Deus Ex: The Fall
E3 has never been a hotbed of activity for mobile titles, especially as the best typically come from small development houses and not mega-publishers. Recently, Square Enix has declared its intention to dive more deeply into these waters. Unfortunately, their latest is following in the footsteps of disappointments like Final Fantasy: All the Bravest.
Gamers are hungry for more Deus Ex after 2011's fantastic Human Revolution. Unfortunately, terrible controls and a cluttered screen of unhelpful pictographic icons should stall out hope that this is the sequel we've been craving.
Even moreso than with Human Revolution, The Fall almost demands a stealthy approach. In the early part of the demo, which seemed to be the introduction to the game, things worked well. Protagonist Ben Saxon sneaks into an area with few enemies, under protection of elevation and cover.
Taking guards out with a crossbow is handled manually with a fire button, though targeting can either be completely free or assisted by a running the cursor over an enemy. The latter felt similar to a snap-zoom that you might see in Call of Duty. Once looking down the sights or through a scope though, the aim is freed up.
When I had time to place my shots, things were great. Double tapping to move into cover was a bit cumbersome, because it forced me to move my hands away from the fire icons (partially because of the terrible tangle of headphone, dock connector, and security lock cables coming off the demo unit). Even moving the icons around the screen would have been unhelpful given the travel distance from the edge to the center-focused target destination.
This encourages use of the virtual analog sticks instead of the tap-and-move mechanic. Admittedly, this is one of my least favorite things in mobile gaming. Thumbsticks work because of tactile response and pivot angle. I have never played a mobile action title that gets virtual sticks right, and Deus Ex: The Fall simply apes what has been done before.
After sneaking into a base, more icons populate the screen. These are not well explained, have no text, and feature only confusing pictograms. The camera is also tight behind Ben's back, giving Resident Evil titles a run for the money when it comes to claustrophobia. This became an enormous issue as I forced a firefight with a single guard.
Tapping on the screen to move between cover became useless because of how tightly the camera is pulled in. This left me with the faux analog sticks and the pictographic icons. Worse, by default these buttons are placed over the movement areas. As I tried to move around crates to stay in cover and take shots, I found myself shooting and crouching as my thumb moved over those icons.
Moving the fire button further away would mean having to completely remove fingers from the "sticks" in order to use weapons. It's an impossibly poor replacement for a trigger, and no movement of these icons around the screen changes that.
Thankfully for Square Enix, Deus Ex: The Fall might be saved by Apple. At WWDC this week, new support for game controllers was announced. When iOS 7 is released later this year, iDevices will finally support real game accessories. Companies like MOGA, which keeps refining its line of devices and has a new series coming later this year, are already working on integration for iPhones and iPads.
I would love to play Deus Ex: The Fall, but to do so in its current format is an exercise in frustration. Put a controller in my hand, complete with dual thumbsticks and triggers, and Eidos' return to 2027 is an instant purchase for me. Until then, I'll just keep hoping for a new console sequel.