Game Over Online ~ Infectious Ground

GameOver Game Reviews - Infectious Ground (c) Ludigames, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Infectious Ground (c) Ludigames
System Requirements Pocket PC
Overall Rating 91%
Date Published Wednesday, December 19th, 2001 at 12:55 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

In the early part of last decade, during the infancy of 3D acceleration technology, another branch of gaming hardware was predicted to be in vogue. For the first time, virtual reality, in the form of special glasses to actual headsets, were pushed to the mass market. None of these lived up to the expectations that consumers had. Many had very limited software support. As 3D obvious has grown to mammoth proportions, there has been little development on the front of virtual reality. The consensus is the growth of more realistic 3D rendering technology has had a hand in that stagnation. Combined with the steadily decreasing price of monitors, a 19" monitor can be had for very little and hard-core enthusiasts are seeking out 21" or even larger. The larger a screen physically gets, the easier it is for 3D games to immerse the player into the environment. For one thing, you get much more peripheral vision when you play on a 21" monitor rather than a 14" one. People have suggested that future PDAs will feature no screen and their display will be head or eye mounted instead.

In the meantime, developers are back to square one when it comes to developing first-person shooters on the PDA platform. Controls are not as easy to come by since there is a lack of the ubiquitous mouse-keyboard combo. The screen severely restricts one's peripheral vision and the limited hardware cannot exactly afford to render any terrain that is close to what we expect from the PC. Infectious Ground, however, is one of the few first-person shooters that I have actually come to enjoy on a PDA. The premise of Infectious Ground is not all that revolutionary, in comparison to what it achieves holistically. Earth colonists have inhabited a planet in the Centauri (I'm guessing Alpha Centauri since that is the closest one) system. Of course, dire warnings of dormant aliens about to wreck havoc on any intruders are ignored. As such, the obligatory distress calls are sent and you are part of an elite team sent down to investigate what has happened. I should strike that and say, you are the entire team. The technology Earth wields is pretty primitive as the other option was simply to send an array of spy drones. You assume the role of Joe Kamov whose nickname is "Job Done", so you pretty much know what you have to do for the rest of the game.

Luckily, the developers don't just throw you into the midst of warfare. The campaign is split up into several segments of which you can swap in and out of your PDA using software installed on your computer. The initial few missions are obviously tutorials that help ease you into the game. Throughout the campaign, you'll be gaining special abilities like rocket launchers to quickly dispatch foes or the sniper scope so you can pick them off at a distance. This becomes more useful in later missions when the levels become populated with hordes of aliens. The missions are interesting and are objective-driven. You often have to find an item or perform a task and then move to an extraction location or proceed to the next theatre. Later on, the missions get lengthier and with it, a bit more monotonous combat than one had bargained for, but the pacing is still pretty frantic. You are helped by someone in-game, sort of the resident tech pro who will go over the objectives with you, warn you about new monsters and generally, bring the story along. The rest of the story is told through short briefings but the literary, and indeed, grammatical quality of those parts leaves room for improvement.

These days, first-person shooters are measured by the prowess of their 3D engines. When it comes to PDAs, there are frightfully few titles that use true 3D engines but Infectious Ground is a good example of an ambitious attempt. The whole landscape is rendered in 3D in a vast array of landscapes from the typical barren wastelands to city complexes to lava-creeping terrain. At no point in the game did I experience a severe framerate drop but suffice to say, much of the landscape textures are low resolution; to the point that you think they are constructed using voxels a la NovaLogic's technique. The aliens, of which there are eight of them, are slightly better but do not seem to be totally 3D. Aside from that, the art is fairly well done with a slightly retro, sci-fi look to everything. The oddest thing may actually be the space suit itself. The chain gun is mounted right beneath your visor so it looks like your gun is actually sticking out from your neck. However, the movement is slow enough that you think sometimes you are actually driving a vehicle and perhaps that's how primitive the space suit that Kamov resides in is. You look through the space suit through its visor and the interior looks very much like what we have in MDK. Perhaps the best homage to MDK is the way the sniper scope works, which is almost an exact replica of what Shiny did.

Much of the gameplay is standard fare in this genre. The AI seems to be more reactionary than aggressive. Some enemies will hunt you down and continue on but most of them can be picked off by intruding into their patrol patterns or simply moving into their zone. It gets more frantic when you encounter an abundance of enemies both in the air and on the ground. Luckily, the chain gun you are equipped with fires automatically. This is an excellent design decision since it frees up one of your hands to do something else. Thus, you can focus on using one hand on the stylus to aim and one hand on the directional pad to strafe. The two hand usage is very intuitive but it also means you won't be playing this while in motion. It doesn't match the flexibility of using a mouse and keyboard but at least it does not put you at a disadvantage. The developers have put quite a bit of thought into this. When you move after aiming, for example, the targeting reticule automatically centres itself unless you are holding on to it with your stylus. This is one of those games where strafing is critical to surviving fights because the only power-ups you get are left behind by the enemy or by the previous colonists. Some of the power-ups are a bit unique, including the usage of a remote camera drone.

There are twenty-one missions in all and that should provide for a fair bit of playing time. However, if you are done, Ludigames is also offering extra downloadable missions through their website. The single player experience is very gratifying though. Ludigames seems to be one of the rare developers that actually take time to account for the PDA format. The interface to play this first-person shooter is a testament to that fact. The visuals are also equally impressive. Despite the expansive landscapes, the level design and low resolution textures help keep the engine moving along at a quick pace even with many enemies on the screen at once. This was one of the problems plaguing another visually engaging title, Chopper Alley. Using the PC conduit software you can load fractional amounts of data on to your PDA to save space. The core game itself is not too demanding for what it can do and storage cards are also supported. It would have been nice to be able to toggle between high and low resolution models of the levels especially if you can load everything on a storage card.

Holistically speaking, Infectious Ground is an impressive first-person shooter. The sci-fi setting reminds me a bit of Battlezone II with its storyline and in-game dialog. Many other element,s like the sniper scope and the art, seem to be derived from MDK. However, Infectious Ground is able to stand on its own. The advertising blurb for Infectious Ground states that this first-person shooter was designed for the PDA format. The thoughtful design is, par excellence, one of the best efforts to make first-person shooters easier on the PDA format. It may not have the most glamorous technical features but this at least makes one wish VR goggles weren't standard equipment with PDAs.

[09/10] Addictiveness
[18/20] Gameplay
[14/15] Graphics
[10/10] Interface/controls
[08/10] Program Size
[05/05] Sound
[03/05] Discreetness
[15/15] Learning Curve
[ N/A ] Multiplayer


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