Two control schemes usually come into play with iOS first-person shooters. Either a touch-and-shoot system that makes the game too easy (think on-rails arcade titles), or a virtual joystick with games like Modern Combat 4 and Dead Trigger for superior freedom-of-movement.
With The Drowning, the team at DeNA's Scattered Entertainment studio has a novel concept that works incredibly well. Instead of clumsily fumbling over a virtual stick, you direct your player by tapping sections in a level, and the character moves automatically. While doing this, you can look around by swiping the screen in different directions, or hitting a 180-degree spin button.
It's useful to have this functionality, because the soulless oil creatures in the game come out of nowhere. You can shoot baddies on the move using a neat two-finger shooting system that provides better accuracy. The shot places itself between two digits and works incredibly well, especially with headshots.
You earn points with each kill. Take down enough oil monsters and you'll activate "frenzy mode," where your heart rate accelerates and your score doubles. This is vital, because at the end of each timed round, you receive bonuses based on your score. The better you do, the more loot you collect.
Most of these are in the form of parts that you can use to build better weapons. You start out with just a handgun, but you'll have access to bigger and badder guns, including a custom chain gun and a very effective crossbow.
While the gameplay works better than most FPS games, it does get old after awhile. You open up new stages in the game by unlocking vehicles, but levels follow two basic set-ups, either going on the attack or preventing monsters from breaking through a barricade. It's fun, but the game doesn't evolve beyond that; there's also no multiplayer component to speak of.
Still, The Drowning is better than most. Not only do the controls have something to offer, but the knockout presentation should impress even the most jaded mobile game critic. Scattered Entertainment did a marvelous job with the graphics, which are the sharpest we've seen for an iOS FPS since Rage HD. The animations look smooth, the backdrops have an excellent amount of shadowing/lighting and the frame rate never slows, even when the screen fills with enemies. The sound effects could've used more variety - if you've heard one oil creature, you've heard them all - but at least the music is good.
Since The Drowning is free-to-play, there will be times where you'll have to grind through levels or wait to access the best items, like fuel for your vehicle or a "rush delivery" on a special weapon. If you're impatient, you may consider dropping a few dollars on those particular goodies.
While The Drowning could've used more variety - and maybe even a multiplayer mode to keep things interesting - it sets a benchmark for mobile first-person shooters. Here's hoping we see more from Scattered Entertainment down the road.
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