Spiral Episode 1 Review: A Polished Action RPG
For a time it’s felt as though freemium games were going to take over iTunes, but lately we more serious gamers have been treated to some actual games that draw us in based on their compelling gameplay, not on their ability to tease us into microtransactions. One such game is Spiral Episode 1, an action RPG that gets a lot right.
In Spiral E1 you take on the role of Tempus, a former government agent and current freelancer living in the city of Soliel, one of the remaining cities in a future where the Spiral virus has decimated the planet. The game begins with Tempus on a train; he’s been hired to help guard a secret shipment on its journey through some hostile territory. Of course, things go wrong, setting the stage for the plot to begin.
Spiral E1 plays out in two modes: combat and non-combat. In non-combat you move around the environment engaging NPCs, solving some puzzles, and generally navigating your way towards the next combat encounter. Tempus moves with a tap, or with a follow-your-finger virtual stick summoned by tapping and holding the screen. It’s a pretty straightforward movement system, though one with some issues (more on that in a minute).
The more memorable element is the combat mode. Tempus fights using a tap-to-target system that seems pretty simple and button-mashy at first. Tap an enemy to attack them; tap and hold to charge a more powerful attack; tap and hold Tempus to perform a “push-back” move; and do nothing to have Tempus defend. Your first few fights will be mainly tap-tap-tap-hold-tap-pause-tap-hold-tap-tap-tap, etc., as you get to know how Tempus employs his abilites.
As Tempus levels, however, and as enemies get tougher, the combat system takes on an intricacy that’s quite impressive. Button-mashing (finger-mashing? Tap-mashing?) won’t win you battles later in the game. You’ve got to pay attention, listen for audio cues, and generally think about when and how to employ special moves. It’s an interesting use of the abilities of the Unreal engine.
Speaking of the Unreal engine: the game looks great. I wasn’t sold on the cartoony look of the game at first, but once it grew on me I was able to appreciate how polished the game is visually. Pixel Hero really did a good job of giving Spiral E1 a distinct look and feel.
Another thing to love about Spiral E1? No IAPs. Thank you, devs! Nothing kills that “console quality” feel quite like skippable timers and purchasable power-ups.
That said, Spiral E1 could do with a few improvements. My biggest complaint is audio. Simply put: the background music is WAY TOO LOUD, such that dialogue can get lost in the mix. Not a huge problem since all dialogue is also text on the screen, I suppose, but honestly I’d love to be able to just turn the text off and watch the cutscenes like a video. Why go through all the trouble of creating a complete audio dialogue track if you’re going to drown it out?
I’m also of mixed opinion on the out-of-combat movement controls. Tap-to-move takes some getting used to with the low camera angle the game uses; I can’t count the number of times I wanted to go somewhere but wasn’t quite precise with my tap and, due to the perspective shot, sent Tempus running past the mark. Tapping him again stops him, but I still have to backtrack. I’d honestly love to have a simple virtual joystick.
Playing Spiral brought to my mind some of the old CD-ROM games of the 1990s. Not in the combat system, of course, but in the plot and the characters and the pacing of the narrative (and also the graphic design and voice acting). This is not necessarily a bad thing. Is Spiral Episode 1 perfect? No. And it’s incomplete to boot (two more episodes are planned). But it’s a quality gaming experience, something that I’m always looking for on my iPhone, and the lack of any freemium tarnish makes me like it that much better.
Our score: 4 out of 5