Gameloft announces Winter lineup

Gameloft, a leading game developer for the iOS, unveiled on Friday its 2010 winter lineup. Some long awaited sequels were announced, including racing simulator Asphalt 6: Adrenaline, sci-fi combat title Nova 2, and the latest installment of the popular fantasy role-playing series, Dungeon Hunter 3. But equally appealing were the new titles announced for the platform— including adventure game Shadow Guardian, real-time strategy simulator Star Front Collision, and role-playing game Eternal Legacy.

Gameloft has made a name for itself as one of the premier developers for the iOS. From sports games to puzzle games to first person shooters, Gameloft has competed in a tough mobile market with some very ambitious, graphically intensive games that have been quite successful.

That’s not to say they’re immune to criticism. As console gamers like to point out, Gameloft’s titles are often imitations, parodies, or knock-offs of popular console titles. It’s easy to point out the similarities between Gameloft’s Modern Combat, for example, and its console inspiration, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

But while critics can complain about copyright laws and lack of creative vision, Gameloft does offer something the console developers don’t: a mobile version of their games. If Activision showed interest in putting out Modern Warfare for the iOS, that would be one thing. But since these developers don’t show an interest, Gameloft is happy to fill in the gap. With the line between conventional gaming and casual gaming blurring, Gameloft recognizes that there’s an untapped potential in the mobile market and is developing games to address the demand.

This holiday season, you’ll see some new titles from Gameloft, some sequels of existing titles— and both sets of games will look very, very familiar to you.

Shadow Guardian

Adventure used to have one name, and that name was Indiana Jones. But then came along the video game heroine Lara Croft and her delving into tombs that needed raiding. Lately, we’ve had the Uncharted series and the roguish hero, Nathan Drake.

Gameloft is betting that adding one more name to the adventure roll call couldn’t hurt. So enter Jason Call, the hero of “Shadow Guardian,” Gameloft’s answer to the Uncharted series. Featuring climbing, gun-fighting, exploration and puzzle-solving, Shadow Guardian tasks the player with finding the mysterious Prima Materia in a remote hidden temple before a group of ruthless mercenaries uses it to enslave the world.

According to Gameloft’s press release, the game features over 600 character animations, 4X as many polygons as last year’s Avatar game, and varied environments from jungles to Antarctica’s tundra. The initial screens and level demonstrations were quite impressive, as the characters look much more organic and fluid than previous Gameloft titles. The demonstration featured a Mayan-type ruin area with various obstacles, decrepit columns, and realistic looking fauna.

But how does it play? For a game that is focused on platforming and exploration, I was actually really impressed by the various combat mechanics. In addition to an intuitive cover system (featuring a blind fire option), it was really simple to switch to the Iron Sight and pick off enemies. There’s also a simple melee combat option (admittedly too simple) that will let Cross perform one of 12 elaborate takedowns. According to the press release, there are also fifteen enemies to fight and 15 guns to use.

While the combat impressed, the game demonstrates Gameloft’s maturity as a developer. Shadow Guardian might be Gameloft’s most well-rounded and ambitious title to date. Not only are the graphics impressive, the combat intuitive, but the platforming segments were also a breeze to play through. Guiding Cross up walls and over ravines is a simple matter of tapping the context-sensitive buttons. Since collecting the five treasures hidden in each level is one of the objectives, players will be using these mechanics as much as the combat elements of the game.

The game should take four hours to play through, but the achievement and treasure-hunting may lead players to come back for more.

Asphalt 6: Adrenaline

Gameloft’s marquee racing title has gotten the green flag and will be heading to your iPhone and iPad this December. Built from the ground up, the latest edition of Asphalt featuring a completely new engine, twelve new tracks, customizable controls, and 42 cars and bikes. You’ll be able to see Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Ducati and other world-class manufacturers in your 3D garage (that can be explored using the gyroscope), then tuned, customized, and raced.

Taking full advantage of the Retina display and HD graphics, Asphalt 6 looks like another step forward for the racing genre. While the cars and bikes look plenty realistic, the game still features power-ups, neon-lights, and other glitz that more casual fans will appreciate.

The game features a robust career mode, garage, free race mode, and 11 different leagues with 55 events. Gameloft is also promising an Online/Local Multiplayer component for competition against up to five players.

Featuring achievements, customization, and licensed cars that gear heads will appreciate, Gameloft has smartly balanced Asphalt 6 with frenetic, action-packed power-ups and its unconventional, if addictive, gameplay.

NOVA 2

Don’t call it Halo-lite. NOVA 2 is an impressive space-combat simulator on the mobile platform and the sequel to the successful sci-fi FPS NOVA (now free on the App Store). Sure, like Halo, NOVA features a similar opera about space marines, aliens, and a blue-Cortana-like sidekick, but Gameloft has demonstrated creativity and a great deal of dedication in producing one of the highest-quality first-person shooters in the App Store.

NOVA 2 features improved graphics, a 4-plus hour campaign, 10 maps, five modes, numerous perks and achievements to unlock. You’ll have new special attacks, more guns (including grenade launchers, a lightning gun, ray-gun, etc) and improved enemies as well. Some enemies have access to jetpacks, can become invisible, and possess an improved AI.

During the demonstration, I had to confront two red-clad soldiers on jetpacks. After dispatching one of them, I took his dropped pistols and dual-wielded them as I took out his friend. Both were surprisingly difficult to take down—but for once, not because of the controls. My aim was true, but the enemies moved around the map and became harder targets. Later, after stealing a motorbike and crashing it into a hangar, I had to confront more of these enemies and was thankful for the ability to freeze and grenade my foes.

In addition to being on foot, throughout the campaign you’ll have the opportunity to jump on bikes, land-based turrets, and even on the turret of a moving jeep. Hey, NOVA 2 may sound familiar—but when was the last time you had this much fun with an FPS on your mobile device?

Star Front Collision

Real-time strategy games haven’t had much success on the iOS. EA’s port of Red Alert met with mixed reviews and no one has really tried anything else on such large a scale. Gameloft hopes to change that.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Star Front Collision is a sci-fi real time strategy game featuring human space marines, insectoid aliens, and a mysterious super-advanced third alien race. All three forces are vying for the same minerals and there’s galactic war.

Yeah, the Starcraft comparisons are obvious, but hey, if you’re going to aim to imitate a game, might as well be the best. During the demonstration, Star Front Collision proved more of the iPad’s potential as a gaming device than possibly anything else I’ve played this year. Gathering minerals and energy (the currency of the game) was a simple couple of taps. Building barracks and a small force of soldiers was also a snap. But I was really thrilled by was the ability to move troops. By making a rectangular gesture with two fingers, I selected the troops I wanted and sent them towards the area I wanted. I could also create groups with a couple of taps and deploy them to their proper areas.

While I still couldn’t get a sense of how well the game performs on a larger scale with lots of enemies, the initial skirmishes were promising enough to want to see more. The other worry I have is with the AI—my soldiers responded fine to a retreat command, but when I wanted them to stay and fight, some moved for better positions or just wandered aimlessly while being torn to pieces by the insect-like “Myriad” aliens.

There hasn’t been a discussed release date for this title, but the initial build looked pretty far along. It’s not as graphically impressive as some of Gameloft’s other titles, but I think most gamers would prefer a less visually appealing game if it’s gameplay is truly stunning.

Eternal Legacy

Role-playing games are also a neglected genre on the iOS. Sure, we’ve seen ports of the less-graphically intensive first iterations of Final Fantasy and the occasional MMORPG, but nothing on the scale of what Gameloft’s Eternal Legacy is trying to do.

Featuring full 3-D characters and large, open environments, Eternal Legacy looks like an heir to the golden age of Japanese RPGs that came out a decade ago. The comparisons to latter Final Fantasy titles (VII-X, probably) will be obvious when you look at it. Combat appears in instances with turn-based attacks. You’ll be able to select your attacks, special abilities, and items from easy-to-use menus thanks to the iPhone’s touch interface.

In the build I saw, you had three characters in your party and they follow the familiar steam-punkish feel of past Final Fantasy stories. The hero, Astrian, has a huge sword while his female companion is dressed in skimpy clothes and wields magic. The story is also familiar. You play as Astrian, who must save Algoad from destruction and restore the living bond between humans and nature. You’ll fight with swords and guns and face robots and magic and—according to Gameloft’s press materials—you’ll be able to fly your own ship.

Like any good party-based battle mechanic, you’ll be able to set your team’s action gauge, define your teammate’s battle tactics, and even swap out teammates depending on who you want to battle with. You’ll also have full freedom to move around the camera and the characters within the larger world. You can embark on sidequests, customize your characters, and ultimately build your own adventure.

Gameloft also promises you’ll be able to “Choose your own path by interacting with the environment, items, people and enemies, or solving puzzles to make your way through obstacles.” You’ll be able to interact with non-player characters, recruit them to your team, get quests, or get them to reveal secrets.

Eternal Legacy should be on a lot of player’s wishlists for the simple fact that there’s a dearth of good role playing games on the iOS platform, and this game looks to be the most graphically complex we’ve seen to date. If Gameloft can pair that with a compelling story and an intuitive battle mechanic, Eternal Legacy will create a long-lasting legacy indeed. No release date or pricing have been revealed yet, but Gameloft suggests that you can look for this title sometime this winter.

Dungeon Hunter2

The original Dungeon Hunter was one of Gameloft’s first real hits on the iTunes App Store. Now the second installment of the fantasy-based dungeon-crawling role-playing game is one of the more anticipated titles to be launched by Gameloft this winter.

While the original game started off looking like a Diablo-clone, the series looks to have come into its own. The role-playing game has gotten more complex, better looking, and offers an impressive array of loot, classes, and customization for the individual player. Gameloft promises a world 5 times bigger than its predecessor with more enemies, more areas, more quests, and more loot. Plus, there's a new co-op multiplayer option so you can do battle alongside your friends.

Set 15 years after the events of the first game, you must return to Gothicus and survive a bloody war, escape from prison, and save your realm. As one of the immortal king's sons, it's up to you to determine the fate of your land. Dungeon Hunter 2 offers the player the choice of three fantasy classes: warrior, mage, and rogue. From there, the player can level up and eventually unlock six additional specialities (two per class).

Gameloft's promises aside, Dungeon Hunter 2 is easily one of the best looking games I’ve seen on the iPhone. The graphics seem more similar to modern releases like Torchlight than something you normally see on the iPhone. Fire flickers, lightning brilliantly displays across the screen, and the characters move gracefully for a more realized world.

This action RPG lacks a release date at this time, but look for it this winter on the app store.

[Chris Holt is a Macworld associate editor.]

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