"ASIMOV WAS WRONG!" How's about that for a provocative statement? It's a reference to the sci-fi legend's famous laws of robotics, which stipulated that robots should never allow humans to come to harm (and other bits of fluffy-headed peacenik dogma). In EPOCH the laws are summarily rejected with three words of political graffiti scrawled onto a wall. Also, legions of robots blasting each other into scrap.
How does it play?
EPOCH is a cover-based shooter, set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where robots have overthrown their human masters and are now fighting amongst themselves. You're a rogue automaton, whose initial assignment is to find and protect a human being who plays a pivotal role in the conflict. More of the dystopian backstory is added via intercepted transmissions as you progress, with despatches filed by characters with clunking great handles like "Aldous Orwell". Geddit?
The control system is pretty gosh-darned clever; movement across the terrain is handled automatically, like a shooting gallery on rails. The only thing players control is the movement between three cover points, when to break cover and fire, and the deployment of several different assault weapons. These controls are all touchscreen gesture based, and thankfully, there's nary an onscreen joypad in sight.
The enemies you face can be pretty taxing, and have a variety of ways to force you to break cover. A lobbed grenade for example, or a laser beam that cuts through objects. Your only real defence is to go on the offence, so keep on firing, ducking and dodging until all hostiles are eliminated.
There's a neat RPG element involved, too. Your robot will occasionally salvage spare parts and upgrades from downed foes. Between levels you can go to the "scrapyard" to bolt them on, or buy and purchase more powerful items. This adds a critical tactical advantage when faced with certain types of enemy, and later gameplay becomes a bit more sophisticated than just blowing shit up.
Why do we like it?
Indie games developer Uppercut Games is a new studio whose founders have previously worked on award‐winning games like Bioshock, Freedom Force and Fallout: Tactics. There's a strong pedigree here, and it's pleasing to see Uppercut bring their talent over from the consoles to the touchscreen generation.
EPOCH was built using the Unreal Engine, and it's really starting to shine on the iOS platform. Each shooting gallery is a tangle of twisted metal, crumbling concrete and burning wreckage, and it looks absolutely splendid. As a feat of world-building, this game sets the bar pretty high.
As a cover-shooter and an arcade experience, EPOCH is markedly different from the game against which it will certainly be judged, Shadowgun. There's less freedom of movement, to be sure, but that's replaced with an element of strategy and planning. Do you knock out the grenadier first, for instance, or should you pick off the smaller soldiers? How about the bonus items in the background, should you risk your neck to shoot at those?
But let's be honest, not having to faff around with a touchscreen joypad is infinitely more preferable. Sorry Shadowgun, your time is up. EPOCH is the new cover-shooter king by several circuit-boards.
EPOCH is available now on the App Store, Universal £2.99p