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Epic Citadel: Impressions

September 05 2010

Epic Citadel: Impressions
by Buddha

How do you review a game that really isn’t a game?  Or an app that has no purpose other than as a proof of concept for an upcoming game?

Well, for the most part, you wouldn’t… that is unless the iPhone/iPad app in question is Epic Citadel, the new proof of concept for the upcoming Project Sword, recently announced at Apple’s conference.  The app displays the power of Unreal Engine 3 for iDevices, and sets the stage, not just for Epic Games’ future projects on the devices, but also anyone else willing to use the engine.

I won’t go into detail about the engine specs and quotes from Epic, as I’ve already done that.  Instead, I’ll give my impressions on the app.

I was surprised to see negative reviews on iTunes for this app.  People complained that there was nothing to do.  To those people, I would say that the brains are in isle three, next to the baking soda.  The dented ones are on sale, however I’d spend the extra nickel to avoid getting an Abby Normal.

Once again, the app does have a purpose, though not in normal gaming terms.  There are no sword fights or objectives.  No quest givers or NPCs milling about.

The app is a proof of concept to demonstrate the power of the Unreal Engine 3 on iDevices.

And oh what power it has.

I loaded the app onto my iPad only, as my iPhone is an older 3G model.  To be quite honest, I’ve no idea how well the app would run on those old models (if at all), simply because I haven’t updated the iPhone’s OS to 4.0, knowing full well that it, for all intents and purposes, cripples 3G models.

That said, Epic Citadel ran very smoothly on my iPad.

Actually, that’s an understatement.

Epic Citadel made me excited for the future of gaming on the iPad.

The app is absolutely gorgeous.  The attention to detail makes me sigh contentedly.  From the cobblestone path, to the waving banners… the reflection in the marble tiles, to the light from fixtures.  It is incredible.

You can manoeuvre around the village via simple touch-to-move, wherein a touch on the screen will force you to move to that spot.  Alternatively, there are dual analog sticks (with lowered opacity) on either side of the screen which allow you to control movement as well as angle of viewing.

It doesn’t take long to get used to the dual analog stick mode of movement.  It handles very well, though the downside to this - and this will only apply once an actual game is released, is that you cannot employ other controller-style buttons in addition to the sticks.  You won’t be able to have bumpers or triggers, and any additional buttons will require you to rest the iPhone/iPad on a surface in order to keep your thumbs on the sticks and fingers available for other buttons.

It’s a clumsy interface, made so by the hardware limitations, though I’ve little doubt that they will be creative with the final product controls.  For now, the dual analog sticks work perfectly as a means of exploring the landscape.

Once I’d seen all that I could from within the village walls, I made my way through an entrance to the surrounding countryside.  A short distance away, some festival tents were set up.  I could easily imagine a bustling crowd, complete with jugglers and gypsies.

The tents are exquisite.  The colors jump from the screen, and the detail is apparent the closer you get to the tents.

I was able to walk into one to take several sceenshots from within.  There were some whose flaps were only partially open, though you can’t ‘nudge’ past and into the tent.  Unfortunately, the tents don’t flap in the breeze, nor can you move a flap to walk into a tent.  Each is a collision point in the app, and doesn’t allow you to move it.

Unlike the trees inside the courtyard which drop leaves, or the hanging banners which flap with the breeze, or even the trees by the tents which sway with the (quite obviously) strong wind, the tents are quite rigid and lacking in, well, life.

The same can be said of the outer coast line.  While so many things create the illusion of life by way of movement, the coastline is completely devoid of activity.  You could just as easily be staring at a painting.  I understand that every movement requires effort (in terms of processing power), and so they have to decide where to set boundaries.  Suffice it to say, the illusion of depth stops at the coastline, and does not include the water.

While we’re on the topic of water, I wasn’t overly impressed with the waterfall and coursing river either.  The effect definitely would need some work in order to make it more believable.  Don’t get me wrong… from a distance, the effect looks good… not spectacular, like so many other aspects of the app… but good.

Outside exploration is truly amazing, whether looking at the detail in the grass, path or stone walls.  The sky is deep and rich in blue hues.  It creates an atmosphere that feels real.

However all of this pales in comparison to the inside of the church in the courtyard - the masterpiece of this app.

From the intricate stone work, to the highly reflective tiles, to the praying statue complete with oxidized stains, it is a piece of art.  Plain and simple.

As a last point, the sound in the game, though subtle, is quite good.  I suggest you listen through earphones.  Walking through what should be a bustling village and only hearing your footsteps echoing off the walls is somewhat unsettling.  That said, once you walk outside the walls, it is quite relaxing and serene.

I will repeat my earlier statement; this app makes me very excited for the future of gaming on iDevices.  Giddy, almost.


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