Archetype: A Multiplayer Shooter for the iPhone

Archetype is another major entry into the realm of multiplayer, first-person-shooters on the iPhone. This is a tricky genre to get right but the payoff is a handful of games that go way beyond the typical iOS gaming experience.

Is Archetype one of these must-have titles or another dud that doesn’t live up to its promises? Read on to find out!

A Gamer’s Fix

Have you ever seen someone on the train, perhaps on their way to work, twitching uncontrollably, muttering under their breath, tattered clothes, a month’s worth of unkempt facial and nasal hair masking the pasty quality of their skin?

It’s possible that you’ve encountered a heroin addict who’s short of a fix. But more likely, you’ve had the pleasure of a rare gamer sighting. Gamers, particularly of the shooter and MMO varieties, don’t often venture beyond their natural habitat. Undoubtedly, people-watchers take great joy in stumbling across such a rare pleasure, taking notes with great ferocity.

For some, though, the gamer away from his console can be a scary sight. Makes you feel uncomfortable on that trek into the city. Perhaps you even wet yourself in fear a little.

Villain, the company that develops Archetype for the iPhone and iPad, aims to make your morning commute a little less frightening. Much like a junkie’s dealer, they’ll take care of that freaky, twitchy mess of a man, by giving him a game he can play on his phone.

Archetype is a multiplayer first-person shooter, with a sci-fi bend in the style of Halo, and no single-player mode, much like the seminal game of the first-person shooter elite, Counter-Strike: Source. This review pertains only to the iPhone version. Partially because I’m a cheap bastard, but mostly because this is, after all, iPhone.AppStorm.

Getting Started

On opening Archetype, you’ll watch a fancy video featuring enigmatic one-liners and metal-clad men who look only distinguishable enough from Halo’s Master Chief to keep Villain out of a nasty lawsuit. The first thing you’ll want to do after viewing this cinematic masterpiece is watch the tutorial videos and play the training level.

I hate long tutorial videos. Thankfully, Archetype’s videos are snappy and to the point. It would be better, and easier to commit to memory, if Villain had incorporated this crucial education on the interface into the training level. Nobody plays a game for passive entertainment. That’s what televisions are for.

After you shoot some defenseless training dummies, you can jump in the queue for a multiplayer game. Here’s what you’ll see once you’ve queued and a map has been initiated:

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Playing a Map

I died for the cause of taking this screenshot. That guy in the doorway was coming right for me.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s take a step back to the lobby. Like the metal-clad men of the game, it’s possible that the lobby is reminiscent of Halo’s, but I haven’t played a Halo multiplayer game to compare it to, mostly because I despise the sound of five year old American kids swearing like truck drivers through my sound system. It is much like what you’ll see playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on Xbox Live.

The only real options here are the ability to choose your region and vote on a map. Choosing a local region means you’ll have more combatants to play against, since chances are that if you’re awake, so are other nearby Archetype players. It also presumably reduces your ping, the number next to your name, as seen below, though I didn’t really see a noticeable effect and it is possible that Villain runs all of these servers in the US.

You can vote on a map, and the map with the most votes is the map that your group will play. It’s the opposite of what you’ll see in most console and mobile games, where you vote to skip a map, and another one is randomly selected, until everyone is tired of skipping maps. No group can ever really settle on a map in the gaming world, it’s simply a matter of when voting steam runs out.

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The Lobby

At the end of each match, the game summary lets you know who won, by how many kills, and which player spread the most destruction across the map. In the image of the game summary below, you’ll see that the mysterious man in the doorway killed me three times while I was taking screenshots.

You can’t say that I don’t go through blood, tears and sweat to bring you hard-hitting investigative reporting.

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Game Summary

Controls

So what about the controls? Ever since Apple started pointing out the potential of iOS devices for gaming, I’ve been suspicious of how advanced games can be written for the platform without some seriously awkward controls. Shooters like this one require movement, aiming, shooting, grenade-throwing and weapon-switching.

The truth is that Archetype isn’t bad as far as controls go, but it’s not great either. You control your character’s movement Xbox-style: one joystick for moving around, and another for looking around. You’ve got to tap yet another button to shoot, though there are auto-shooting weapons that start firing when the crosshairs are somewhere in the vicinity of a target.

Frankly, they should’ve made all weapons work like that. Really, I prefer a game where I can control my shots, saving ammo so I don’t have to reload at a bad time with enemies sending bullets through my flesh like I’m so many pockets on a billiards table. The thing is that on a touch-based device with a form factor like the iPhone, having more than two controls that need to be used simultaneously just doesn’t work very well.

The Loop ran a piece last month quoting from Donald Mustard’s insights into iOS game development at the Game Developer Conference. Mustard is the creative director at Chair Entertainment, the company that developed the massively successful mobile game Infinity Blade. He explained that his team decided the game needed to be controllable with a single finger early on in the design phase.

He’s quoted as saying “We needed simplified controls that wouldn’t rely on any sort of ported control scheme or simulated joysticks,” and “If your game would work well with a controller, you’re making the wrong game.”

At the time I thought this approach was a little extreme. The only shooter I’d played on the iPhone then was Overkill, which only requires two fingers at a time since you don’t actually move your character around, and it works reasonably well. After playing Archetype, I think the team at Villain could learn from Chair Entertainment and experiment with simplified controls.

Conclusion

For its faults, Archetype is a pretty good game, certainly good enough to keep The Gamer from twitching too much as he goes through withdrawals on the train. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but developers are still figuring out how to move away from games that rely on console controllers, mice and keyboards and forward to plain old fingers.

I’m sure there’s a control scheme waiting to be invented, or already out there, that will make Archetype feel less awkward to play, and given the general high quality of the game, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is Villain who figures it out in the end.


Summary

Archetype is a multiplayer-only first-person shooter for the iPhone and iPad. The control scheme is a little hard to get used to but the solid multiplayer action is definitely worth a download

7