Unity Games, the publishing arm of the developers behind the popular Unity game engine, debuted the company’s first “core” title in the form of Archangel, a touch-controlled dungeon crawler for iOS and Android devices.
Developed by Black Tower Studios, a western indie game company based out of Japan and Australia, Archangel has players take on the role of an archangel, biblically considered one of God’s highest ranked angels, on his quest to purge this world of sinful demonic creatures. A mess of tapping and swiping, it would be too generous to say Unity is coming out of the gate strong with this title.
The story begins with the archangel being called from slumber to find that he must work in order to have all his abilities restored. Work, in the terms of this angel, doesn’t involve menial tasks like carrying messages or wrestling with questioning followers; those are relegated to God’s lesser charges. No, archangel’s job is to send sinners down to the pits of Hell with all manners of violence, whether it is burning them up, beating them relentlessly with his sword or shield bashing them off ledges to fall to their deaths.
Despite the plot, Archangel is a dungeon crawler first and foremost. During gameplay, it is quickly forgotten why you are crawling – you just crawl. Besides the addition of elemental abilities and semi-transparent wings, the plot has little to do with the gameplay and it leaves players wondering if it has anything to do with Unity’s tie to game engines, a more technical side to game development, over narrative and storytelling. The plot is tied to short textual dialogue at the beginning of each level. After that, it could be anyone fighting these monsters for any reason.
There are numerous levels for players to test their mettle, but every one of the 30 stages feels exactly the same. The linearity and monotony kills any fun it might have been with predictability; move forward, kill the enemy, move forward, kill the enemy, move forward. Occasionally an enemy will jump in from off screen, which is more annoying than surprising as their leap usually impedes their movement in some way. Whether it is a fault in design or intentional to make the game less challenging is impossible to tell.
Being the archangel also comes with a few perks that make taking your slower and stupider enemies down even easier. While you can’t use your wings to fly to the demonic creatures, unlimited teleportation gives you the ability to disappear and appear wherever there is standing room on screen. If fighting close up is your preference, archangel’s hand-to-hand combat and shield bash techniques come in handy. If you’re more of a ranged fighter, an assortment of fireballs, firewalls (the kind that keep people out, not viruses), freezing moves and much more that are unlocked as players advance through the game will appease you. For the exceptionally devious players, archangel early on gains the ability to revive fallen enemies from the dead in order to use them as allies. But be warned that they are incredibly dumb and willingly wander into enemy traps and attacks.
While your newly dead and arisen enemies retain their characteristics throughout the game, archangel can be upgraded and modified with items and gear that drop from his enemies or are bought in the shop between levels. As players progress through the game, better items will appear in addition to the old ones, but it’s worth saving your money to see if what you’re looking for drops randomly. Any item duplicates are automatically sold upon completion of each level or can be gambled for more loot.
Players control the archangel with a combination of tapping on screen and other gesture and tap combinations to execute other moves. While this sounds straightforward and is actually fairly common in touchscreen games, somewhere between wanting players to have a huge amount of moves to choose from and figuring out how to incorporate them into the controls, things went horribly awry. A tap on the screen could either mean walking, throwing a fireball, or teleporting and the more enemies appear on screen, the more confused and hectic it gets. The majority of the combat in later levels is made up of just tapping aggressively between slides to randomly form the various attacks possible.
Even when not in battle, movement is incredibly repetitive. There’s no way to simply hold your finger on screen and slide it along the path you wish to take. Rather players must repeatedly tap back and forth to direct their character to the next destination or avoid traps. Separating movement by adding an on screen control stick might be an improvement, but not by much. There’s just too much going on in this game and it has turned the controls into a button-mashing mess. It feels like the developers tried to achieve this all-encompassing combat system and forgot to plan how they would deliver it.
The graphics would actually be the highlight of this title if, as with every other aspect of this game, it wasn’t so repetitive. It seems to be that a gratuitous amount of time was spent designing one level before they realized that they needed 30. So, they sort of just copy/pasted all of the models into different arrangements and called it a day. It’s a technically beautiful game but 10 levels in, it is no longer visually entertaining, no matter how nicely those fireballs look when they blow enemies away.
Archangel is a game that aims extremely high but misses the mark. If the focus had been more on nailing the technical basics of making a game and less on the amount of attacks the player can execute at any one time, it could have been so much better. At a price of $4.99, the cost is steep for what Archangel lacks.