id Software's John Carmack blew us all away at the last QuakeCon festival by accomplishing the seemingly impossible. In his spare time, he managed to crunch RAGE (their highly anticipated new shooter) onto an iPhone 4 in all of its graphical glory. It's a truly remarkable achievement- and RAGE: Mutant Bash TV shoehorns the impressive technology into a standalone prequel with a pocket money price tag.
First things first. Logic dictates that Mutant Bash TV should look absolutely gorgeous since it's powered by one of the most impressive engines on the market- and I'm delighted to report that it doesn't disappoint. I won't bore you with the gory details of exactly how Megatextures save massive amounts of space on obscenely detailed environments, but suffice to say that the three arenas on offer are pin-sharp and pixel-perfect. Enemies look fantastic up close; displaying smooth lifelike animations as they move and attack. Naturally the HD version is optimised for the iPhone 4's Retina display and outclasses practically everything else on the App Store, though its worth noting that it has a whopping file size to match. The SD version for older devices occasionally suffers from a stuttering framerate but otherwise performs admirably under pressure.
However, something has to give. Unlike the stage demo at QuakeCon, Mutant Bash TV is not a free-roaming FPS. Rather, it's a rail shooter akin to The House Of The Dead. You'll trundle along preset paths and fend off attacks from ghoulish mutant assailants that periodically pop up from behind the scenery. A newly-patched gyroscopic control scheme provides impressive precision with only a slight learning curve, though an invisible virtual thumbstick is on hand to cater for the traditionalists.
Three different weapons can be switched and reloaded by jabbing at convenient on-screen buttons, and incoming fire can be sidestepped by a handy dodge icon. The gunplay handles well for the most part, but disappointingly, there are only a handful of enemy types... most of whom are brick-throwing zombies. If you were expecting backstory and intelligent enemies, I'm afraid that Mutant Bash TV is fresh out. The action is solid and slick, but there simply isn't much to it.
This may sound like a shallow and repetitive experience - especially since there are only three stages, but id have played to their strengths. Mutant Bash TV is clearly designed to be played in short doses rather than epic thumb-cramping marathons. Leaderboards, multiple difficulty levels, copious collectibles, achievements and bonus bullseye targets mean that replaying each level becomes increasingly addictive. In a surprisingly considerate move, RAGE will even save mid-level progress if you need to quit; making it absolutely perfect for short journeys or lunch breaks.
- Looks incredible
- Slick action with tight controls
- It's RAGE. On an iPhone. Impressive, no?
- Limited number of levels
- Disappointing lack of backstory or tantalising RAGE teasers
- Ultimately shallow gameplay
Summary: RAGE: Mutant Bash is big on graphics yet arguably light on content. id Software have demonstrated that iPhones can master the Megatexture, delivering a frantic and shallow experience that's perfect as a quick diversion or a snack between gaming meals. Well worth a look for shooter fans- especially if you need a graphical powerhouse to impress your friends.
Developer: id Software
Compatibility: Rage SD Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Rage HD Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation) and iPad. Both require iOS 3.1 or later.