I was pretty excited about Warpack Grunts when I first started playing it. The game seemed to have promise. And for $0.99, I had inklings that it may have been the biggest steal to come to the iPhone since the OS 3.0 launch. While it still lived up to its $1 price, I can’t say that it quite met my expectations. Though the graphics, the gameplay and the level of difficulty were all rock solid, a few missing features (and some wonky controls) left a sour taste in my mouth.
Developed by Freeverse and Strange Flavour Limited, Warpack Grunts is a third person army combat game in which you travel around in a pack of 4 special forces units and your job is to blow the enemy to smithereens. The pack moves as one group, and drag your army around by swiping your finger in the direction you want to go. Unlike most iPhone real-time strategy games (which this is not, but RTS games are the best point of comparison for the controls), you cannot select a portion of your units, and you do not tap to move them in a certain direction. Instead, you literally slide your finger in front of where you want them to go, and the screen and units move accordingly. This maneuver has a surprisingly shallow learning curve, and I picked it up within five minutes of gameplay. Your units each have their own machine gun, but share one “special weapon” such as a grenade, bazooka or sniper. You tap in the direction you want to fire the machine gun, or can toggle the special weapon to fire it.
Addictive, intriguing and well-designed were three words I thought I would end up describing the game. And the first two still hold true. The game is split up into a series of short missions (not meant to take more than 5 minutes at the most; some of them are as short as 30 seconds), each of which is challenging and engaging. Overall, I had a hard time beating most missions on the first try, but usually handled it on the second or third. That said, some missions (like the 30 second ones) were uselessly easy and some missions were unnecessarily tedious and frustrating.
You weave and wind your way throughout a nondescript South American jungle, and the landscape is filled with trees rocks that force you to stay on a path. The game makers had to be drunk when they designed some of these paths, because they weaved and wound so much I felt like I was getting dizzy while sitting still in my chair. Given the nature of the controls (you have to keep dragging your finger along the screen to move at all), these labyrinthine environments were obnoxious and unwanted.
But the worst part of this game was the design. I loved the actual crux of the gameplay, and think that it would be easy for Freeverse to do a second take on the game, raise the price to $4 and make me extremely satisfied with purchasing it. Aside from the aforementioned controls, another major gripe I had was the inability to save. After dying four (or maybe five; I can’t count) times in one go, you are basically back to square one. It doesn’t save at the last mission you played, and so you are stuck starting over from the tutorial levels and ripping hair out reading the same stale dialogue over and over again.
OK – I’ve talked a lot about how I liked the gameplay, but what did I like? Mostly, it was the tactile nature of the skirmishes. You use the environment (i.e. hide behind trees) and your special weapons (e.g. grenades) to destroy your enemy before they know what hit ’em. Though this often means having to play the level twice (and just getting man-handled the first time), it also results in a more strategic shooting game. The enemies move in a predictable manner, so you can plan your route ahead of time and carefully pick them off, one by one.
Despite its many flaws, but I would still recommend buying Warpack Grunts if this the type if game you’re into. I was more frustrated about the game because of how much potential it had than anything else, but at $1, I find it hard to believe you couldn’t justify the purchase. That’s one less trip to the vending machine for a game that has major upside if you can look past its pitfalls. Each mission has its own merits, and I found myself glued to the screen while I was ‘nading tanks or gunning down enemy soldiers.
What we like:
- The Missions. Though there were definitely outliers, most of the missions were quick and dirty. Plenty of action and they didn’t last so long that you lost interest.
- The Grenades. Ok, I know this is specific, but grenades are actually a huge part of the game, and their use is extremely well-done.
- Multiple aspect support. Switching between portrait and landscape is essential to the game, and it was a treat to see a game utilize both.
What we don’t like:
- The controls. We’ve mentioned this already, but OMFG was I annoyed at having to drag my finger around like a flippin’ drunkard trying to navigate around the landscape to actually kill the enemies. Also, I thought that toggling the special weapons was too difficult and poorly designed.
- You can’t save. There are over 30 levels in this game, but if you want to play it campaign-style and go through them, you have to start from the beginning after every 4 deaths. Why a bonafide game manufacturer would put its users through that torture (the first few levels are tutorials) is beyond me.
- Only one good special weapon The grenades were fun, yes. But the rest of the special weapons were lame. The sniper and binoculars were too hard to control, and virtually unusable. And the bazooka shot straight at the ground you tapped on, meaning you could only fire at what you saw on the screen. That meant you had to basically stand in front of enemy tank bearing down at you as you frantically fired your bazooka at it, hoping for the best.