BackStab from GameLoft hit the Android Market earlier this week and, given its steep price of $6.99, I decided to bump it in the review queue. Actually, it's amusing that $6.99 is a steep price for a top tier game having paid $30 and up in the past for games that arrive on little, plastic discs. The other side of this story is that this marks the fifth premium GameLoft titles to hit the Android Market at the $6.99 price point since their withdrawal in the middle of last year.
BackStab is essentially an action RPG title with a 3D "over the shoulder" perspective. You play the role of Henry Blake. The game starts with the Spanish having arrived in a British port and your city is under attack. The game uses extensive voice dialogue although the animations are substantially over acted (i.e. as the characters talk they unnaturally flair their arms in the air like mad men). You learn as you play, but the basics are that you can drag around to adjust your view... use a virtual DPad in the lower left to move... and press various buttons in the lower right to attack, jump... etc.
The graphics in the game are top notch for a 3D type game on a phone. Obviously you're not going to get console quality graphics so it's all relative, but for a phone game they are impressive. There is some issue of performance for such a high end game on my phone, but all of the slowdowns have been easily tolerable. You can easily adjust your character's view of the area and movement has been reasonably smooth. Things can bog down a bit when there are multiple 'things' on the screen at once. Everything is touch screen controlled so this is definitely one of those games that could benefit from a real gamepad. No matter how much I play I still cannot get used to an on screen, virtual pad. The voice acting is good as are the sound effects and the game's mood and ambiance are very well done.
Your first mission will have you chasing after a comrade in an effort to get to the sea. You'll end up in a sword fight, slicing and dicing your way through enemies. The controls during the fight made me feel more like I was in a drama than I was actually sword fighting as I flailed around, but in the end I was victorious. I was then instructed to use my pistol to blow up some powder kegs in order to blow an escape hole in the wall. Ok, now... if I had a pistol then why was I just using my sword? Let's justify it by saying we were trying to conserve our ammo. Onwards, with a roof top chase after my friend to the sea. Climbing is simple... just get near a wall and push up on the virtual DPad. However, sometimes finding my buddy wasn't so simple as he's chase off down the way only to stop and wait for me in the darkness. Fortunately, the game uses a little yellow arrow so that I can zoom my view around and eventually find him. Off we go again and we make it to the sea where a cannon awaits me and my first mission is complete. Next, I'm instructed to fire away as the ships in the harbor so as to cut off any Spanish reinforcements. Aiming is, once again, a simple matter of dragging the touch screen. The game shows me with a red arc the approximate location of my shot and I tap the on screen fire button to blast away. As I work, some Spaniards are trying to row to show so I have to try and sink those small boats before they arrive. And then there are two larger ships that I also have to sink. Oops, one gets by me and if too many do then all is lost. My buddy and I now separate and I am to meet him at the north wall when 'I am ready' and...
Hopefully that gives you the gist of the story line. And this is a game that is much more about story than about action although I appreciate the action elements. Free form roaming is permitted if you want and various side quests are clearly illuminated on the map. You can also see that there's variety here with the usual "follow me" mission leading to a cannon battle.
BackStab is a huge game in terms of storage, but 99% of it is stored on your SD card which was quite impressive to me considering that EA's Tetris still requires 8 MB of my phone's internal storage even after a move to SD. The game also offers four save slots for those that wish to share a phone.
One of my concerns for a game like this is I think development of a mobile game and a console game are quite different things. A key factor for a good mobile game is to make it bite sized so that I can play for five minutes here and there. Often I will want to crack out my phone and pl;ay for a little bit when I'm waiting for someone or something. Puzzle games are ideal for this kind of platform, but I often find that adventure games are not. BackStab has done a nice job of breaking a large adventure into bite sized chunks allowing me to polish off a mission during these small, but frequent bits of down times.
I'm a downer on GameLoft. I have not liked their polices ranging from massive sales for Apple owners while we're left in the cold all the way to their temporary abandonment of the Android Market. I can't deny that this is a great piece of work and a welcome addition to the Android Market. Sure, it's relatively steep at $6.99, but you'll pay more to go and see a movie and not bat an eye at that. GameLoft is quite particular with testing their games on each device and only releasing them for approved systems. That's both good and bad as it means I can't play this on my tablet yet despite the fact that I'm sure it would perform much better with a dual core processor. All in all, BackStab should provide a solid 6-7 hour story if you ignore all of the side stuff and has been much fun to play. Welcome back, GameLoft and keep up the good work! 5/5 stars.