Eliminate Shoots For A StepForward, Falls Several Steps Back
Eliminate was first announced by ngmoco at the Game Developers Conference, and at the time it was touted as the next step in mobile gaming on the iPhone and iPod Touch. It would take advantage of the horsepower in Apple's newest devices, as well as the new policies that allow apps to offer paid in-app downloads. The game is now at the forefront of the App Store, but for me it has fallen seriously flat.
Eliminate asks a valuable question of the iPhone gaming audience: if a game is given out for free, will people pay money to play more of it? The business model is similar to other free-to-play, pay-to-improve MMOs where you can play as much as you like for free, but can always pay a small sum to get little advantages like experience points, better gear, or other in-game advantages. Eliminate applies this to a first-person shooter, where you're given a set amount of play time per day, and can pay to gain extra play sessions beyond that daily allotment. You can have unlimited practice time against AI-controlled bots, but only by playing against live human opponents over the net can you gain credits that can be used to buy new weapons, armor, and other buffs.
The problem with this experiment is that it has to be attached to a game that one might want to play. Eliminate has real gameplay and presentation flaws that keep me from wanting to stay with it for more than a few minutes, let alone over multiple daily sessions. The textures are cold and flat, character models are lifeless robots, and the arenas are claustrophobic. The bland narrative of employees in a weapons testing facility builds no connection via a storyline. In all, the game design aims for a Quake 3 benchmark and still falls below that. The virtual thumbstick controls feel mushy and slow, and while auto-firing when a valid target is in the crosshairs helps, it doesn't turn the game around.
All of this is especially disappointing given ngmoco's pedigree. I'm proud to have played many of their games, and it's sad to see a publisher known for smart innovation shove out something like this. If the company wanted to see what could be come of a microtransaction-based mobile game, it should have been something that takes advantage of the iPhone's unique capabilities. I really don't know who Eliminate is meant to serve: it's controls are overcomplicated for the casual gamer, it lacks the features and precision that would attract someone likes to commit to a strong FPS, and there's no sense of coolness in the presentation. If anything can be learned from this experiment, it's that publishers, even ngmoco, really can't rely on old game mechanics that aren't suited to the iPhone platform.