Avast, Ye Scurvy Dog

There aren’t all that many games which are able to offer a stand-up console gaming experience on the iOS platform. While titles such as EA’s Dead Space and Firemint’s Real Racing 2 have helped bridge this gap, when it comes to consistently delivering heavy-hitting, single player experiences, Gameloft are without a doubt the reigning kings. Trying to build upon their previous similar offerings such as Spider-Man: Total Mayhem and Shadow Guardian, BackStab (out now, $6.99) takes you back to the 18th Century to try and swashbuckle its way into your heart. Does it succeed, or does the whole experience end up being a bit dull? Read on to find out!

Captain Ja… sorry, Henry Blake is a former Navy officer turned brute-on-a-mission. With nothing but revenge on his mind after being betrayed by his good friend early on in the story, he stops at nothing to see justice served. From cityscapes to pirate ships, jungles to ruins, Jack follows Kane’s trail like a vicious pitbull with tunnel vision. There are a variety of missions to be completed along the way, and Backstab mixes things up quite well in this department.

Henry’s mission ahead has him travelling across beautiful locales which look stunning on an iPad 2, and this is by far one of Gameloft’s most open-ended action-games so far. A refreshing sense of freedom coupled with the game’s pretty scenery is sure to impress the majority of gamers out there. In classic Assassin’s Creed fashion, Henry is able to nimbly traverse rooftops, sheds and a variety of other obstacles and set pieces in his world. Now, with all of BackStab’s primary strengths mentioned above, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

‘What if?’… those are the words that came to mind time and time again while playing through BackStab. It’s evident this title is chock-full of high production values, and, sadly, this only makes it harder to digest the game’s numerous downfalls. For me, the most glaring and disappointing aspect of BackStab is a tie between the battle-system and the terrible textures which anoint the characters in this game.

To address the former, 95% of battles are a single-button mash-fest which result in random animations. What’s worse is these animations are downright terrible. Clipping issues are the primary reason for this; stab someone in the neck and you’re actually stabbing them through the top of their shoulder… actually, above their shoulder, in the air! Want to wrap your arm around someone’s neck and strangle them? Sorry, you’ll grab wind as their head gets magically super-glued to the front of your forearm. Better animations and proper hit detection could possibly have redeemed the poor battle controls.

Besides its dodgy controls, the game suffers terribly from insta-spawning and quite frankly, I’m not sure why such a glaring issue wasn’t fixed before release. For example, in the opening sequence leading up to your first encounter with Kane, you encounter a friendly NPC battling a hostile character and jump in to help your buddy by killing his foe – literally a split second later, another one appears right behind you. Kill him, and again another one appears! I wasn’t aware Necromancers played such a big part in the game but, perhaps it would be better off if they were shunned.

As mentioned initially, the scenery, characters and environments in the game look extremely nice, from a distance that is – when viewed up close, they are a sheer disappointment. Faces are worn as masks, inanimate and lifeless while characters speak. Characters seem to move, dance and jerk around more than necessary, this perhaps Gameloft’s way of intending to show emotion and trying to make up for the lack of animated mouths and facial expressions. It makes an emotionless gameplay experience all the more dull, and perhaps even developing 3 to 4 sets of male and female faces “pasted” across all NPCs in the game would have gone a long way into delivering a higher level of presentation.

iFanzine Verdict: Overall, I had a hard time enjoying Backstab. The ‘What if’ scenario kept playing back over and over in my head but, at the end of the day, I was only left to play what I had in front of me: a buggy, unrefined version of a game with glaring issues which could have been taken care of had the release date of the game been pushed back a bit more. It’s a double-edged cutlass here; Gameloft stepped their game up but also disappointed me on several levels.

I would recommend BackStab to gamers who enjoy pirate-themed games in particular, but for those who are looking for a new action game to play in general on their iPhone or iPad, perhaps waiting on 9MM would be a better idea.

[xrr rating=3/5]