Developer: Scattered Entertainment and Mobage
Price: Free
Version Reviewed: 1.11
Device Reviewed On: iPhone 5, iPad 2

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★☆☆
Playtime: Rating: ★★★☆☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★½☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Drowning was announced and promoted with cries of “revolution,” with Ben Cousins claiming that the game would do for mobile FPS controls what Halo did for console FPSes.

Well, not quite. Where The Drowning manages to make the shooting feel divine, player movement suffers too much to make this revolution worthwhile.

TheDrowning-04Players fire by tapping with two fingers on the screen, with shots firing between where the two fingers are. It’s incredibly intuitive and easy to use, with zooming done by pinching-and-expanding gestures. Changing view is done by swiping around, but because this isn’t being used to aim, it feels a lot better than other games. Shots are accurate with just enough random variation to still provide tension.

Movement works by single-tapping on a spot on the screen to go in that direction, but the problem arises when in combat. The experience is just clunky, because moving strategically to avoid danger is so frustrating. It’s possible to strafe left and right by doing two-finger horizontal swipes, but what about moving backwards? Well… that’s just not really possible. This is especially a problem because this is a game where zombified enemies are being fought, and backing away is quite a great strategy! I know because when I play with the traditional virtual-stick option, I use this maneuver regularly!

TheDrowning-06And that’s the problem: the virtual dual sticks present the standard issues with touchscreen FPS games, but the movement just feels so much better that it’s almost worth the tradeoff. It’s possible to walk forward to a location and then make a rapid 180 spin, but it feels unnatural and involves walking toward danger. That there’s two entirely unsatisfying options, and that the game is not really optimized for its default scheme with its combat, just makes things all the more frustrating.

It doesn’t help that the actual game at the heart of The Drowning is largely a shallow free-to-play machine. The missions, involving both arena-based attack segments and defense missions a la CoD Zombies, are all about two minutes in length. They’re friendly for pick-up-and-play gameplay, but are mostly just empty calories. The game is also always concerned with pressuring the player into obtaining more randomly-obtained items for crafting, trying to sell more MobaCoins to spend on gas cans to keep playing, and flares to get rarer items from levels where the maximum reward level is usually incredibly difficult to obtain. It’s not really possible to actually enjoy The Drowning for what it is. The frustrating controls serve as a great metaphor for the game as a whole. It’s good-looking, has cloud saves… but never lets itself be enjoyed.

TheDrowning-10I guess we’ll have to wait for Morning Star from Alex Seropian, who was behind the aforementioned Halo, to bring the real revolution? Or maybe we just need to accept that the FPS experience, minus some kind of tactile feedback, will just never be perfect on mobile.

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