Dec 29, 2011

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Infinity Blade II Review

Infinity Blade II Review

Few sequels are able to capture the magic of their predecessors while building a diverse, deep, and engaging adventure that corrects many of the missteps of the prior title. Epic Games and ChAIR Entertainment return in 2011 with Infinity Blade II, creating a sequel that accomplishes a near perfect balance between familiarity and innovation and at the same time pushes the boundaries of the platforms that house it.

Infinity Blade II improves on many of the weaker points of the first. One major leap taken by the new iteration is the addition of a concrete story. The player is given a better understanding of the Infinity Blade universe and the motivation of fighting in an endless loop through this story, providing a sense of completeness that the first game lacked. The inclusion of voice acting to the narrative adds a nice touch, creating depth and emotion to the different characters that was not present in the previous game. Using the story and voice acting in unison, ChAIR is able to make the journey through the story arch meaningful, rather than force the player to drudge through with indifference.

The story is not the only aspect of Infinity Blade II that has received an upgrade. Though the core of the gameplay experience has been largely unchanged (scripted movement and branching paths with punch-out style battles), Infinity Blade II has seen a few tweaks, specifically the addition of different, balanced classes of weapons, chest keys, a stamina meter for dodging, the inclusion of gems (which adds improved stats to a weapon that the player holds), and a streamlined menu system that caters to these novel features. The weapon system now gives way to three different weapon types: light, heavy, and dual. Each weapon class has its benefits as well as mishaps, creating a sense of balance and concurrently giving the player a bevy of options to tailor their gameplay experience to their liking. Light weapons opt for the traditional control scheme found in the original Infinity Blade, allowing for the player to carry a weapon, a shield for blocking, and the ability to dodge. This is balanced by the inclusion of a stamina bar that damages a player (by exhaustion) if there is too much emphasis put into dodging during a battle, forcing the player to master all types of defense. Heavy weapons are extremely powerful per strike and can be chained in combos, but the ability to dodge is lost and replaced with block buttons, allowing for blocking to the left and right as well as forward. Another effect of carrying a heavy weapon is that the amount of hits that can be given at a time vastly depreciates compared to dual- and light-weapon types. Dual weapons are the fastest weapons in terms of amount of blows given and are powerful, but the ability to block is lost, allowing only for dodging.

Replayability is an enormous part of the Infinity Blade series and was one of the weakest areas in the original game. ChAIR has done a fantastic job addressing this problem by expanding the world and adding more branching paths and mini bosses. Taking certain paths place the player in battles against giant mechanical beasts, knights, and ogres, while others take you to dark caverns and depths unknown, leading to a great deal of variety. Multiple play throughs are encouraged due to the branching paths, the chest keys (larger chests require keys), and even through the leveling system of the game (encouraging players to switch weapons and other supplies once an item is mastered). Exploration is also emphasized to a degree, with interactive cut scenes that allow the player to search for hidden treasures during the scene. Game center achievements are also available, adding another layer the game and giving more incentive for multiple playthroughs.

Running on Unreal technology, Infinity Blade II is probably the best looking game on an iOS system and can compete with many other handheld games. Brilliant lighting, clever particle effects, and an extensive attention to detail add up to create a breathtaking visual experience that will leave many wondering how a phone or a tablet can run such a marvel. ChAIR adds to the visual splendor by varying the locations that the game takes place in, allowing for a showcasing of vivid colors and bright locales along with dark, murky depths and low-light castle rooms. The sound effects and music accent the graphics well and create a more realistic, dark mood. One thing to note: there was some slowdown experienced during my play through but as a whole, Infinity Blade II is able to run smoothly even with the massive amount action going on, a testament to the care and precise execution given to Infinity Blade II.

Infinity Blade II is the definition of a perfect sequel, building on the core of what made Infinity Blade great and creating an experience that learns from the mistakes of its predecessor and other games of the genre. Thoughtful changes by ChAIR allow Infinity Blade II reach its full potential both visually and gameplay-wise, creating an experience that is definitely fulfilling. Though it may have a few hiccups, Infinity Blade II is by far the best gaming experience on an iOS platform and one of the best handheld games of 2011.

Infinity Blade II

Platform: iPhone 4 (reviewed), iPhone 4s, iPhone 3GS, iPad, iPad 2, iPod Touch 3rd and 4th generation
Genre: Role-Playing
Release Date: 11/29/11
Developer: ChAIR Entertainment
Publisher: Epic Games
ESRB Rating: 9+
MSRP: $6.99