mass Effect: Infiltrator Review: Fun, But It’s No Dead Space

Last year, EA’s DEAD SPACE HD was a groundbreaking level of console-quality gaming for the iPad, and it was rightly declared the Game App of the Year by the American App Store. One has to think that EA had that in mind as they were developing MASS EFFECT: INFILTRATOR, another console-quality iOS prequel to a newly released console franchise game. And while Mass Effect: Infiltrator (ME:I) is not as good as Dead Space was, it’s still proof that mobile gaming can deliver some high quality console-like play.

Since EA clearly intends for ME:I to be this year’s DEAD SPACE for iOS (hereafter just DEAD SPACE), I thought I’d write this review as a compare and contrast. And honestly, it would be hard not to; the same development team made both games, they’re both 3PS games, they’re both prequels to big console releases … heck, the ME:I icon even looks very similar to the DEAD SPACE icon!

As a prequel to the recently released Mass Effect 3, it’s slight. In it, you play Randall Ezno, a side character to the main storyline . Enzo is a Cerebus agent seeking intel along with his voiceover partner, Inali. Along the way, they discover secrets, as well as deeper feelings for each other. And … that’s about it for the plotline, which is pretty thin and incidental to the larger ME storyline, and not nearly as interesting as the DEAD SPACE iOS game featured.

In addition to DEAD SPACE, playing through ME:I actually reminded me of some of Gameloft games (which says something about how entwined that comapny is with iOS gaming in my mind). The sci-fi look and feel of ME:I felt an awful lot like NOVA and NOVA 2, two games that themselves borrowed from console games like HALO and, yes, MASS EFFECT; and the duck-and-cover mechanic is an awful lot like ones featured in Gameloft’s Tom Clancy titles.

Like those games, this is a straightforward 3PS — move through an environment, take cover, shoot the bad guys, move on to the next checkpoint. It’s very straightforward, lacking the some of the tension and interest that DEAD SPACE had. Not that it’s not fun; but it’s definitely more mindless.

One place where ME:I matches its DEAD SPACE predecessor is in the graphics and sound departments. The game looks and sounds good. The graphics are crisp, the cutaway scenes well-animated, and even on my iPad one things all ran smoothly. Actually, smoother: ME:I didn’t seem to stress my iPad’s resources the way DEAD SPACE did last year (though the battery life gets eaten quickly!). It’s incredible how console-like these games are getting in the visuals department. This looks like a MASS EFFECT game; maybe one on a PS2 instead of s PS3, but still, very nice. And while none of the sound effects are groundbreaking, they’re not distracting, either. Like DEAD SPACE, ME:I comes with the “Use Headphones for Best Effect” tag, and headphones are certainly a great way to listen to the action.

One area where ME:I comes in second to DEAD SPACE is in controls. One thing that DEAD SPACE implemented so well was the way you aimed, fired, even reloaded your weapons. ME:I tries for a much more “console controller” feel, where the character motion controls are to the sides of the screen and contextual buttons up top trigger powers and switch weapons. I think they did this in part to make the controls more complex and console-like, so that you can duck, dodge, execute style combos, etc. But in doing so, they’re also fighting a bit against the touch form factor, something DEAD SPACE managed more skillfully. I would have loved to have seen them break from the ME console game, in fact, and do the same controls here that they did with DEAD SPACE.

Also like DEAD SPACE, ME:I has a robust IAP system that encourages you to buy credits above and beyond those you earn in the game in order to improve weapons, unlock new skills, and armor up. You can earn the credits “the hard way” by re-grinding old checkpoints and trying to improve your rank and style points, however, so it’s not mandatory to drop $50 on a ton of virtual coinage. [Seriously, who drops that kind of cash on virtual IAPs?]

MASS EFFECT: INFILTRATOR is no DEAD SPACE HD. It’s still a decent bit of console-esque gaming fun on your iOS device, and once you get used to the game’s slightly clunky controls, you’ll enjoy it at least as much as you did your last Gameloft console copy. Even though the story and characters are one-dimensional, the fact that EA continues to put out console-connected content for iOS is a trend I like to support, and so should you. Give this one a play when you have a free weekend.

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5

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