Unreal Engine, this is a name synonymous with gamers. It's a game engine that was developed by Epic Games and was first used for Unreal back in 1998 and it's third iteration is used in todays games. A couple of the titles you might recognise currently running off Unreal Engine 3 are: Batman: Arkham Asylum & Arkham City, Gears of War 1-3 & Mass Effect 1-3. So to hear that this very same engine was being used in an iPhone game was surprising to say the least. Now if you own an iPhone and are a gamer you've had your fair share of run-ins with so-called "Real games for the true gamers" and by now are probably pretty damn sceptical of anything else that gets called the same. Now you might be thinking that I'm about to say Infinity Blade is different and in some ways, yes it is, but it still is not the full experience of what a gamer would come to expect from a "real game" -- what it is though, is a glimpse at what might be the possibility of a fully fledged gaming experience on an iPhone or any phone for that matter and for me at least, that's an exciting thing.
Infinity Blade starts off with a cut scene of your character assaulting a castle only to come face to face with the "God King". There is then a short duologue between your character and the God King that is done in some unknown (at least I couldn't translate or understand it) language which is then cut short when the God King dispatches his gigantic hulking guard to shut your insolent mouth. It is through this battle that you learn the basic gestures and mechanics of the game after which the God King then interrupts and procedes to stab you with his Infinity Blade. With your death though begins the infinite loop of which is the foundation of this game, with each progeny you work your way through the castle to the God Kings chamber at which point you're likely to have him stab you in the chest with the Infinity Blade again (although since you're playing a different character I guess it doesn't really classify as "again"). Now you might be thinking what the hell is the point of playing it then? Well, with each run through you gain experience, gold, spells and equipment which carries over to the next in your ancestral line. Despite sounding pretty tedious it's quite a fun undertaking.
Controls are the same as with most iPhone games which involves a lot of swiping and tapping but it's very responsive even when you're frantically swiping left, right, up and down in quick succession. Swiping as you can imagine is the control scheme for swinging your sword around and tapping the left or right side of the screen will result in you dodging your enemy's attack, tapping then holding the centre of the screen will cause you to block. It's all fairly simple and doesn't require much dexterity at the earlier levels. More advanced is the parry system which is still just swiping your finger over the screen but requires you to be more accurate as you have to swipe into your opponents attack, so if your opponent was swinging their weapon at you from the top of the screen to the bottom you would be required to swing your sword from bottom to top in order to parry that attack. Figuring out when to do what is quite easy at first but as you gain higher levels of experience the action too becomes a little more intense. All in all it's fairly satisfying but it still suffers much of the same issue as with many other iPhone games in that by needing to swipe your finger over the screen you're covering up all those pretty graphics you were immersed in.
Speaking of graphics, Infinity Blade's are incredible; not just in regards to it being an iPhone game, I'm talking in general. I've seen current handheld (PSP/DS) games which didn't look as good as this but that's in regards to the iPhone 4 version, having not tested the 3GS version I cannot comment on it but have read that it's been toned down due to the slower processing power of the ARM Cortex A8 CPU, not to mention the lack of the retina display. Now pretty graphics are one thing but there has to be more to keep people interested and developers Chair Entertainment and Epic Games have done this by adding in an RPG element to the gameplay.
Numerous sets of equipment are available, each with its own unique attributes. Swords, axes, maces, shields, helms, armors and rings all bring with them specific attributes and abilities that change up the gameplay a little. Each piece of equipment has it's own XP meter but unlike most games where you fill that meter Infinity Blade changes things up by making you drain the XP from the equipment into your character. Once you've drained an item, it displays that you've "Mastered" it which then doubles its resale value, and also gives you one stat point; which you can use to upgrade your character. It's definitely a unique system and it works, unlike other games where you grow attached to an item you've spent time levelling up and then refuse to use anything new, this does the opposite, it encourages you to try new items out and by doubling its resale value gives you a way of acquiring something different.
Aside from the equipment XP draining, your character also gains XP and gold by defeating evil foes. It comes with the more traditional system of gaining XP to level your character and at each level you acquire stat points which can be used to upgrade your characters skills, whether it be health, attack, defense or magic.
Two issues that I feel needs to be brought up is battery life and heat. I'm unsure whether the issue is experienced by all but battery life does get cut quite short and while yes, it's to be expected, I wasn't quite prepared for how quick my battery drained. Now this might not be an issue for some but if I were to be playing this game on a 15-20 minute bus or train ride to work, I'd expect it to use around a third of the battery. The other issue is heat, after about 15 minutes the phone got pretty hot and I don't use a case on my phone so I'd expect temperatures to only be higher on a phone with one. Unfortunately I don't have anything to measure just how hot the phone got but it was immediately noticeable, at least enough for me to feel the need to mention it here.
Overall though Infinity Blade is a more than competent gaming experience but it is not by any means a full gaming experience. If anything, it's an exciting look at the possible future of gaming on a mobile phone (cell phone for you Americans).