Welcome to Erf!
Did you know that Will Smith summertime blockbusters have opened number 1 at the box office for something like, 75 years in a row? Yup, it’s true. Even the dreadful Wild Wild West did well with moviegoers, but sadly, that streak has ended with the recent After Earth: an original story by Smith starring the man himself and his son, Jaden. The M. Night Shyamalan-directed vehicle—which has faced allegations of subtle Scientology propaganda— opened to low numbers recently, so is it really a surprise that the licensed iOS game would be similarly disappointing? Nope.
Players step into the role of an intergalactic Ranger cadet in training in the lackluster After Earth, an endless running title that, despite a few interesting tweaks to what is basically a repackaged version of Temple Run, falls victim to unresponsive controls, frustrating difficulty in the guise of challenge, and mind-numbing music.
After Earth does seem to differentiate itself from similar titles at first. In addition to the 5 worlds/20 stages of the main campaign, there is a marathon mode for fans of seriously endless running. Even in the marathon mode, stages are varied and decent looking, and you’ll find it fairly addictive to swipe back and forth across the path, leap over incoming obstacles, and slash through enemy robots, humans, and plants while collecting coins. There are even sections where you’ll freefall along sheer cliff faces or zipline through dense jungles, steering your Ranger by tilting your device.
Each stage is given a back story based on the film, and the further you delve, the more upgrades you’ll be able to access via the aforementioned collectible coins, gems earned through playing, and—surprise, surprise—micro-transactions. New mechanics like the ability to wall-run or steer the super-fast/super-powerful vehicle, the Skipjack, pop up often, and gamers shouldn’t be surprised to discover a strange desire to push forward for just one last run again and again and again.
The game also boasts boss battles that play out in quick-time-event form. These are a nice break from the monotonous running formula, but grow equally boring as you realize each encounter plays out the same as the last. The excitement that comes with upgrading your lifesuit and cutlass (space swords apparently being the greatest innovation to weaponry in hundreds of years of human advancement) fades fast, and even when utilizing such costly passive abilities as pitfall forgiveness or no damage from running into something, there is no denying that some of these stages were poorly planned.
Most of these issues might be forgivable were it not for moments where the game reads your attempts to tap the screen to attack as a swipe, and sends you careening into a pit. There were plenty of freefall sections that simply would not register that I was tilting my device until I had restarted the stage completely. While it’s cool we’re given the option to invert the Y axis and customize the tilt sensitivity, all too often the calamities that befall your Ranger are the fault of the game, rather than player error – a major problem that will hopefully be fixed in the near future.
Sound effects and music levels can be customized as well, a feature you’ll be glad for after the repetitive tunes begin to drive you nuts. It’s not that the music is bad, per se; just that it is anything but varied. Really, if you’ve seen any kind of epic action/adventure movie in the last few years, you’ll have heard music like this and be ready to turn it down immediately.
Even with such cool details as leaderboards and daily challenges, After Earth is little more than a means to cash in on a big-name movie through micro-transactions. No, it’s not the worst endless runner you’ll ever play, but it lacks the charm and creativity of similar titles like Robot Unicorn Attack. If you’re a super-fan of the genre (do such people exist?), Will Smith, or just hoping to waste an afternoon with a game that simply can’t surpass “just fine,” this might be a perfect distraction for you; but most gamers will want to remember that, while fear is a choice, the danger of this game boring you to tears is all too real.