Tablet Gaming Today and a Look at The Future

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The Games: Shadowgun, Samurai II, Galaxy on Fire 2

The FPS Shadowgun, meanwhile, is as notable for what doesn't work as for what it gets right. As far as graphics go, Shadowgun is absolutely gorgeous. It packs more eye candy than any of the other games we tested. If we had an award for the Title Most Likely To Be Mistaken For A Console Game award, Shadowgun would win.


Shadowgun - The fire and reload buttons are both visible above.

The game's interface also deserves credit as being the most flexible, innovative attempt to mimic FPS functionality that we've yet seen. The left-hand side of the screen is a dynamic D-pad that automatically maps itself to wherever your finger happens to rest. Move your hand up the side of the tablet, and the D-pad moves with you. Movement speed is determined by how far your finger moves from the "center" of the D-pad. Shadowgun, Galaxy On Fire 2, and Samurai II: Vengeance all use this basic control scheme, but only Shadowgun remaps the D-pad on the fly. In the absence of tactile feedback, this is a welcome feature.

The right hand aims and handles the two buttons dedicated to reloading and firing; the former remaps as a contextual "Use"button if there's something in the environment that needs to be manipulated. Move close to cover, and John Slade, the titular character, obligingly hides.

It's clear that the game's developers spent an enormous amount of time developing its UI, which is why we regret having to label Shadowgun a bit of a snoozer. It's an unintentional example of how certain game designs don't translate well when converted to new mediums. If controllers are lousy for aiming in an FPS, Shadowgun proves that fingers are worse, even with aim sensitivity turned all the way up.

The problems go deeper than a reticent reticule. Modern first-person shooters, even the console versions, make considerable use of cover, dodging, crouching, and sprinting. Shadowgun makes limited use of cover, but can't incorporate the others due to fundamental limitations in its UI. Circle-strafing is literally impossible -- the game only recognizes two simultaneous button presses. Even if it were possible, it would require the player to move both hands simultaneously in opposite directions with no tactile feedback for guidance while different fingers on the right hand handled shooting and reloading.

Without these options, Shadowgun is little more than a series of long runs down gorgeous hallways with frequent pauses to kill enemies who duck behind cover but don't otherwise move much.


Samurai II Vengeance - Cell-shaded slaughter

Samurai II: Vengeance is a cell-shaded (mimics cartoon rendering) game with an emphasis on hacking and slashing your way through armies of Japanese ronin. The game features a number of slow-motion decapitations and improbable eviscerations. It's extremely linear and offers limited combos and other fighting moves, but it's fun -- provided you don't mind hearing the same three grunts repeated over. And over. And over.



The original Galaxy on Fire 2. Note the relatively simple texturing on the space station.

Before we talk about Galaxy on Fire 2, we need to explain the game's different versions. The original flavor of the game shipped for Sony Ericsson's Xperia Play when that phone launched earlier this year, at a price of ~$12. Next came Galaxy on Fire 2 THD, which is a Tegra-optimized version of the game that's free for Tegra owners. That's the one we used for our coverage.


Galaxy on Fire 2 - The updated version for Tegra 2

In November, developer Fishlabs released Galaxy on Fire 2 HD;  a full remake for the iPhone 4S and iPad 2. The developer rebuilt all of the 3D models used in game, added new backgrounds and images, additional lightmaps, and native support fort both 1024x768 and 960x640 at a price of $9.99.

Mac owners can also buy Galaxy on Fire 2 Full HD, a further redesign aimed at pushing the hardware of a modern PC. The price is $19.99 and a PC version is coming soon. This is one of the first times we've seen a title debut as a mobile game only to scale upwards so aggressively and quickly, and it could be a sign of things to come as the gap between consoles and tablets narrows.

GoF2 is easily the most ambitious of the games we tested and offers the closest thing to a real story. The voice acting is...well, frankly, it's absolutely terrible, but this could be spun as "charmingly retro" to anyone who remembers the early days of voiceovers. Unfortunately, the storyline is pretty darn thin;  there's no sign of the space opera plots that defined games like Wing Commander or the Freespace series. GoF2 is more akin to games like Freelancer. Visually, it's gorgeous.

Galaxy on Fire 2
is noteworthy for its cross-platform scaling, its attempt to create a fully realized universe in a genre that's seen far too little fresh material in the past decade, and its graphics on all the various platforms. Its virtual control pad, however, remains a weak spot. It offers even less customization than Samurai II or Shadowgun; players can only adjust the height of the buttons and D-pad, not the distance from the edge of the screen.

The difference between these three games and the other titles we've discussed is that none of them manage to feature an interface that's more than adequate. That's not a slam on developers. It's just proof of how new the market is and the need for solutions that match the interface rather than a crude approximation of physical controls.

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