id Software really, really wants to bring first person shooters to the iPhone. They've already released three of them, not counting their first-person RPG spin-offs, and now they've brought their new IP, "RAGE" to the platform in the form of "Mutant Bash TV." It's a remarkable visual feat, but I'm still getting the impression that id is trying to shoehorn a genre onto a platform that simply can't handle it.
Set in the universe of "RAGE," "Mutant Bash TV" takes on the ever-popular concept of a game show where players fight for their lives. The game is an on-rails shooter, which means you can look around and aim, but the game will handle all your movement. The controls are exactly like they were in "DOOM Resurrection," id's last iPhone, on-rails shooter, so if you played that game, you'll feel right at home.
Best iPhone Graphics Yet
The only thing that's come close to the visuals in "RAGE: Mutant Bash TV" was "Epic Citadel," the free tech demo that just featured an open castle to walk around in. "RAGE" is an actual game, though, and it looks remarkably good, with 3D environments, frighteningly-animated mutants and some impressive lighting. As a point of comparison, it looks like the sort of graphics you might see on the original Xbox or a recent PSP game. iPhone games do not normally look this good.
The problem with an on-rails shooter is that the game is constantly moving you forward, even if you don't want it to. There's tons of stuff to collect like ammo and health, both mandatory for survival, but the camera in "RAGE" is constantly bounding forth without your permission. This is made even more frustrating by the fact that you can only pick up items by shooting it, and if you miss the item, you end up wasting valuable ammo. This is a common occurrence, given the manic camera.
Limitations Of The iPhone
So why did id make an on-rails shooter? Because playing a normal shooter on the iPhone is really, really tough. Look at GameLoft's "NOVA," a title that looks great but requires an acrobat's level of coordination to play.
So id dumbed things down a little bit. The consequence of this is that the only way to successfully aim is using the accelerometer, as the optional touch screen controls are just too slow. Unfortunately the accelerometer is just too twitchy and requires that you hold the device like a statue...an impossible feat during a commute.
Glorified Target Practice
"RAGE: Mutant Bash TV" is only a dollar (or two if you want Retina Display-level graphics), so it's hard to complain too much about depth, but it's worth noting that this game is kiddie pool shallow. It's a shooting gallery, Basically. There are three levels, each of which takes about 10 minutes to complete. Throw in multiple difficulty levels and you might play this game for about an hour. Beyond that, it's pretty unlikely, unless you want to show your friends what the iPhone can do.
For most people, a dollar or two for an hour's worth of entertainment is a steal, but I know how out of whack the App Store pricing model is, and value expectations can get screwed up in the face of games like "Angry Birds," which cost a dollar but have about 10 hours of gameplay. Game Center support for "Mutant Bash TV" might've helped replay with achievements and online leaderboards, but alas, no luck there.
If you're looking for a deep, complex FPS from id Software, "RAGE: Mutant Bash TV" is more like one of those small cans of Pringles. Pristine visuals (they're not all crumbled!) and enjoyable for a short span of time, but unfulfilling overall.
I honestly feel like id needs to accept the fact that the only FPS you can really pull off well on the iPhone is something like "DOOM" or "Wolfenstein 3D," where aiming up is a luxury you simply don't have to contend with.