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UPDATE: Mass Effect Infiltrator for iOS – Review

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UPDATE, 4/13/12:

A big update for Mass Effect Infiltrator arrived in the App Store last night which updated the control options to allow users to turn off the “tap to aim” function, and switch to a more traditional manual aim. It’s a great option, because while you still tap to aim/shoot, you can now choose which enemies to lock onto rather than being limited by which enemies are in range of your “tap to aim” window. Also updated is the game’s “Paragon/Renegade” system – something that was trivial-bordering-on-pointless in the launch-build of “Infiltrator.”

Throughout the game, there are moments when the player is given options as to how to approach certain situations. The gameplay freezes, and two buttons appear on the screen: a blue “Paragon” emblem, and a red “Renegade” symbol. Choose “Renegade” and a cut-scene plays featuring the main character making a morally questionable choice as to how to handle the situation at hand. Choose “Paragon,”however, and a different cut-scene will play, this time featuring Enzo making a decision more on the straight-and-narrow. Previously, these choices had absolutely no effect on the overall game other than which version of the cut-scene the player would see. Now, however, Enzo’s Appearance and abilities change based on which types of decisions you make. If you stick to the high road and choose to behave like a “Paragon”, then Enzo will remain largely unchanged. But if you decide to be a “Renegade,” then Enzo’s facial-implant scars will change colors, making look increasingly creepy each time you choose “Renegade,” and your biotic abilities will start to change colors.

Probably the biggest aspect of the update, however, is the addition of a bonus mission that can either be unlocked upon completing the game, or purchased with in-game credits. In the mission, you play as a “Turian” alien who wakes up in a medical bay, and attempts to escape to avoid death-by-horrible-medical-experimentation. It’s an interesting addition that adds a lot of color to “Infiltrator.” The mission can be found in a new menu tab marked “Bonus Missions,” giving the impression that more DLC content is on the way in future updates. The game has also been reduced in price from it’s initial $6.99 down to $4.99, and the update is free of charge for folks who have already bought the game. So if you still haven’t picked up “Mass Effect Infiltrator,” then scroll to the bottom of this review, click the App Store link, and grab it – this is a game that I can’t recommend enough.

ORIGINAL REVIEW:

Mass Effect: Infiltrator is an exclusively mobile game released into the Apple App Store by EA on Tuesday, March 6th. The game is a tie in to Mass Effect 3, just released for PC, Xbox and PS3. On the game’s iTunes page, EA describes ‘Infiltrator,’ as a game about “A CERBERUS AGENT – GONE ROGUE! As Commander Shepard battles Reapers across the galaxy, veteran Cerberus agent Randall Ezno procures aliens for illicit experiments at a secret facility. But when the Director of the facility goes too far – Randall fights back and vows to bring Cerberus down!” The story runs parallel to Mass Effect three, with both games taking place more or less at the same time.

The game starts off right in the middle of the action, as Ezno arrives on an icy alien world, where he’s engaged by several fierce looking enemies. The very first level is a tutorial, giving on screen text-box prompts that demonstrate how to use the game’s touchscreen controls.

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Moving Enzo around in the game is simple, and largely the same as other third person shooters in the App Store: On the left side of the screen, swiping up, down, left or right with a thumb or finger will move him in the direction you want to go, while swiping on the right side of the screen controls the direction that he’s looking. The real uniqueness of Mass Effect: Infiltrator’s control scheme becomes evident during combat.

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The game’s combat system is primarily cover based. When enemies appear on screen, you can move Enzo into cover simply by walking up to the object that you want to hide behind. When he’s close enough, he’ll duck down automatically, safely hidden away from enemy fire. You can quickly move around between different “cover spots” by swiping your finger in the direction of the new object you want to hide behind. Pretty much anything is fair game to take cover behind, making OT easy to find a place to hide in the heat of the moment. When an enemy is in range of your weapon, they’ll be highlighted with a blue box.

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To fire at an in-range enemy, all you have to do is tap your finger in the middle of the blue box – Enzo will then pop out of cover and start firing. While firing, you can aim your weapon using the right side of the screen, in the same way you use it while walking around and exploring. A red crosshair will appear over the enemies head, and if you line up Enzo’s crosshair with it, it’ll kill them quicker.

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The only real problem I have with the controls is that you can’t move while shooting. Whenever I couldn’t find a decent cover spot (which, granted, doesn’t often happen) a bad guy would sometimes approach me from behind and start firing away, lowering my health big time, forcing me back into cover while the enemy is still alive. Aside from that issue, though, the controls are smooth and intuitive. This is the first shooter game that I’ve played on the iPhone where the control scheme really takes advantage of the iPhone’s touch screen, rather than sticking clunky virtual control sticks on either side of the screen to try and mimic a traditional controller as many other iOS shooters have done. Never once do you have to stop to press a button; everything is a swipe or quick tap away. I also found the controls to be very responsive; never once did a tap or swipe fail to register. The controls are sensitive, though, and since almost anything can be used as cover I sometimes found myself rolling into cover behind something that I didn’t expect to be playable.

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While Mass Effect Infiltrator is primarily an action-based third person shooter – think Max Payne, in space – there are some great RPG elements inspired by past Mass Effect games that do a great job of enhancing the gameplay and replayability factor. Several different weapons, suits of armor, and special abilities available to the player, all of which can be purchased and upgraded through credits earned as you play. After each major battle in the game, you are given a rating based on how well you did; either Rookie, Soldier, or Veteran. The higher your rating, the more credits you will earn. Your rating is dependent on well you do in three categories: style, time, and health. Time and health are self-explanatory; complete the checkpoint quickly and with minimal damage, and you’ll get high ratings in those categories. Style, however, is a little more tricky. Using multiple weapons and special abilities throughout a battle will earn you a high rating, whereas hiding in one spot the entire time while only using your assault rifle, will knock points off of your style rating. Besides doing well on your “combat analysis” rating, you can also get credits through computer terminals parsed throughout the Cerberus base, and by trading in “intel” data discs that appear in place of dead enemies.

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You can exchange credits to upgrade your weapons and biotic powers, or to purchase new weapons and suits of armor. There are four different suits of armor, each with a different specialty. The “Infiltrator” suit that you start out the game with is a “jack of all trades,” type of armor that increases your abilities across the board, whereas the other three suits are more specialized. There’s the stealth suit, which increases your cloak’s power and allows you to stay invisible for longer periods of time, the defense suit, which increases the amount of damage your player can take, and the offense suit, which amps up your biotic powers. In addition to the suits of armor, there are four different helmets to go along with each suit. In a smart move, “Infiltrator” allows you to mix and match helmets and armor to customize the effectiveness of Enzo’s abilities. For example: you could equip the stealth suit to increase your cloak’s effectiveness along with the defense helmet to strengthen your shields. You also have to decide which weapons you want to use your credits to upgrade. There are a lot of different customization options which adds a lot of replay value to the game; restarting the game multiple times with different “builds” of Enzo not only let’s you earn more credits, it also makes the flow of the battles different each time. That being said, I definitely think that Iron Monkey Studios should update the fake to add an arena/survival mode, as they did with last year’s breakout iOS title, Dead Space. Multiplayer seems like a no-brainer as well, but there’s been no word from EA on either game mode being included in any future updates.

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“Infiltrator” largely stands on its own, with no need for any knowledge of the Mass Effect franchise at large in order to enjoy the game, it does have ties to the newly released “Mass Effect 3.” In addition to exchanging intel chips collected throughout the game for credits, you can also upload the “intel,” to the “Galaxy at War,” section of the game that will increase your “galactic readiness,” which is transferred to your “Mass Effect 3” game via EA’s social gaming network, “origins.” If you get your “galactic readiness” percentage high enough, it will help your overall progress in Mass Effect 3. It’s unobtrusive and easy to ignore for players who don’t own Mass Effect 3, and a nice tie in for those that do.

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Overall, Mass Effect Infiltrator is a fun, action packed game that pays respect to its source franchise nicely, yet still functions as a solid game in its own right. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous, and the controls are designed from the ground up for the iPhone and iPad’s touchscreen in a way that isn’t present in any of the other action games in the IOS app store. If you’re a fan the Mass Effect franchise, or of third person action games in general, Mass Effect Infiltrator is definitely worth buying.

You can find the game here on the IOS App Store.

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