Review: 9mm (iPhone/iPad/Android): Protect and Serve by Shooting People in Slow Motion

9mm gameloft iosCreating a console-like gaming experience on touch screen devices is a tricky proposition. Traditional shooters in particular face an uphill battle. It is a genre where sales are made and lost based on graphics. Split second timing necessitates the need of knowing where the control buttons are at all times. It can be argued that such genres are simply unfit for a platform such as tablets and that game designers will need to reinvent the old mechanics of control completely or (gasp!) try something new. Epic’s Infinity Blade is a perfect example of reinventing the classic action game for this new interface.

But reinvention is not what Gameloft does. Catering to the outspoken ‘Hardcore’ crowd, Gameloft seeks to take those experiences you’ve already played on other systems and shoehorn them onto smartphones. And they are getting very good at it.

 

gameloft 9mm9mm has you donning badge and gun as John “Loose” Kannon, perhaps the worst protagonist ever tasked to protect and serve in video game history. In the very first minute of the game, Kannon has already dropped his first of many F-bombs and ignored a thug waving a gun around on the sidewalk. But John’s a busy guy! He needs to bust up the local “Mexican Meth” distribution chain. After taking down a dozen perps in a flurry of Max Payne styled slow motion, bullet filled gymnastics, Kannon concocts his Great Plan. He and his two partners are going to steal all the cash and drugs and use it to fund their own war on crime. What follows is a swear filled 2-3 hour bullet ballet of vigilante retribution where the Bad Guys are frequently more sympathetic than our hero. It sure ain’t Shakespeare, but the above average voice acting (with special props to the Chris Rock inspired strip club owner) and brevity of single player experience keeps 9mm moving before the characters and story have a chance to grate on you.

The two hour play time is going to be a huge turn off for many gamers, especially for a $7 app. This is a shame as those two hours are positively stuffed with things to see. The level designers take you on a whirlwind tour of Kannon’s world with constantly changing scenery. Every set is lavishly designed with plenty of details such as rust covered signage to establish a real sense of place. Being a video game, there are a few too many box strewn warehouses but when you can make an abandoned rail yard just as visually interesting as a Mexican basin, you’ve accomplished something. Gameloft could have easily gotten way with using half of the art assets they’ve put into 9mm and made a game twice as long. You’ll quickly move from the streets of the ‘hood to the mandatory industrial complex and end up in a night time shootout at a diner. Occasional layovers are made for 9mm’s wonderfully cinematic, mercifully restrained, quicktime event driven foot chases. This game takes the Call of Duty route of game design by putting you on fast, brief rollercoaster where the action never lets up and there is always something new to look at.

9mm ios2And, boy, is 9mm something to look at! Throwing every trick in the graphic guru’s handbook at the mobile platform, 9mm is a stunning tour-de-force for touch gaming. Where the polygon count may be a little low, the texture detail more than makes up for it. Facial articulation and spot on blood and bullet effects show how graphics on a modern phone can rival anything a late-gen PS2 or Xbox game was capable of displaying. Sure, she’s no Dead Space, but 9mm’s got it where it counts. A pitch perfect licensed music soundtrack and beefy sound effects for your arsenal rounds out the game’s AAA production. You’ll be blown away every time Kannon performs his slow motion leap to the side as fully rendered bullets whiz overhead and the pulse pounding music slows to a crawl. The effect is executed just as perfectly as when Mr. Payne first blew our doors off with his gun-fu.

9mm ipadSpeaking of Dead Space, anyone who’s played EA’s 3rd person horror shooter will be instantly at home on the controls here. A virtual stick pops up on the left side of the screen wherever you place your thumb for movements. In a particularly inspired bit of UI design, this stick also functions as an enemy detecting radar with red carrots indicating the location of nearby baddies. The designers also deserve kudos for 9mm’s run button which functions as a slider allowing you to veer your character left or right while sprinting. The right side is used for adjusting your viewpoint and houses the game’s fire, slo-mo, and weapon select buttons. Gameloft goes one step further to help alleviate the finger gymnastics by allowing all of the virtual buttons on the display to be repositioned at any time via the options menu. Tablet owners will be especially grateful as this feature is desperately needed to comfortably reach the game’s half-dozen essential controls.

Gameloft’s subtle yet innovative tweaks to this well worn genre don’t stop with the controls. Throughout your play time with 9mm you’ll be earing coins by dropping perps and gathering achievements that can be spent for upgrades for both the game’s multiplayer AND single player modes. That’s right! Stuck on the end boss? Bring up the menu to strap on some body armor and reload a pack of explosive ammunition. Still have a couple of charges left in that 10 use Kevlar vest? That will carry across gameplay modes as well.

9mm iphoneAs you would expect from a top-tier release on any platform, 9mm features a robust online suite as well. The publisher’s home grown Gameloft Live system powers online leaderboards, a set of 38 “Trophies”, and 9mm’s 12 player multiplayer action. Featuring both “Free for All” (deathmatch) and “Cops ‘n’ Gangstas” (team deathmatch), multiplayer is well executed but unremarkable in any way other than the surprisingly high player count. While generic, 9mm’s smooth gunplay make online games enjoyable. Even while playing with a maxed out number of gamers glitches and lag are more of the exception than the rule. Games are playable via online or local Wi-Fi and even Bluetooth.

9mm ipad2Normally I’d be inclined to ding a two hour game that sets you back $7. No such feelings this time. 9mm is a polished thrill ride with enough fun and variety to make it worth a few playthroughs. 9mm is the Bruckheimer cop movie of the mobile scene: Nothing you’re gonna want to sit and think about, but a big budget, action packed thrill ride where the emphasis is squarely on explosive fun. The brevity of the single player story actually adds to this game rather than detracting by delivering delivering all the goods and getting out before it overstays its welcome. It is the perfect diversion to fill a lazy Sunday afternoon. It also doesn’t hurt that 9mm may very well be the best 3rd person shooter available on the mobile platform.

9mm is $6.99 and available for iPhone 3GS and later or iPad via iTunes icon or for Android 2.2 or higher from Android Market. Reviewed on iOS 5.0 iPad 2.

Reviewer Rating: 5/5 Stars – Excellent 5star

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