iPad reviews: EPOCH

A post apocalyptic future, a malfunctioning amnesiac robot, a machine gun, and a LOT of running, jumping, and ducking behind cover. Welcome to the world of EPOCH.

Lets get the gameplay out of the way before we go in-depth. Epoch is an entertaining cover-shooter. You don’t have true mobility. Your character will leap from pre-rendered battle to pre-rendered battle without any input from you. At each new scene, you’ll have three pieces of cover. Left, right, and center. You’ll get shot at, a lot, and avoiding damage means rolling, ducking, and jumping between these three bits of cover, changing up your tactics based on where the enemy bots are focusing most of their firepower. Despite the fairly predicable setup of each new scene, I found the game addictive and fun. Different enemies use different weapons, each requiring different tactics in order to avoid. The key is to keep moving, and it makes the fights fluid and fun.

Now, on to the actual criticism.

As I’ve familiarized myself with the iPad 2, I’ve taken a stroll through it’s A-list games. I’ve purchased a number of supposedly amazing or phenomenal products that leverage this fantastic new platform. As my list of downloaded programs grows, I’ve learned to expect certain things from these games:

  • Fun
  • Cheap
  • Short
  • Half the levels locked down to pad length
  • Plotless
  • Saddled with moronic in-app purchase systems

Practically everything I’ve download hits every point on the list above, so it’s quite surprising when something breaks the formula, even a little bit. Epoch hits some of these checkpoints perfectly, while missing others entirely. Fun, cheap and short, with most of the content locked? Check, check, check, and check. Plotless? Surprisingly not! There’s actually a story here. Not exactly shakespeare, but interesting enough that I actually want to know more.

Saddled with that new world gibbering monky-demon, the in-app store? Gods, is it ever. To be fair, I really enjoyed Epoch, and it was well worth the $8 I spent on it.

Oh, but the game is $3*, you say? Hah, you’re hilarious. $3 buys you the demo, with a completely unbeatable final boss for the “Easy” difficulty. Yes, technically, you could grind your way through Epoch‘s easy mode a few dozen times, slowly upgrading equipment until you can finally scrape past the final boss and unlock normal mode, but it’s glaringly obvious that the designers didn’t build or balance Epoch for such an approach. You’re supposed to get to the final boss, then spend $5 in in-app purchases to beat it.

Unlike Infinity Blade, which I’ve also played, I felt Epoch’s campaign had a satisfying length. It was fun to play and not too short or long. There’s enough enemy and environmental variation to keep things interesting. I would unabashedly love the game if it cost  $8 up front, but the developers clearly wanted to sucker people in and squeeze. Mentally adjust the price you see in the sidebar, play the campaign, then plunk down five dollars for properly-ballanced armor and weapons before hitting the final level. You’ll likely enjoy it a lot more.

In-app purchases are nothing more than a hidden charge, an upward swing in the price of a game. Sometimes, just sometimes, you come across a fun and well designed game that includes in-app purchases without requiring them. More often than not however, these purchases turn out to be an integral part of the game that the designer buried a few hours into the gameplay.

I suspect, but can’t prove, that a lot of reviewers gloss over this stuff for fear of losing gamer credit. Technically, an incredibly skilled or patient gamer could practice EPOCH for a month or so, and then beat the final boss with their gameplay-given rewards. I’m here to tell you, anyone claiming to take this route is probably lying. The game is balanced for a $5 in-app purchase, that’s all there is to it. It’s a great $8 game.

* – I’m not going to mince words here, “.99” is bullshit pricing. That’s a dollar by any other metric. The .99 is meant to make you round down, so I’ve done you a favor and rounded up instead. When someone tells you that something is 9.99, ALWAYS answer them back with “Oh, so it’s $10 then.” You’ll be doing the world a favor.

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