Review: Bullet Asylum (Xbox Live)
Another week, another Xbox Live title, and another review. I'm really glad that Microsoft has picked up on the idea of regularity and "appointment apps". I'm less impressed with Bullet Asylum, a modern reworking of Missile Command. It looks wonderful, and I was itching to play it. The truth, unfortunately, is that one big problem gets in the way of making this a title I could recommend.
Version Reviewed: 184.108.40.206
There's nothing fundamentally wrong with updating Missile Command for the 21st century, but it's a tricky game to get right in terms of controls. The original arcade cabinet had three fire buttons (one for each missile base) that sat under one hand, while the targeting was controlled with a huge trackball. Various PC based versions have almost replaced this with a mouse, which gives a decent, if not perfect, feel to the game.
How have developers Uber Geek Games taken all that complexity and moved it on to a small touch-screen? Partly by reducing the options available - there are only two bases that fire here, but they offer more than one turret to fire from - and partly by replacing the traditional missiles with rapid firing Gatling-style guns that provide a constant stream of bullets. They do still take time to travel into the sky, but this ability to sweep the sky balances out the reduction in the number of bases.
From a design point of view this is a wonderful balancing act, and they've just about pulled it off. As you continue to play the game, your surviving bases are powered up, with more weaponry and capabilities - which you need because the enemy waves get stronger and stronger. Then you get the horrible moment with two enemies and only enough time to kill one of them. You must defend the city and if that means losing some of the turrets, so be it. Yes, it makes the next wave harder, but that's the way the game is designed.
The turrets can target two different points in the sky, and by taking advantage of the multi-point touch on the screen it's a simple matter of two fingers or thumbs designating the target and direction of your bullets. Slide over the screen, and a graceful arc of death sweeps just behind you. And here's the issue...
Bullet Asylum fails for me because I can't see through my fingers.
The Missile Command genre demands excellent vision. You need to be able to ignore the enemy craft that are going to impact on the wastelands either side of your guns and city, and target just those that will cause lasting damage. You need to be able to see everything to make those calls, and with the phone in your hand, and thumbs reaching over... well, that's two thirds of the screen covered already.
You can mitigate this slightly by placing the phone on a flat surface and using two fingers pointing almost straight down, but it's still something you need to focus and work around.
This is a shame, because Bullet Asylum has a wonderful neon look that helps it feel both classically eighties and futuristic at the same time. It has three different gaming modes; the arcade mode of regular waves (with a big "boss" every five waves) and turrets replenishing and upgrading over time; survival mode where you start with every turret available and in play, and a lot of enemies ready to descend; and architect, where you purchase the towers and upgrades as you play through.
These are nice tweaks, but they don't change the basic gameplay too much. This would be fine if it all works and little tweaks make big differences. But as I said, from the pure coding side of things, Uber Geek Games have done an amazing job. Everything is fast and smooth, there's a huge amount of detail going on, and it's as frantic as I would expect. It's just the whole visibility issue that's upsetting me. I want them to get around it and find another way of working the controls without destroying everything else they have. I want to understand why it is the way it is. I want to play this game... but it won't let me. Ultimately, Bullet Asylum is an unsatisfying disappointment.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at