Group test: Gameloft’s 3D Android games, part 1
Dungeon Hunter, Gangstar, Let’s Golf, Real Football, Asphalt 5
When Gameloft revealed recently it was releasing 10 of its premium 3D iPhone games on Android, we were excited.
So far, major developers have largely steered clear of Google's rapidly growing platform. Sure, there’s been the odd token gesture here and there, but never anything particularly substantial.
But each of these games is taken from the top end of the market, as it were. The fact that the games will only run on high-end Android handsets suggests that little compromise has been made.
There’s only one way to find out.
We’ve taken each game for a spin on a Nexus One - Google's flagship device and the one provided by Gameloft itself - to see how they perform. As part of the test we’ve referenced each game against the original versions, using a relatively bog-standard second generation iPod touch – the kind of mid-level iUnit that represents the general experience most pocket gamers would expect.
The results are somewhat surprising. Understandably, each Android version comes without the original opening cinematic. It’s a space-saving move at a time when we still don’t have the facility to boot games from extended storage.
There are one or two control issues that could be attributed to the Nexus One hardware itself (it can be a bit funny with multi-touch). But as we said before, this is Google's flagship device and the one provided by Gameloft, so it's the best Android representative out there.
In the second half we’ll put Modern Combat: Sandstorm, N.O.V.A. Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance, Hero of Sparta, Assassin’s Creed and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X through their paces.
Gameloft’s ode to the classic dungeon-crawler was a hit with us when it first appeared on iPhone, gaining 9 out of 10 for its excellence.
The game sees you hacking through a legion of mythical beasts, levelling your character (chosen from three classes) up and kitting him out with the stacks of loot you find on your travels.
Unfortunately, the Android version isn’t the flawless conversion we would have hoped for.
On our Nexus One the game possessed a blurry, oversaturated look. Even worse than that, the textures are noticeably inferior and certain details – such as the chains near the bridge during the opening section – have been removed altogether.
It’s mystifying, then, that the game still doesn’t run at a silky smooth rate on Android. There are frequent stutters, especially during busy battle scenes.
The controls, too, are somewhat below par. The virtual analogue stick frequently sticks in an odd direction, and the action buttons prove to be frustratingly unresponsive at times, requiring repeated stabs to activate.
While the core game remains an excellent action RPG, this is certainly far from the best iPhone to Android conversion we’ve ever seen.
Gangstar: West Coast Hustle
It’s a more positive story with Gameloft’s creditable attempt at an urban open world crime sim (also know as a GTA-a-like), Gangstar: West Coast Hustle. Worthy of an 8 out of 10 when we reviewed it on iPhone last year, it remains a compelling – if slightly compromised - experience on Android.
The game sees you running and gunning through a large open city, stealing cars, scrapping with rival gangs and generally being an antisocial blighter.
Upon booting up the Android version, initial signs are positive. The game loads up much faster on the Nexus One. On a visual level the deep, over-saturated colours witnessed in Dungeon Hunter seem to sit a lot better with the gaudy, sun-drenched atmosphere of down-town L.A.
However, the game suffers with poorly optimised controls and mediocre technical performance. Both are most noticeable when driving around the city at full pelt, with the controls set to manual. The steering felt wooden and the throttle was occasionally unresponsive, while the frame rate coughs and splutters all over the place.
We also encountered an odd bug that repeatedly saw characters seeming to slip over onto their backsides during story scenes.
There’s nothing else like Gangstar: West Coast Hustle on Android, and the fact that you’re essentially getting the exact same game as on the iPhone is reason enough for celebration. However, there’s no denying that the game isn’t entirely comfortable running on non-Apple hardware.
Let’s Golf has been a mainstay on my iPod for the past year or so, thanks to its bright, chunky, easy going approach to golf.
The Android version is excellent.
Like Gangstar, the deeper, richer tone facilitated by the Nexus One screen suits the cutesy Japanese vibe perfectly, with deep Sega-blue skies and impossibly green, er, greens. Lovely.
Technically, too, it’s a winner, with the pre-hole course pans moving quickly and smoothly – certainly more so than on our second generation iPod touch. There’s the faint impression that the textures are less detailed – particularly the grass pattern – but the edges appear to be sharper and smoother by way of compensation.
The game retains its brilliantly simple golf mechanics – after a quick scan of the course you start a swing bar off moving, tapping once to set the power and again at the right time to determine the accuracy. Spin can be added post-shot.
We still feel that the iPod/iPhone controls are slightly more responsive, but if all you’ve ever played is this fine Android version you’ll neither notice nor care.
Real Football 2010
Continuing the sporting theme, Real Football has been involved in a real ding-dong battle with the likes of FIFA for footy supremacy in recent years on both iPhone and mobile. Gameloft’s footy franchise always plays a fast, fluid game, encouraging swift tippy-tappy passing triangles and surging runs into the box.
Unfortunately, the franchise’s Android debut doesn’t make the statement of intent Gameloft might have hoped for.
The issue – as with many of these conversions – is one of control. The trouble is, nothing shows up sloppy controls better (or worse) than football sims, which demand instant and pinpoint changes in direction.
Real Football on Android (or at least the Nexus One) really suffers in this regard, your players continuing to run in a direction a whole second after you’ve pushed the virtual stick in another. What’s more, the ‘A’ and ‘B’ buttons (which control your kicks) simply don’t work at times. It’s maddening.
The game suffers on the visual front, too, with a noticeable drop in texture detail on the players and pitch.
Sadly, Real Football 2010’s control issues completely spoil any enjoyment of the game, making this the worst conversion of the lot.
The Asphalt games always provide solidly entertaining arcade racing kicks, with Asphalt 5 on the iPhone marking the pinnacle of the series. It’s a heady mix of real-life road cars and fantastical, drift-happy racing.
Ultimately, you’ll spend more time picking up Nitro power-ups and ramming your opponents into oncoming traffic than you will worrying about racing lines. Just how we like it.
Happily, this Android conversion is one of the strongest on this list. The graphics aren’t noticeably better or worse than the iPhone version – in fact the deeper colours on our Nexus One simply made it look different.
The real test, as we’ve seen elsewhere on this list, comes with the sharpness of the controls and the smoothness of the performance. While the accelerometer steering isn’t quite as sharp as the iPhone original, it’s certainly good enough to let you enjoy the game’s fast-paced action.
What's more, this shift to tilt-controls takes the strain from the Nexus One's pretty but seemingly flawed touch display, making for a far more pleasant experience.
The game moves at a decent rate, too, with only the occasion stutter rearing its head. Asphalt 5 on Android is a definite success.
You can get all Gameloft's Android games from its online store.