‘The Drowning’ Suffers From Console-Sized Expectations [Review]


The Drowning by Mobage, Inc.
Category: iOS Games
Works With: iPad, iPhone
Price: Free

Let’s get this out of the way right up front, ok? Scattered Entertainment’s The Drowning is a drop-dead gorgeous free-to-play game with a well-designed control scheme that (almost) makes playing a first-person shooter (FPS) worthwhile on a touchscreen. This is, in fact, an important release for those three facts alone.

Ultimately, though, the game suffers as a direct result, I think, of these very same features. I went into the game expecting to find at least some console-level depth in storyline, level design, and the like. What I found, however, was much less interesting.

The game begins with a tutorial level that’s short, and kind of invasive. While it does indeed give players the basics of movement, shooting, and looking around the environment, that’s all it does, and it does so with a heavy hand. Tutorials may be necessary, especially with this non-standard control scheme, but this one could have been embedded in a story-like level in a much more engaging way.

And speaking of story, The Drowning really misses the boat here. There’s a basic back story, told with static images, text, and voice over. It might be intriguing if there were more of it, and if it continued much past the initial entry to the game. What the backstory seems to do, instead, is serve as a way to explain the free-to-play mechanics of leveling up weapons.

Grind to get more of these.
Grind to get more of these.

Speaking of story, The Drowning really misses the boat here.

The controls are rather brilliant, however. The failing of typical virtual joysticks is that players can’t feel them, so it’s extremely easy to move a thumb or two out of the zone. The Drowning actually takes into account the fact that players must look at the screen and uses a two-finger tap used to shoot. The bullets are sent to the midpoint between the two fingers, which allows for some impressive accuracy on a touch screen. Moving around is done with a swipe, and there’s also a “turn completely around” button at the bottom of the screen for quick changes in direction. A single tap moves players around the environment, and the game shows off an impressive pathfinding ability, skirting obstacles with ease.

The levels only come in two flavors, Attack and Defend. Each area on the map has two to three environments within which players move around and shoot zombies, who, according to the game’s fiction, are humans turned by black oil. Attack sections have zombies moving toward players, attacking singly and in groups, while Defend sections have players keeping the same zombies out of the environment. There are more zombies as the levels get harder, and sometimes there can be zombies on rooftops, throwing chunks of oil.

Need a car to get to that big red spot.
Need a car to get to that big red spot.

Killing zombies nets points, with head-shots dropping higher scores. These points translate into stars, and the stars then earn parts and crafting materials to upgrade or make new weapons and vehicles. After every two minute round, players are sent to the upgrade screen, which helpfully shows how many parts are needed to craft or upgrade the next weapon. Better weapons are needed for later levels and zombies. Play two-minute round, upgrade weapons, rinse, grind, repeat.

I wanted more from The Drowning, and that’s probably where the problem is. There’s so much here that reminds me of a console game, including the stunningly photo-realistic graphics, easily-mastered and accurate control scheme, and even the crafting mechanics. Those expectations of a deeper experience just aren’t borne out in the actual gameplay. There’s not much more here than can be found, mechanically, in a carnival duck shooting gallery. Let’s hope updates to the game add more internal depth to match the otherwise high external quality of The Drowning.

The Drowning
Product Name: : The Drowning
The Good: Gorgeous environments, innovative control scheme, free to download and play.
The Bad: Not much more than a shooting gallery, levels are repetitive, story is relatively non-existent.
The Verdict The Drowning is an important gaming milestone, and will be copied and iterated on by many competitors. The control system is the best I’ve seen in an FPS on a touchscreen, and the Unity engine provides some glorious eye-candy. Ultimately, though, the game has a surprising lack of depth and a surfeit of repetition.
Buy from: App Store