Scattered Entertainment, comprised of a team who have worked on multiple, high-end franchises such as the Battlefield, Mirror's Edge, Far Cry and Crysis series, have released their debut iOS title, The Drowning. Scattered claims to have redefined touchscreen-based first-person shooters with The Drowning's haunting visuals and distinct controls (no virtual sticks for your thumbs!). Do we have the next F.E.A.R. or Condemned franchise upon us in iOS form? Or did The Drowning leave us with a bad case of aquaphobia?
The first aspect of The Drowning I will comment on, which I believe overrides all other factors in case of this review, is that The Drowning's control system is indeed quite different from most first-person titles I have ever played on the iOS format. In fact, this is one of the only iOS FPS titles that I can comfortably play with one hand. You shoot by tapping two fingers on the screen and your character will automatically shoot the exact middle point between your fingers. After some getting used to, I found myself pulling off headshots from a distance with relative ease.
Your character's movement is a different story. You simply drag your finger across the screen in order to pan the camera and look around you. A two finger drag makes you strafe left or right. In order to actually move, you simply tap a location on the screen and your character will automatically walk towards that direction, going around any type of debris on the ground that could impede your steps. Sniper rifles and crossbows can zoom in and out for using the (as expected), pinch and expand motions.
Thank goodness for the 180 degree turn button, because the camera panning is slow. I was constantly being blindsided by monsters throughout my endeavors. Even though the settings have a distinct option for having "move and shoot" on or off, my character would always stop mid-path whenever I tried to shoot while moving (hopefully, this will get patched). Players should be forewarned that every match, whether it's the defend (protect the barricades and shoot the monsters before they get through), or attack (eliminate as many monsters as you can throughout the level within the allotted time), mode of play, you will be doing the same thing. Every single match involved me running away from a group of monsters, turning around, killing them all as fast as I could, killing the next set of monsters that spawn, turning around, etc. With defend, it was a little bit more in-depth, but I was still running back and forth in the same concentrated area, shooting monsters trying to break through the three or four barricades each level had.
The gameplay modes are where The Drowning thoroughly let me down. The controls are intuitive, natural and accurate, but the lack of shooting while running and the constant kiting of monsters left me disappointed and bored after a while. From all the build up, screenshots and previews of The Drowning that I saw, especially in regards to its terrific monster design and how scary they look, I honestly thought this was going to be a survival horror game. And much to my dismay, this is an action title. All you do is try to break your high score and kill hundreds of tar-men (yes, they're undead that have arisen from an oil spill). Why is it so hard to keep a survival horror premise away from being a mediocre action game?
Even though I established that The Drowned's controls are surprisingly different and its gameplay is rather redundant and uninspired, its graphics are superb and are reminiscent of the PlayStation 2/Sega Dreamcast generation of gaming (which is fairly impressive for an iOS title). The character models are absolutely stellar. Aside from its gnarly intro, there are in-game cutscenes, but they are hand-drawn scenes with your average voice-overs. The levels themselves are surprisingly expansive and diverse, it's just a shame that defend-mode keeps you so boxed in and there is no encouragement to actually get out there and explore.
Even more of a crime is the fact that The Drowned is time limit-based; you can't go around exploring, you are basically shoved into the world with the notion of killing as many tar-men as possible until that timer ends. Drowned's music reflects this disappointment. Instead of something haunting or chilling, Scattered decided to put upbeat country/rock hybrid songs in order to keep the energy going and reflect the broken-down looks of all the cars and buildings. Again, there was so much potential here to be a scary game, especially considering its opening cinematic where your character was ambushed on a boat by multiple tar-men.
Given that The Drowned was a 700+ MB download and has a superb look, I was thoroughly letdown to find out that it is simply an action game. There is tons of polish on it and its controls are topnotch, but the rest of my experiences with The Drowned were extremely conflicting. If the gameplay mechanics were more in tune with a survival horror experience, Drowned could have been the definitive horror experience for the iOS format. Instead, it is simply an average shooter that gives a great update beyond the overused two thumbstick-style of FPS control; it simply happens to have great looking monsters and backgrounds instead of your run-of-the-mill FPS baddies.