Most first-person shooters that try their hand on a mobile device either turn out to be a shoddy and clunky attempt, or – well, most of them honestly aren’t all that very good. But that’s certainly not to say there aren’t a few mobile developers out there who are finally taking some steps in the right direction to making FPS elements really feel at home in a touchscreen environment. The Drowning is the first game from newly formed studio Scattered Entertainment, and has been built from the ground up as a hardcore FPS experience made specifically for mobile devices. And through all of the horror-themed gunplay, there’s a truly innovative experience to be had here, and one that sets out to redefine the way we shoot things on our smartphones.
I recently had a chance to speak with Ben Cousins, the General Manager at Scattered Entertainment and the man in charge behind The Drowning, to get some deeper insights about the many challenges of bringing a hardcore FPS experience to the mobile touchscreen. Cousins has had an impressive history in the games industry before his work with Scattered Entertainment, including his influential role as Executive Producer on the popular Battlefield franchise, before moving on to manage such games as Battlefield Play4Free with Easy Studio. So not only is Cousins fully versed from one of the most successful FPS series to date, but he certainly knows a thing or two about free-to-play games as well: an element that is becoming especially crucial to mobile gaming today.
Even though we’re seeing more and more in-depth and console quality titles beginning to turn up on the mobile platform these days, smartphones and tablets as gaming devices are still fundamentally geared towards casual audiences of gamers. So for a gritty and realistic FPS like The Drowning, how would Scattered Entertainment compensate for the often simplistic and easily accessible nature that’s often associated with today’s best mobile games, while still staying true to the game’s true hardcore nature? Cousins tells me that one of his biggest goals with The Drowning was to make it as swift and brutal a gaming experience as possible. Players will immediately be able to jump into the action after downloading the game, without having to sit through an introductory story or cinematics that bog down most other big-name console shooters.
The big idea is that players will still be able to make continuous progress in the game, even if they’re only able to have small micro gaming sessions that span several minutes at a time (you know, just in case you need to get your monster-killing fix in during your lunch break at work!). This quick burst of gameplay has become one of the definitive factors of mobile gaming in 2013, and Scattered Entertainment has decided to adhere to this format head-on. Because of this, The Drowning features short, separated missions, as opposed to a more drawn-out or open world campaign. There is also a heavy emphasis on customizing and improving your arsenal in the game: however, there is much more skill involved in earning the best gear and crafting the strongest weapons, and those hoping to pay for an early rocket launcher advantage might be in for a horrific surprise.
Along these lines, perhaps one of the biggest challenges in developing a mobile FPS like The Drowning is perfecting a control scheme that works hand in hand with the touchscreen hardware. Most attempts at a touchscreen FPS tend to go belly-up in these moments, as the lack of joysticks and triggers often leaves gamers flailing around the open 3D environments as they struggle with movement, not to mention aiming. It was certainly the one aspect that I was most interested to learn about The Drowning, as like many other mobile gamers, I’ve had my own horror stories about fumbling around with poorly implemented touchscreen controls. Luckily, Cousins and his team have been meticulously crafting a touchscreen control setup that utilizes several types of gestures already familiar with mobile gamers, such as swipes, taps, and screen pinches. For instance, a two-finger tap on the screen will fire your weapon, while a moveable swiping gesture will allow your character to look around the environment.
In many ways, The Drowning looks to be a textbook example of how FPS games can truly move forward and achieve greatness on the mobile platform in 2013. The free-to-play game is out now on the iOS App Store, and you can expect our full review of the horror-themed first-person shooter within the next couple of days. And if the game icon wasn’t enough of an indication of how scary this game is, I’d recommend that you play this one with the lights on, or more preferably, with a group of your coworkers at lunch, in the middle of a bright and sunny work day.