Stay afloat with spot-on FPS touchscreen controls
There’s simply no getting around it: first-person shooters are still having trouble trying to find solid footing in today’s smartphone and tablet industry. A lot of this missed success might be pinned on the awkward translation of joystick-and-trigger controls onto a touchscreen interface, but The Drowning from Scattered Entertainment is one game that has set out to change the way we shoot things from a first-person perspective without anything even remotely resembling a trigger. A horror-themed FPS with an emphasis on fluid touchscreen controls and a freemium model that won’t scare away hardcore gamers like the actual creatures in the game world will, The Drowning serves to show that there may just be room for more quality FPS titles on mobile after all.
The game is fairly light on the story, preferring to get right to the killing over some long-winded narrative affair, but here’s all you really need to know to get started: these spooky Slender Man-esque creatures have been emerging from the murky depths of the water, and they want to drag you back down with them. The graphics are especially noteworthy here, with beautiful, yet equally despairing outdoor environments, and some really great attention to detail in the weapons themselves. But despite its appearance and billing as a true FPS experience, it should still be noted that The Drowning is basically an arena-based blitz game. Each level places your character is a small enclosed arena and gives you two minutes to kill as many creatures as you can to earn those higher scores. The setup works great for what the game sets out to achieve, but it’s still something you’ve probably seen a bunch of times before, and the idea of just shooting wave after wave of similar-looking creatures might get a bit repetitive for some before long.
But the biggest selling point about The Drowning is the game’s unique take on gesture-based FPS controls, which is where I think we need to begin with this review. For the most part, the touchscreen controls work wonderfully for what you’re asked to do in the game. You tap with one finger anywhere on the screen to automatically start moving there, and swipe on the screen to change your perspective. A two-finger tap will fire a bullet in between the area where your two fingers touch, and a 180-degree button at the bottom of the screen lets you quickly pivot around on your feet if a creature is sneaking up from behind. The only real hiccup I ran into with these innovative controls is that, on more than one occasion, the game would register my two-finger tap to shoot as a one-finger tap to move forward: which was certainly less than ideal when I had a cluster of slippery dead-eyed creatures standing right in front of me. But if you’re really not feeling the use of the new take on gesture-based controls, then you can always switch to a more traditional virtual joystick setup, which pretty much functions about as well as you would expect.
The Drowning features two primary game types spread evenly throughout the campaign: Attack and Defend stages. Attack stages are probably the more exciting of the two, as players are given free rein to move about a close-quartered environment and gun down any drowned creature that might be lurking around the next bend. Defend stages restrict the environments to even smaller playing fields, as you have nowhere to run or hide as the creatures try to break through wooden barriers at one of several entry points (somewhat similar to the concept seen in Call of Duty‘s Zombies mode). While the Defend stages are a nice change of pace, it still would have been nice to have a bit more strategy involved than mindlessly shooting everything that crosses your path, like the ability to rebuild the wooden barrier defenses after they get broken through.
Progression in The Drowning is all about collecting new parts to upgrade your arsenal of weapons, items, and vehicles. Each different level set comes with a handful of stages which must be completed with high-star rankings to earn rarer reward parts that let you advance to the next location. For instance, in order to move to the next creature-ridden set of areas, you might need to craft a Speedboat, by first earning a Broken Speedboat shell, and then fixing it up with rare items like a Propeller, Fiberglass Mesh, and Polyester Resin that you’ll find through regular gameplay. Each level has five available stars to be earned, although the score requirement jump from Star 4 to Star 5 is so steep that you’re almost required to pay for that extra boost, or return later on when you’re already well into the game with more powerful weapons. Points are earned for things like headshots, multi-kills, and boosting up your frenzy meter on the left-hand side of the screen. You’ll get to play around 10 or 11 stages in one sitting before you’ll need to wait for your gas can (energy system) to slowly regenerate. You can speed up the process by buying more gas at a pretty ridiculously-inflated price, but the whole inclusion of this energy system just seems a bit archaic to the game’s otherwise pretty fair and generous freemium model.
In addition to crafting vehicles, you’ll also need to craft new kinds of weapons that become just as essential for making your way through the campaign. This is because most newly introduced enemy types can only be defeated by a certain powerful weapon, like the Crossbow or the Shotgun. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t alert you when you need a specific weapon type to continue until after you’ve already attempted the level that requires it, and futilely shot at a number of seemingly invincible baddies to no avail. In this light, The Drowning can definitely get a bit stressful at times, as most enemy types tend to rush you at pretty terrifying speeds, and the need to constantly switch weapons to kill corresponding enemy types can make even the most steady-handed FPS player feel flustered or stumble with the controls.
But despite the few minor missteps that The Drowning makes in areas like energy systems, slightly repetitive arena-based gameplay, and a few missed opportunities in the Defend portion of stages, as a whole, this exhilarating take on a short-burst of FPS gameplay definitely takes some steps (albeit creepy ones) in the right direction. While other mobile FPS games might still be drowning in a sea of shoddy touchscreen controls, The Drowning offers just enough moments of ingenuity and potential insights to these traditional issues that gamers will always be able to keep coming up for refreshing breaths of air.