iGamer With its heavy arsenal and cover-to-cover, pop-and-shoot gunplay, Epoch looks every inch the Gears of War clone. But look a little closer and you'll discover Uppercut Games' shooter has a great deal more in common with Infinity Blade than Epic's testicular trilogy.
Thanks to the Unreal Engine, it's a gorgeous looking iOS game, for starters. Then there's the structure: a diminutive campaign culminating in an exceptionally tough boss battle, rinsed-and-repeated with increased difficulty in successive play-throughs.
Naturally, there's an RPG-style leveling system to keep pace with that difficulty curve. More importantly, Epoch harnesses the critical slice of Infinity Blade's sharp design by constructing its controls around touchscreen limitations.
The London Olympics ground, yesterday
By sticking to simple gestures, Epoch avoids the overcomplicated controls which blight so many first- and third-person iOS games. Swipe left or right to slide your robot between three cover points, and upwards to jump from one end to the other. Tap on an enemy to target it and your robot will fire automatically.
Finally, tap one of the three special ability icons in the top-left corner to fire missiles or grenades at the current target, or to select a defensive perk such as decoy holograms or bullet time.
Eat lead, leadbelly
Epoch's story is equally unfussy. Delivered in short, text-only data intercepts, random eye-witness accounts tell of two robot manufacturers whose corporate competition spills out into all out robot Armageddon.
It's an interesting vehicle for the narrative, as politicians and royal guards provide the main exposition while innocent bystanders tell the personal tragedies of those caught in the carnage.
It's all very flimsy stuff, but it's about the right level of detail for the short attention spans of commutes to work. As is the gameplay itself, which dishes up quick bouts of combat lasting a few minutes per level. At its core, it's all quite repetitive play, but there's enough strategic depth to hold your interest for a while.
The variety of enemies impresses, with grenadier and laser-firing robots penetrating your cover and forcing you to keep on the move. Cool-down periods on special abilities, and charging delays on homing missiles add further strategic layers, as do destructible objects, which reward you with extra credits for exposing yourself to enemy fire.
Outside of combat, your time is divided between reading data intercepts and spending credits upgrading equipment at the scrapyard. It's here that Epoch's inferiority to Infinity Blade starts to become apparent, however.
There's plenty of fun to be had toying with the increased firepower, but upgrades just aren't as critical to progression. Robbed of its compulsive leveling, the repetitive structure that defined Infinity Blade begins to crumble.
Worse still, while still incredibly tough, Epoch's final boss must be defeated before continuing onto the next play-though. Infinity Blade's real trick was to keep victory over the God King tantalisingly out of reach, to entice the player back each time to take one last shot at defeating him. Deprived of this seemingly unattainable horizon, Epoch's successive play-throughs feel too much like a repetitive grind.
Decent gameplay, great graphics, excellent controls – there's a lot to admire here. But Epoch is its own worst enemy. By standing on the shoulders of Infinity Blade, it invites comparisons with Chair Entertainment's excellent work. And while it's every bit as visually arresting as that game, it's just not as good as it looks. ®
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