If Fightback were a premium game, the score at the end of this review would be higher. That's a fact. And it's not because I'm against the free-to-play model - it's because its implementation of it here serves to underline and exacerbate the game's worst problems.

At the core of the swirling mass of currency adverts, stamina wait-timers, recommended upgrades, and limited use equipment there lies a spectacular touchscreen brawler.

The swipes and taps create an almost breathtaking dance of gorgeous, precise violence once you get the hang of them, and it feels like a huge step in the right direction for the genre.

But then the payment system kicks in and you'll find yourself repeating chunks of the game you've already finished to grind out more cash, and battling against egregious paywalls that crop up regularly to tell you you haven't spent enough currency to be able to complete a level yet.

And so the rhythm of the game goes. It's thematically jarring as well. You're battling against time to save your sister from a mad man, and all of your so-called friends and comrades are constantly barking at you to spend some cash at their shops to upgrade your supply of weapons and armour.

Get better friends

The game is a homage to the '80s action movie. A muscle bound, silent hero punches, kicks, and shoots his way through a series of gritty locations in an attempt to save his stolen sibling from a tattoo-faced, sneering villain.

From the neon-washed logo to the names of the gang members you're pummelling, and the dirty white vest you sport to begin with, everything is filtered through the lens of sub-Schwarzenneger B movies that only ever made their way to VHS.

And it makes for a glorious old time to begin with. Snatches of story push you up a series of tower block floors, thwacking out at punk-haired goons and knife-wielding crazies in a mix between Infinity Blade's swipes and Streets of Rage's relentless button mashing.

The controls are pixel-perfect. Tapping on either side of you launches a punch in that direction, while swiping down ducks and swiping up jumps. Swiping out in any other direction performs a kick, letting you punt bad guys into the air, or swipe out their legs to send them tumbling to the ground.

Combo continuer

Chaining together combos requires patience, timing, and an awareness of what your foes are about to do. Get too stuck into one thug and a spiky lout with a baseball bat behind you is going to exploit the opening. You need to keep your fingers moving, dodging and attacking in all directions while trying to deal as much damage as you can.

Your guns are controlled with a few taps, and result in a stylish, John Woo-style cut-scene where you whip round and cut down your foes with deadly precision. There's a pretty big reload time to make sure they're not too powerful, and you can only carry a few rounds of the ridiculously expensive ammo.

When the game is in full flow it's a majestic thing to behold. You're chaining together strings of intricate blows with swipes and taps, experimenting with the surprisingly wide range of moves that the control system provides, then cutting down the last of your enemies with a flourish of bullets.

And then you run out of stamina and need to wait a few minutes or spend some gold. Or you reach a point where you need to grind back through some old levels to earn some more cash. Or you simply run out of bullets and need to pay a ridiculous amount to refill your clip just once.

Command-no

There is a brilliant, brilliant game here. I can't stress enough how fresh and explosive the combat is, and how great it feels when you make it through one of the bite-size levels without taking a hit.

But it's kneecapped at every turn by a shovel-load of all the worst things about free-to-play games, any fun you were having pummelled into the ground by repetition and frustration.

This is the game that finally made touchscreen brawlers work, and it pains me to tell you that you shouldn't play it.