We've been beside ourselves with anticipation and excitement ever since Shortround Games showed us Extraction: Project Outbreak at last month's EA Showcase. This elite team of ex-AAA developers promised to marry the accessible thrill of shooters with strategy and tactics; all while using the iPhone and iPad's touchscreen interface to deliver an experience that couldn't work on any other platform.
It was a remarkable claim, and one that seemed too good to be true. But what's more remarkable is that they've absolutely pulled it off. Extraction is one of the best downloadable games of the year, and it's time to tackle the specifics head-on.
After a mysterious virus devastates a South American region and reduces its populace into slavering zombies, Blackhorne PMC gets sent into clean up the mess. Players take control of a lone contractor thrown deep into this hazardous environment to whittle down the enemy numbers, rescue critical personnel, escort soldiers or repair defensive installations... all while bearing one single mantra in mind.
Get in. Get the job done. And get the hell out of dodge before the helicopter leaves you behind.
Shortround Games have ensured that you'll only need a single finger to control the action, which takes place from an isometric overhead perspective. Moving your operative is as simple as poking at a destination, while enemies can be targeted by swiping across the screen. Highlighting multiple enemies gives you a score bonus (more on that later), and lets you designate targets before entering a hazardous area. Dragging at the correct speed also grants you a damage bonus, meaning that thoughtful and deliberate commands pay dividends compared to panicked reflex reactions.
Changing weapons, throwing grenades, reloading and melee attacks are all taken care of with intuitive commands, and since you'll need to keep moving and pick off priority targets - such as lumbering zombie bombs or rifle-toting ex soldiers - you'll need a clear head for strategy as well as an itchy trigger finger.
Unlimited randomly-generated maps and short mission times make Extraction the perfect choice for a gamer on the move; providing bite-sized chunks of stressful, varied and consistently exciting gaming goodness.
Though your operative is a bona fide one man army, you're never truly alone on the battlefield. A remote drone helicopter hovers reassuringly overhead at all times, and upgrading it allows you to deploy sentry turrets, vicious spider gun platforms and air strikes. Doing so couldn't be easier: just drag them out of the toolbar onto the map and let your hovering sentinel take care of the rest. Setting turret angles and spider gun movement is as simple as dragging their routes and vision cones around, making for a satisfyingly tactile interactive experience.
Upgrades are a key way of keeping players invested in a game, and Extraction makes sure that there are plenty to choose from. Killing enemies and fulfilling objectives keeps a constant supply of experience points flowing into your character, which are converted into skill points to upgrade armour, weapon damage, speed and melee skill. The level cap is a little low, however.
Which is where the fully-featured weapon upgrade system comes in to completely steal the show. You're a Private Military Contractor after all: a hired gun who's in it for the money. Completing missions and dealing damage leads to healthy coffers - and your flush finances can be spent on numerous new guns, upgrades and deployable drone powers. You'll need hours and hours to completely round out your arsenal, and it becomes a compulsive drive that will keep you riveted to your iThing.
Not only that, but the upgrades and experience systems provide an exciting risk vs reward aspect. Do you rush back to the extraction zone as soon as you've completed your mission? Or risk being left behind for just a few more kills and some extra optional intel? Greed and common sense are strange bedfellows... and you'll need to balance them both.
Extraction: Project Outbreak is powered by the Unity Engine, which is fast becoming one of the biggest, most reliable and most versatile players in the mobile games industry. Shortround Games have used it to devastating effect, with detailed and beautiful visuals regardless of whether you play it on an iPhone or iPad. It's a universal app, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. Behold.
It's difficult to negatively criticise a game that completely fulfils its mission statement. I suppose that the level cap ought to be higher, and that the streamlined storyline could have been fleshed out more thoroughly. The unimpechably brilliant mechanics could have lent themselves to bigger and more complex levels. Multiplayer might have been nice.
But the fact is that we have to review games for what they are, not what we'd like them to be. Extraction is bloody marvellous... and unbelievable value for such a tiny price point.
- Immersive and accessible mechanics
- Randomly generated maps
- Exquisite visuals
- Fantastically addictive arsenal upgrades
- Low level cap
- Perfunctory storyline
Summary: Extraction: Project Outbreak is one of the very best mobile games of the year. A masterclass in accessible, addictive design at a shockingly low price point. Put this on your iPhone or iPad immediately, soldier!
Developer: Shortround Games
Compatibility: Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later
Price: £0.69 (Launch Sale) - App Store