BackStab, Gameloft’s most recent hack-n-slash offering, is now available from the app store. Clearly taking its inspiration from Assassin’s Creed, with a bit of GTA sprinkled in for good measure, BackStab creates a mish-mash of genres that offer an interesting experience that lacks cohesion.
- Detailed graphics and a variety of locales
- Typical Gameloft controls
- Cool sword-fighting moves and fun rooftop running
- A bunch of missions to keep you occupied
- Some bugginess, prone to crashes
- Too much hand-holding, not enough discovery
- Combat requires little to no skill, missions don’t feel organic to the story
Playing as Henry Blake, a member of the British Royal Navy, you go on a revenge kick against the people who betrayed you, imprisoned you, and tried to have you executed. Your journey takes you through several locales, such as port towns, tropical islands, and more. In your travels, you are assisted by a young take-no-guff woman named Lisette, who is largely responsible for your continued ability to breathe after she took out your would-be firing squad. With your trusty sword at the ready, you slice and dice all comers, whether deserved or not. It takes little more than a bit of button mashing, coupled with the willingness of your opponents to wait patiently for their butt-kickings, to make your way through the game. As an Assassin’s Creed-type venture, you’ll spend a good deal of time scaling walls, traipsing across rooftops, and shimmying along ledges as you move about the world. The camera viewpoint is crucial to maneuvering effectively, requiring several readjustments to properly shimmy along without accidentally dropping a deadly distance toward the unforgiving ground. In fact, the camera often seems to have a mind of its own, getting stuck from time to time and suddenly finding itself in odd positions.
Much of the game is mission-based, taking its cue from the GTA series of games. You’re just as likely to fire cannons to take out ships or open up passageways, as you are to kill bad guys who are attacking a young woman. The mini-map in the upper left corner of the screen feels like it was ripped straight out of GTA3. Each locale has 2 or 3 missions to complete, and side quests can be picked up by tracking down individuals indicated on the mini-map. Unfortunately, the side quests don’t have much to do with the revenge plot and seem only to serve as filler to lengthen the story. This helps to create an open-world feel, even if the game does remain fairly linear, which is something of a Gameloft staple. Arrows constantly direct you toward the target of your mission, without giving you much opportunity to seek out and discover these elements on your own. Checkpoints abound to ensure that you won’t have to replay too much of the game if you do happen to meet an untimely demise. Most of ours came as the result of a lengthy fall or our proximity to a burning rooftop, rather than being skewered by an enemy.
Graphically, BackStab looks very similar to other Gameloft titles of a similar ilk, which is to say that it retains that near-console quality without quite getting to that lofty point. The 3D visuals are very good, the animations are fairly smooth, and the locations look terrific. The level layouts are large, with plenty of buildings to scale, rooftops to cross, and little nooks and crannies to explore. Little touches like outlining bad guys in a thin red line help to recognize quickly which individuals should be targeted. The audio is good, though the voiceovers still don’t quite hit the mark for us. Controls are standard fare, too: a joypad on the left controls movements, swiping the right side of the screen adjusts your viewpoint, and context-specific buttons on the right allow you to attack, jump, switch weapons, pick up objects, and more.
Replay value is fairly low, as there are no scores to compare, no difficulty levels to adjust gameplay, and not much reason to do it all over again once you’ve completed the game. The fighting doesn’t present a great challenge, and much of the game seems to happen around you rather than have you influence the game through your actions and decisions. We also crashed out of the game twice within the first hour of play, which was very frustrating. It does provide for some enjoyable play, mostly because we are suckers for great combat visuals and rooftop travelling, but we had higher hopes for this title that just weren’t met. A universal app (a new direction for Gameloft?) at the usual $6.99, BackStab is a less-than-thrilling 3.5-Dimple adventure.