Crow Soars with 3D Visuals But Swoons with Gameplay
Gaming on Apple’s mobile devices has often been dissed for being too basic or gimmicky. For the most part, that is a relatively accurate statement primarily because the target audience is the casual player. Take for instance, Sunside’s Crow, a stunning visual extravaganza that attempts to deliver a story-driven action adventure. A wonderfully beautiful game that takes full advantage of the processing power of the new iPad, the game focuses more on an immersive experience than on the actual gameplay. Depending on your personal taste, that may just be enough to satisfy.
As the title suggests, it can be pretty much assumed that you’ll be playing a crow. Crows may not be the bird of choice for many, but they are one of the smartest. For the most part, let’s just say the intelligence of the crow in this game will rely heavily on your focus and intelligence. Other times, your intelligence may have you questioning the gameplay. Crow is a story-driven game where players maneuver your feathered friend through a number of obstacles, collect items, and learn and build skills all with the overall goal of defeating some strangely maniacal bosses.
Visually speaking, Crow is one of the most, if not the most, amazingly gorgeous games in the iTunes store. The devs have created an engaging fantasy world that doesn’t disappoint. From flying high above isolated fields and snowy mountaintops to swooping through dark caverns and ducking monsters, Crow is visually fantastic. Running this on the latest iPad, the animations are crisp and smooth, and accompanied by a terrifically atmospheric soundtrack, the devs would seemingly have the makings of a great experience on their hands. The 3D imagery, texturing and shadowing is simply top notch, providing a degree of realism that shows how far the iPad has come over the years.
The controls are relatively easy on paper and involve touching in the direction to move, drag to steer and tap to stop. The reality is these types of controls tend to obscure the screen which isn’t ideal, but certainly work.
Along the way, you’ll come across a number of storypoints that provide a bit of narrative text that can be revisited at any time. Don’t worry too much about the storyline because for the most part, it doesn’t make too much sense. Part of the game involves collecting gems which can then be used to acquire and upgrade skills such as regeneration, efficiency and protection. Later on during boss battles, the game provides gesture controls which involve swiping to attack and drawing a circle to block and shield.
When it comes to the gameplay in Crow, it will almost certainly be a mixed bag for many players. The game is a combination of on and off rail elements that in general work well, but can also be repetitive. Exploration is part of the allure of Crow, and as expected, the free roam aspect is core to “soaring in the sky”. This aspect of the game is more passive in that you can take your time to look for gems, review storypoints and in general, fly around the various environments. The on-rail component occurs in the battle scenes where for the most part, you’re automatically directed through the level. Of course, there is a bit of decision-making and quick reflexes in these sections since they involve initiating and dodging attacks.
A gold orb gradually charges up and once fully charged, you tap the orb and use touch gestures to attack or defend. The action is simple enough since you swipe across the boss or circle the screen, but over the course of the game, this can become tedious especially when you miss. What happens is that the crow will repeat the same course along the same path to make another pass. Again, this on-rails aspect felt flat because there didn’t seem to be much variety. The boss fights which should’ve been much bigger became more of a missed opportunity for the game.
Along the way, you’ll also unlock Challenge levels which involve reflex-intense gameplay and leverage the skills learned along the way. These levels are available to play outside of the story-driven campaign, and generally, they’re mini-games designed to keep your skills in check.
Honestly, the gameplay by itself can feel one-dimensional, and the imaginative world in Crow really does most of the work in keeping players engaged. As mentioned, the ability to roam is Crow’s biggest gameplay strength, but keep in mind that the free roam areas aren’t particularly large. What you have there is good and you’ll want to explore as much as you can. Crow also offers GameCenter support and achievements which adds to the overall game.
Crow is an imaginative action adventure game presented in easily one of the best looking visual experiences you’ll come across. For many, however, the gameplay while adequate is not on par with the visuals. Combining on rails and free roam elements, Crow provides a decent game, but check your expectations at the door if you’re looking for more than a visual experience.
Albie Meter: 4 Stars (one of the best looking visual experiences in iTunes gaming; smooth animation and graphics with a good degree of realism; mixed bag when it comes to decent gameplay but also feels like a missed opportunity; on and off rail elements complement each other, but depth may be a turnoff; GameCenter support and achievements)