A Blunder From Down Under
The Drowning is a peculiar iOS title: an FPS that shies away from virtual buttons in favor of tap-targeting. Now, this may sound like a bad control scheme waiting to happen, but the reality is, it’s quite good. Thanks to the Unity Engine, of which it is one of many iOS titles to utilize, it is also very pretty. Not even pretty in the “for an iOS game” sense; this is a legitimately impressive looking video game.
One of the last things you’d expect from an iOS game like The Drowning is a plot. Sure, plenty of games on the platform tell a story, with some being coherent and well written (such as Deus Ex: The Fall), while others drown in their own silliness and exaggerations (Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour). The Drowning falls into neither, instead telling a bare bones, “this is why strange silty-colored zombie-things are attacking you” story that is explained to you through a single opening cut scene and several stills with some shoddy voice acting playing simultaneously. If you’re the kind of person who comes to an arcade shooter for the storyline, I suggest you find something better, like House of the Dead 2. In fact, you may as well just skip all the cut scenes. This is the plot: black goop appears in the ocean and infects most of the people alive on the planet. Now your job is to kill all these enemies and try to not die.
As previously mentioned, The Drowning utilizes a new control scheme, the likes of which I’ve never encountered. Stick with this, as it may seem complicated: swiping on the screen points you in different directions, but doesn’t aim your gun. Tapping anywhere on the screen will walk you over to where you tap (with some impressive path finding included), and tapping the bottom center of the screen turns you around 180 degrees. Tapping the screen with two fingers shoots your gun at the midpoint of your two fingers, creating an interesting dynamic for accuracy. Weapons aren’t 100% accurate when firing like this, as bullets still spread from the reticle that is created when you tap, but it’s a unique way to play that works incredibly well. An odd “feature” is the inability to move and shoot at the same time, unless you enable the option to do so. If you don’t, shooting stops your movement prematurely. This got really annoying very quickly, so after two missions, I enabled the ability to walk and shoot at the same time. If you want, you can use a dual thumbstick option. Sadly, this takes out the appeal of The Drowning and reveals it for what it is: a boring zombie shooter.
Despite survival being the theme of the game, it’s very difficult to die in the early levels of The Drowning. In each mission, you’re set to perform certain objectives, ranging from attacking enemies in an open environment to defending an enclosed space as they try to break in, Nazi Zombies style. As an arcade shooter, you’ll be trying to earn the highest score you can against all other players of the game. A meter on the left designates your “Fury.” It slowly drains over time, but as you deal damage, it grows. When it tops out, your score is doubled for as long as you can keep up the carnage. When it drops to zero, you die. Each mission in The Drowning takes two minutes, so playing in short bursts is easy to do.
Thanks to Game Center integration, leaderboards are everywhere, and you’ll constantly see your scores topped. You’re expected to replay missions to get better loot, such as broken guns to repair, parts to make repair tools with, and items to upgrade weapons. You do this by scoring higher in missions. Once you reach a certain tier in the score bar, you unlock a new item. You can get up to five items per mission, and some of The Drowning‘s missions need specific weapons in order to complete them.
A big problem is these missions do not tell you that you need the weapon. Instead, you’ll start the mission with your load-out, and the timer will quickly count down to zero before booting you out and saying, “You don’t have the right weapon to beat this mission! Buy one!” This wouldn’t be such a problem if The Drowning told you that a mission required a certain weapon, didn’t have timers, and stopped shoving microtransactions down your throat.
As a free-to-play game, The Drowning wants your money. It wants you money so badly, in fact, that it will ask you for it all the time. Each mission you go on consumes “gas,” which regenerates over time. However, you can just buy cans of gas instead, which cost real money. You could also drop money to get the rare weapons right away instead of scavenging for them, or trying to get them in a “booster pack” of sorts. Since some weapons and items are infuriatingly rare, this will quickly become a frustrating aspect of the game. Another problem with the game is that it’s repetitive; while it’s not initially boring, there are only 15 maps with a small number of objectives to perform, and cycling through them gets really tiresome, really quickly. You’ll trod around rooms with slow zombies, armored zombies, and throwing zombies stalking you as you walk, turn around, shoot a few, and go back to walking around. The focus here is clearly on getting better loot to get higher scores, but when the game repeats itself so many times, you’ll probably just put it down for good after a couple hours.
The Drowning is an interesting experiment: it tries a new control scheme that works, but builds on top of a boring game that isn’t exciting, difficult, or interesting. A nearly nonexistent plot leads to a boring concept to shoot boring zombies with boring guns in boring levels. It’s a fine shooter, but there’s nothing here that other iOS shooters don’t have. Even Dead Trigger, another repetitious iOS shooter, has more draw than this game, as it has more than a handful of things to do in each level, and plenty of levels to do it in! There’s simply nothing here to keep you interested in the game.