App of the Week: Republique

Developer: Camouflaj LLC

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 7.0

Price: $4.99

Available: Here 

Tune an ear to the going ons of the gaming world, and you might hear two things. A drop in half-thought jokes aimed at mobile gaming, and a buzz surrounding “Republique.” The two are most certainly related.

In “Republique” you play an unspecified person assisting a young girl named Hope as she attempts to escape from the prison fortress of totalitarian over-rulers. The first part of a five part episodic series, going into any more details regarding the plot of “Republique” would not only be an inadequate effort, but would certainly ruin what is even in this extremely early going a simply gripping tale of intrigue and discovery.

Now, as Hope is devoid of any particular special abilities outside of some quick wits, a talent for hacking, and some basic thieving skills, “Republique” is very much a stealth game. That’s a genre you don’t see often in mobile gaming, for the simple reason that it’s a tricky proposition with touch controls.

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“Republique’s” solution to this problem is to keep things simple. Nearly every action is completed through a single touch. That could have been the kiss of death for the title, but its executed in such a way that you always feel like you’re in control of the situation and the challenge only derives from the areas of the game it is supposed to. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is among the most enjoyable stealth gameplay experiences to come along since the heyday of the “Thief” series. It may not reach the lofty heights of that classic franchise, but to even be judged by that measuring stick it set should tell you a lot.

As good as the game is moment to moment, though, its true value lies in its production value. While this is immediately apparent when viewing the game’s graphics, an even great love has gone into the game’s voice acting (which incredibly includes “Metal Gear Solid’s” David Hayter), writing, and scripting. The combination of these three ensure that memorable characters, moments, and dialog appear with ease and make “Republique” something of an anomaly on the mobile scene, as a game that matches (and at times exceeds) the level of production quality you get from a AAA major game release.

Again that doesn’t just apply to the graphics. We’ve seen mobile graphics of higher caliber before. “Republique” is a game that feels like big budget release from top to bottom.

That’s the goal that developer Camouflaj promised when they put “Republique” on Kickstarter and even though the series is far from over, it’s a goal they have already fulfilled in some measure with this first installment. It’s easy to get spoiled with not only the increasing quality of mobile games, but how incredibly cheap and plentiful they are in comparison to say full fledged handheld titles that you’d find on the 3DS or PSP. “Republique” is the type of game that immediately alerts you to how spoiled we’ve become with the concept, as it provides a gaming experience you can’t find anywhere else on your phone or tablet of all places.

If you want a great mobile pick up and play game that you can turn on, enjoy, and shut down with relative ease, then pick up “Ridiculous Fishing” or any number of great arcade like apps. However, if it’s a taught thriller as gripping as any Hollywood espionage tale, and as immersive as any great stealth title in gaming’s past your after, then there is no legitimate competitor to “Republique.” It’s a landmark release, and my app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Device 6

Developer: Simogo

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 5.1

Price: $3.99

Available: here

Developer Simogo is a company on a mission. Their project history showcases some of the most artistically challenging, creative, and entertaining apps ever released, as they seem to be dead set on winning the race to make a gaming app that showcases the full potential of mobile devices, even when it feels like they’re the only ones really in the running.  While the music/stealth hybrid game “Beat Sneak Bandit” showed they were getting warmer, and the beautifully morbid adventure “Year Walk” almost got there, it’s “Device 6” that will likely go down as Simogo’s magnum opus, and one of the finest mobile experiences ever made.

I mentioned before that it felt like Simogo was aiming for the ultimate mobile gaming experience, yet somehow it doesn’t feel right calling “Device 6” a gaming app, or really trying to define it at all. On a very basic level it’s a callback to the old text adventures like “Zork” that saw you type in basic commands to advance a story. Your story here is that of a woman named Anna who wakes up on a mysterious island, unsure of how she got there, or what to do next. It’s a tired set up but, to be honest, then again so are text based adventure games. This makes the two something of an oddly appropriate match, but probably doesn’t help to explain why “Device 6” is so incredible.

The answer to that lies in the storytelling. “Device 6” doesn’t just tell a tale that you occasionally advance with basic commands, but rather presents a story that constantly requires you to interact with it in significant ways. Sometimes this comes in the form of “choose your own adventure” style moments that diverts the tale onto slightly different paths, but more often it’s in the way the game requires you to participate in mini-game like moments where you are momentarily put into the shoes of the character to solve a variety of puzzles and overcome other obstacles. Rarely taking the same form twice, these interludes of interactivity are, without exception, incredibly challenging and unbelievably creative moments that go a long way to breathing new life into the old text adventure format not just because they provide a game like break from the reading, but rather because they enhance the story in a way that allows it to evolve to a level far beyond what is possible with just printed words.

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Were “Device 6” to stop there, though, it would probably only find itself atop the growing heap of interactive story games on mobile devices. However, its trump card comes in the way it formats the text adventure. For instance, there’s a point in the story where you encounter a staircase. At that moment, the text physically diverges into both a downstairs and upstairs path which you’ll have to choose between. Another example of this imaginative style comes when you walk through a corridor, and the words suddenly form into a shifting single file line that requires you to tilt your device to keep up with them, simulating the feeling of walking down the same corridor Anna does. These may sound kind of gimmicky, but combined with the constant stream of timely visual elements and puzzles, they help to make “Device 6” the most engaging novel you’ll ever read.

“Device 6” reminds me of another recent release “The Stanley Parable” in that both showcase new, and previously unthinkable, ways of telling a story within an interactive medium. Where “Device 6” differs though is that it doesn’t feel like an isolated experience, or test run to a new method of storytelling, but rather a fully realized showcase that might just redefine how books are formatted in the digital age, or even create an entertainment medium that we don’t even associate with traditional books. That might sound like a bold statement, but the confidence and skill that “Device 6” exhumes when showcasing its unique methods is all of the reference needed to justify it’s potential as a game changer. Like watching a hotshot backup on your favorite football team come in and win an impossible game for the aging starter, once you get a taste of “Device 6” it’s clear that there is no going back.

Book, game, something in-between…I don’t care what you call “Device 6,” because I’m just glad it’s on the app store so I can talk about it here and tip you off to the moment when interactive storytelling shed nearly all of its conventions, and the idea of the capabilities of e-books changed forever.  Then again even if “Device 6” doesn’t change the storytelling world, it still stands as a one of a kind experience without equal in concept or quality on the app store. For want of a greater honor to provide it, I humbly name “Device 6” my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Sword and Glory

Developer: Ifelse Media Ltd.

Compatible with: iPod Touch 3rd gen and up, iPad, iPhone 3GS and up (optimized for iPhone 5), Android devices

Requires: iOS 4.0 and up, Android 2.0.1 and up

Price: Free

Available: here (for iOS) and here (for Android)

If you’re anything like me, you’re suffering some serious withdrawals this week, as there will be no new “Game of Thrones” episode on Sunday, and winter itself will have come and gone by the time we get more.

However, if you are similarly disheartened by the hibernation of television’s best show, there is a simple solution that can tide you over for the long wait.

Read the books.

Should that not be enough to feed the hunger though, then also consider downloading “Sword and Glory.”

It’s a medieval-ish era gaming app that shares several similarities with the HBO series, starting with the basis of families feuding. Right from the outset you are asked to align yourself with one of three warring clans (or choose to go on your own), for which to win glory for. After choosing some personal attributes that help create your character, you’ll find that winning glory mostly boils down to completing various quests that all lead to one-on-one duels with some undesirables.

Making up the bulk of the gameplay, the dueling system in “Sword & Glory” is of the easy to learn, but tough to master variety. It only consists of two basic functions (block and attack) which can each be accomplished through various levels of force, with the basic goal being to get past your enemies’ defenses and kill them. I’ve heard it compared to a “rock, paper, scissors” style, but it’s more about timing and rhythm, especially in later parts where the difficulty shoots up quickly and you are forced to think and act appropriately.

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In another interesting parallel to “Thrones,” the world of “Sword & Glory” is a morally grey one, even though the game’s graphical palate is pleasingly rendered in black and white. Choices must be made around every corner which can hold great sway over proceedings both immediate and long term. Though not as ambiguous or ambitions as say “The Walking Dead,” you’ll often find yourself pausing before decisions to consider your actions, lending weight to the more quiet moments, and some unexpected depth to an otherwise bare bones plot.

Hands down though, the biggest comparison between the two properties is their shared belief that all men must die. Death is inevitable in “Sword & Glory” and once it occurs, your character is gone forever, with their accomplishments immortalized in the game’s ever expanding graveyard. Fear not though, as once death occurs, you may continue on as the next in your character’s line and, while you lose any silver and stats your previous creation had, you retain the glory points they accrued (which can be traded for currency and rare items) and all their equipment as well.

It’s an absolutely brilliant lineage concept that lends both urgency to all your current proceedings, and serious replay value long term, as you attempt to progress a little further each generation. Even if it weren’t present though, you’d find plenty of motivation to keep playing thanks to a perfectly tuned combat system and plenty of enhancements to both your character and homestead to purchase, not to mention the various quests, paths, achievements, and final legacies available to pursue based on your choices.

Sure it’s nothing new in RPG terms, but I can’t overstate how well executed it all is. What you get with “Sword & Glory” is a finely tuned (and damn good looking) mobile RPG that is built upon one of the least forgiving permadeath systems I’ve ever seen, thanks to a lack of stored save points, beyond where you left off. While it can be frustrating to lose a character you’ve invested hours in, it only furthers your motivation to do better the next time, and to die every time with as much glory as possible.

I may keep mentioning “Game of Thrones” since I stumbled upon “Sword & Glory” while getting over my withdraws from the show, but in no way does it relies on that, or any other, property or context to stand out, thanks to a rare mix of raw emotion, depth, and accessibility. In a game all about establishing your legacy and forging a name for yourself, I’m happy to bestow “Sword and Glory” with the title of app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Eater

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Developer: Curbed Netwok

Compatible with: iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone (optimized for iPhone 5), Android devices

Requires: iOS 5.0 and up, Android 4.0 and up

Price: Free

Available: here (for iOS) and here (for Android)

I know what you’re saying.

“But Matt, I already own a food finding app. Why should I download another and not, say, chase you down with a mob of torch weilding villagers and burn down the old windmill you sought refuge in?”

Well, first of all, that would be a little dramatic don’t you think? Secondly, I’m not suggesting Eater will become your go to food app, and neither is Eater. For one thing, it only covers 22 American cities, and even then only points out a certain amount of restaurants covered by that most popular foodie blog, rather than show you everything there is to eat in the area.

Instead Eater is best used to supplement your current restaurant locater app. That’s because the people running all branches of the Eater site are obsessed food nuts dedicated to finding not only the best restaurants (conveniently marked by their “Eater 38” symbol, denoting the 38 best restaurants in a city), but some of the most unique and intriguing as well, as featured on their constantly updating heat maps.

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For instance, the Eater app won’t show you what people think about that gas station on the corner’s sandwiches, unless that gas station just so happens to be a locally known only gem that serves some of the best sandwiches in the city (or maybe is actually a hidden bar). It’s best used for locals looking for a reference written by some of the most die-hard food hounds around or, even better, tourists who want to go somewhere and eat like the most in the know of locals, so that while you’re in New York you’ll know exactly where to go to experience cronut-mania, or why to skip every pretender BBQ place in Austin, and go straight to the mountaintop at Franklin BBQ.

Even better, the Eater app does this through a familiar and, mostly, helpful layout that could stand to use a few technical and feature upgrades, but doesn’t provide too many burdens in looking for the best of the best in your area. There is even a quick link to the Eater blog, for those that are fans, or maybe just looking for the most up to the minute restaurant recommendations.

Much like those “Not For Tourists” guides, the Eater app is like Zagats, but made by the most serious of foodies. Unlike those foodies, it is able to recommend a restaurant without any snobby pretentiousness, or without being hindered by Yelp like reviews where stars drop because of that one patron who got “that look” from a waiter one time.

Equally useful in finding the absolute best places to eat in 22 of America’s finest cities for both the people living there, and those just passing through, when you need access to a GPS showing the meccas of the most serious of food nerds, you need Eater, my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: NarcoGuerra

Developer: Game the News

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Android 2.1 and up

Price: $1.04

Available: here

Despite being a short week for most, this has been one of the more bountiful weeks for apps in recent memory. While such notable releases like the iPad release of the immortal “Knights of the Old Republic,” a long overdue great Warhammer gaming app in “Warhammer Quest,” and the creatively exciting music creation app “Musyc,” all deserve recognition, there is one that deserves it even more, for several reasons.

“NarcoGuerra” is a “Risk” like strategy game that sees you take tactical control of the Mexican police force, as they fight their war against the drug cartels plaguing the nation. To do so, you will need to gather intel, battle corruption, and take over cartel controlled and disputed territories all while defending your own via troop distribution and mastering a (initially) simple numbers system. Victory is achieved when you have rid Mexico of the cartel.

Except, just as in real life, it’s never quite that easy. The developer’s larger purpose in “NarcoGuerra” is to make people aware of the astoundingly violent and never ending war that is the real cartel battle in Mexico. To do so, they have made the game’s main mode punishingly difficult, and yes even a bit unfair. Just when you think you’ve got everything under control (which is rare), suddenly corruption destroys your efforts from within, or you’ll be betrayed by bad intel, delayed by the death of a major commander, or stunned by the rise of a new cartel power. The better you do in “NarcoGuerra,” the tougher the cartel pushes back, making defeat most prevalent, the closer you get to victory.

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It may not sound like much fun, but it very much is. You’re fighting a war that can technically be won, but only just so. As a result you’ve got a lot of gameplay on your slow march to victory that includes all of the usual tactical strategy game niceties, as well as elements unique to the backdrop, like deciding which president to throw your financial support behind in the hopes of turning the tide. The combination of these elements produces an experience that feels appropriately, and effectively, authentic to the context

“NarcoGuerra” uses an un-winnable war as a perfect backdrop to a tense and exciting strategy game that remains a challenge despite whatever mastery you may perceive you have of the proceedings. You may never beat “NarcoGuerra,” but you are also unlikely to tire of fighting the good fight, thanks to some rewarding, ambitious, innovative, difficult, and (somewhat ironically) addictive gameplay.

While the still entertaining multiplayer and skirmish modes are focused on providing a more “video game” experience, it is the main story mode that is the draw. It focuses on a real world horror that deserves more attention, and uses it to enhance what is at its core, one of the most intelligent and entertaining mobile strategy games available. “NarcoGuerra” could have been a blunt political message thinly disguised as a video game, but instead it is a strong and important statement that takes the form of my app of the week.

  

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