Gameloft unveils new iPhone games

GDC is a time for many game developers to show their stuff, each vying for media and consumer attention in the last big press period before E3. Gameloft, one of the leading developers for the iPhone and iPod touch, unveiled three new games to the assembled press on Thursday.

Gameloft’s Elvin Gee demonstrated Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction, a sneak-and-shoot action adventure game. The console version of the game will launch in mid-April, but Gee is mum on when the iPhone version will hit the App Store.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction

While the upcoming launch date of the console version may normally indicate a rushed port job, the game I played was anything but. For starters, the game was developed in parallel and with collaboration with Ubisoft’s console team. The iPhone version features the same plot, voice actors, and game mechanics. One of the more impressive mechanics we saw demoed was the Mark and Execute feature, which effectively allows the player to mark targets and then quickly shoot them. In practicality, this meant I was able to use a handheld mirror to see the terrorists in the next room, mark them, burst into the room, and shoot them both in the head. In another situation, I was able to take out a light from cover (thereby distracting the guards) and then take them out one by one. This new combat mechanic adds to protagonist Sam Fisher’s usual regime of stealth takedowns and use of cover during firefights.

The game also looks pretty. The faces keep looking more and more realistic and Gameloft is improving its environments from sparse warehouses to more lush and detailed locales. I’d still like to see their grenades spray more shrapnel, but overall I’m impressed with how Gameloft continues to improve their 3D environments and more importantly, combat controls. The two to three buttons (effectively action and shoot) are context sensitive and using your finger to steer the camera may seem clunky, but was remarkably effective and unobtrusive. I still struggled to get to cover during firefights and was easily overwhelmed by the terrorists’ numbers, but I appreciate that this is a stealth-first game. I’m not supposed to run-and-gun and the game isn’t designed for such.

Aside from the new Mark and Execute feature that appears in the console game, Splinter Cell Conviction has the new Last Known Position feature. When the player breaks the line of sight of an alerted guard, the screen will show a silhouette of where the enemy thinks Fisher is. This creates great opportunities to flank your enemies or use misdirection in your attacks. The strategies of Splinter Cell Conviction have real potential for depth and variety—already this title looks like more than your typical third-person shooter on your iPhone.

Though our Zombie Week was last week, Gameloft still provides some fresh meat to zombie fans. In Zombie Infection, you’ll play as either a journalist or a cameraman who are sent to a remote African village to understand the political unrest that has swept the southern half of the continent. In practicality this means you’ll be fighting hordes of zombies: Zombie people, zombie lions, zombie crocodiles. You get the idea.

Zombie Infection

Zombie Infection features intense combat against a horde of infected locales, a plot involving an evil corporation, two protagonists (one of each gender) and an over-the-shoulder third person shooting mechanic. (Man, this seems all so familiar somehow.)

Due out in late March, the build I saw looked pretty complete. Gameloft still does a great job with cinematics and setting up the game: You chopper in to a remote village, investigate a bit, and then everything goes to hell. You’re surrounded by zombies, your ride home is far away, and your dialogue is Gameloft’s strangely campy blend of cliché and absurdity to which I can only thank their French development team.

The hordes of zombies are persistent and challenging enough to kill. You can’t run and shoot so you’ll be placing your shots carefully; this makes the combat all the more intense and the foes that much creepier as they slowly amble towards you. The controls were an improved version of what I’d seen in previous Gameloft titles: there’s a fire button, a melee button, and a “holster” button for when you need to move. In addition to the initial village mission, one of the stages I played featured a former zoo. I’d say I got to take out an undead version of Simba but apparently other journalists made that joke at the demo. I will add, however, that taking out the zombie crocodile was a lot of fun.

The last game I saw demonstrated was perhaps the most graphically stunning. Fishing Kings features locales from all over the world, beautifully rendered beaches, terrific 3D boats, and extremely realistic fish. With the touchscreen, you tap where you want your lure to go and then the camera switches to an under-the-sea view. There you can tug your lure along, hoping to tempt a bite from one of the many passing fish. You can tap on a fish to see what type of lure it typically likes to eat and what kind of fish it is.

Fishing Kings

This game captures perfectly exactly my memories of fishing: great surroundings, cool fish, and lots of waiting. As any fisherman will tell you, it’s going to take more than a few minutes on a bus ride to catch a marlin. But Gameloft understands this and is targeting the game not for quick play sessions per say, but for the many who crave a realistic fishing simulator. The beautiful 3D scenery and lush underwater environments are fully detailed and carefully rendered. There are many lures to buy and unlock, fish to catch, and places to see. You’ll even get to hear a lovely muzak soundtrack which I’m sure my dentist already has a copy of. Look for the first true, serious fishing title to hit the iPhone in late March.

[Chris Holt is a Macworld associate editor.]

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