BackStab: Console-Quality Gaming for the iPhone

Gameloft’s BackStab is hailed as a leap forward in 3D graphics and free-roaming adventure for the iOS platform. The graphics are stunning — from the movement, to the action and the cut scenes. The island, which contains many exotic environments, will impress you and demand your utmost attention. It will be hard to find a competitor for such a solid game.

Of course, there’s more to the story. Just click on to find out.

Amazing Visuals

Graphics, performance, scope, playability and pure entertainment — that’s a lot of bases to cover, and too many games on the market focus on one aspect while letting gamers down in others. With BackStab’s ambitious free-roaming 3D environment heavily touted, the question is whether or not the devs dropped the ball elsewhere.

Precariously scaling the wall will get your heart pumping

Precariously scaling the wall will get your heart pumping

BackStab offers players the opportunity to become Henry Blake, disillusioned former Royal Navy officer, out for blood. It’s a fairly traditional premise — good guy gone rogue. Blake lives only for vengeance now, and the game’s gory, combat-centric gameplay highlights this.

It’s combo-based combat, another ambitious choice for the developers, considering the complexity of the graphics and environments. BackStab isn’t just combat, however, it’s combat in an adventure setting. Specifically, BackStab takes place in the Caribbean during the eighteenth century, which means a variety of pirates and sailors will bear the brunt of Blake’s rage.

Only John Wayne could do better

Only John Wayne could do better

The setup is simple; a brief cut scene precedes the main menu, where the player indicates right- or left-handedness and the appropriate language setting. All of the other game settings are available from this menu as well, for adjustment as the player sees fit.

Interface & Functionality

The simplicity and intuitiveness of the main menu interface isn’t a fluke; the game maintains its user-friendly design throughout. The game functions as an on-the-job training, as Blake picks up the combat skills he needs as the player progresses through the game’s prologue.

The combat controls are sensitive, which is a good thing, since Blake’s reflexes need to be razor sharp. The placement of the joystick can be customized, allowing the player to position it wherever it is most comfortable during gameplay. On screen indicators, like the level map and Blake’s vitality, are easy to read and readily accessible, displayed on screen.

Start jumping like LeBron James to survive!

Start jumping like LeBron James to survive!

Design & Performance

Design and performance have been grouped here because of the scope of what BackStab proposes to accomplish. It’s one thing to cram a console-type 3D adventure into an iPhone; it’s another thing entirely to get good performance out of it. The design aspects of the game are unrivaled on iOS. The free-roaming environment promise was one I took with a grain of salt, but BackStab delivers.

The island offers a nice variety of environments, four different cities and Blake’s given free rein through all of it. Even better, the game performed very smoothly on my iPhone 4. That’s saying something, because it’s not only the environment getting the premium treatment.

Only way to survive is to go in guns blazing

Only way to survive is to go in guns blazing

The characters, including Blake, are fully 3D, and between combat and Blake’s other abilities — climbing, shimmying, jumping, etc. — BackStab really puts those graphics to work. Combat and movement are supported by a fantastic physics engine, adding another layer of realism to the game.

The game’s performance and it’s buttery smooth 3D are just the foundation for the game’s appeal. The aesthetics are very good — the concept art behind BackStab, one imagines, was comprehensive and high quality. It shows in the detail of the landscapes and the care taken to create the gritty, every-man for himself, survival-of-the-fittest eighteenth century pirate vibe. It’s a blend of fantasy and realism that works very well.

There are some performance glitches occasionally, but these are usually fixed by trying another movement or adjusting the camera angle; nothing that really interrupted my gameplay.

Comparisons to Other Games

There really isn’t much on iOS, if anything, to compare BackStab to. The obvious off-iOS comparison is Assassin’s Creed, of course. The open environment and kill-everyone-in-your-way mentality make that unavoidable.

Tomb Raider fans will recognize some of Blake’s maneuvers and get an immediate feel for the game’s physics. Some of Blake’s stealthier kills bring to mind Splinter Cell, but BackStab only incorporates elements of the games mentioned above, and it stands alone on iOS.

Value

BackStab is reasonably priced at $6.99. It’s a fitting price point for several reasons. Considering the game’s size, content and quality, it’s a deal — you’d expect to pay much more for a PC or console game that offered the same.

As an unknown franchise, however, and being a somewhat experimental leap forward, I’d have hesitated to invest more. There are the random (and not awfully intrusive) bugs, and I can’t speak for how the game might perform on other devices.

Closing Thoughts & Rating

BackStab opens the door for those who want more immersive, 3D gameplay on iOS. I absolutely loved the environments and the Pirates of the Carribean minus Disney feel. That said, those who aren’t into violence in their video games — or like it prettied up, toned down, or less bloody — should think twice.

Those fantastic graphics and attention to detail extend to every area of gameplay, including slitting throats. And Blake has a lot of throats to slit. Though, considering the game’s title, perhaps a warning about graphic violence is unnecessary. I’d like to see the bugs worked out and the combat made a little more complex — that done, I’d like to see BackStab expanded into a full franchise. Given that my only criticism of BackStab came from the occasional technical hiccup, and that wasn’t too disruptive, this is a solid game.


Summary

Roam freely across a huge island and gaze upon its magnificent full-3D environments and experience the feeling of an immersive, realistic world around you thanks to impressive character interactions with true-to-life voice effects.

9