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.
[08/10] Program Size
[15/15] Learning Curve
[ N/A ] Multiplayer