Just about all of the kids I’ve ever known have had one thing in common. We’re taught to celebrate our differences, and to feel pride in the aspects of our personality that make us unique, but nevertheless, we all hold one singular, universal belief: mechs are cool. Be it ten-foot tall suits of mechanised armour or sixty-foot, AI driven behemoths of death, there’s just something about that unique combination of metal and destruction that flicks a switch in the head of every child.
If the previous paragraph rings true to your ears (and it should) then you’re in luck. The App Store has seen a fairly generous helping of robotic mayhem these past few months, and not one to be left behind, developer Mehware have quite rightfully decided to follow suit. Lockdown is a 2.5D side-scrolling shooter-cum-platformer that’s absolutely packed with the kind of chaotic action one might expect from any game which features a guy in a mech suit as it’s protagonist.
The game follows the tried and tested format of the old side-scrollers of yore. We’ve got buttons for left and right, jump and fire, and a swipe or tap hands out the grenades. You advance through the levels dealing out healthy portions of pain and terror, switching weaponry as you see fit, avoiding various traps and navigating platforms until you reach the end. Rinse and repeat. The game features three modes, designed to appeal to players of all abilities, and includes leaderboard and achievement support courtesy of the good people at OpenFeint.
Retro Gameplay: There’s a soft spot in my heart somewhere that’s reserved specifically for old-school gaming, and Lockdown touches it. Despite the more modern look of the graphics, the gameplay itself harkens back to the ancient 8/16-bit classics many of us simply cannot get enough of. I can easily imagine the same game being released on the Genesis, and as far as I’m concerned, that is quite an honourable achievement.
Character Designs: Looking closely, it’s clear to me that some effort has been put into the design of the enemies of this game. Due to the fast-paced and riotous action going on, combined with the zoomed out view the camera provides, it can be a little difficult to fully appreciate just how good some of the models are. This is a shame, because they’re really quite interesting to look at, and in order to satisfy my urges I found myself intentionally getting killed next to an enemy I liked the design of, just to get a closer look as the camera zoomed in on my dead, mangled shell.
Weapon Variety: It’s not all about combat skill (I’ll come to that later), if you want to survive you’re gonna have to use a little bit of the ol’ grey matter as well. There are five different weapon types to be found in Lockdown, each type seemingly dropped at random from the bodies of enemies. Different types of gun fire at different rates and as you’d expect, deal different amounts of damage. The ice gun fires slowly and freezes enemies in their tracks, while the spread gun fires rapidly, but requires more hits to make the kill. It’s this variety that keeps things interesting throughout the game. You’ll eventually learn which weapons are effective against which enemy types, and more importantly… which weapons you most like the feel of.
Unreliable Frame Rate: You may have seen this one coming. With great action comes great slowdown, and yes, it is enough to spoil the fun. I’m running an iPod Touch 2G, and for me the slowdown occurs once I see around three or more enemies on screen at once, which in this game is quite a lot. The game is hectic enough with all the bullets, grenades, explosives and lasers flying around, but once the whole thing starts lagging it’s a fairly safe bet you’ll be killed in the confusion.
Control Issues: Movement in this game is very slow. I appreciate the fact you’re supposed to be controlling a mech, but when the speed of the action greatly outweighs the speed at which you can move, it becomes a problem. Anyone who has played the Call of Duty games and attempted to escape from an enemy grenade by crawling away whilst prone will know the feeling already, it’s frustrating to say the least. I also had a problem with the jump button not responding. At first I thought it was user error and I had simply missed the button, but by the end of my time with the game I was convinced that sometimes… it just doesn’t do anything. Occasionally I have to tap the button four or even five times before it registers and my character finally jumps, and of course by then the damage has already been done and I no longer need to make myself airborne.
Difficulty: I’m not terrible at games. Ego aside, I’m honestly quite decent. I’m certainly not a pro, but I can get through a few of the Mega Man games with a moderate amount of practice. With that in mind, I trust you’ll believe me when I say that Lockdown is one tough cookie. Even with three modes of difficulty (which might as well have been named Hard, Harder and Hardest since that’s more or less what they are) I cannot get to the end of the game… on the easiest setting. The third level alone took me over an hour to pass, and it’s not because of the length. Much of the problem comes from the two dislikes I’ve listed already, but there are other little annoyances too. For a start, it’s not very clear when you’ve been hit. A sound effect plays, but it is often drowned out by the many other sounds also playing at the same time, a quick flash of the player model would probably solve this issue. Glitches do not help either, I’ve seen a number of enemies stuck in an endless death animation cycle, laser graphics stuck mid-air and various other small annoyances. Most of my success with the game came from holding down the right arrow and the fire button and hoping I got lucky with the enemy spawns and weapon drops.
Lockdown had a great deal of potential, it does a lot of things right and there’s definitely enough here to appeal to a large number of people. Unfortunately many of the good points are countered by not so good points, the game would be fun if only it’d let me play it properly, without the frame rate performance and control issues hindering my progress every step of the way. If you’re a die-hard fan of the genre then it’s worth taking a look at. Punishing as it may be, it’s not completely unenjoyable, and for the asking price of 99c you’re getting a good deal. Just bear in mind that you are getting exactly what you pay for.