Last week, Games Workshop and Roadhouse interactive released Warhammer 40K: Carnage for the iPad. I downloaded a copy at the introductory price of $6.99 and spent a few hours with the game over the weekend.
Fundamentally a side-scrolling hack n' slash, players control an Ultramarine (of course) on a mission to search a planet, fallen to the Ork hordes, for his missing Captain. Simple touch screen controls allow the player to run to the right, jump, and attack with a close combat or ranged weapon. As the avatar grows in rank, players gain the ability to use grenades, and a jump pack, as well as store health vials and rage.
Early progression in the game is linear, and plays similarly to an endless runner, in that the objective is to pass through the level as quickly as possible, while avoiding traps and hazards, as well as killing orks in rapid succession to build combo chains. Performance is based on kills and speed, with overall score at the end of each level being deducted for wounds sustained. Attaining a three star rating unlocks the Fireteam option, allowing you to invite friends for a multiplayer experience. Unfortunately, as there is no matchmaking feature, and none of my game center friends have this title, I was unable to test this mode.
As players ascend in rank, numerous weapons and armor upgrades are available for purchase in the post level character equipment screen. Each item has a basic stat line, and may be upgraded, and some items even have enhanced powers indicated by a colored nametag, similar to other quest-based grinding games like Diablo or Borderlands. Many of the lower ranked items can be purchased using an XP based currency that is earned by re-running the levels with different modifiers enabled, to increase challenge and reward. However, uncommon or rare items seldom become available for purchase in the supply cache, and must be purchased with honor seals in the armoury - honor seals are purchased in the itunes store using real money. As far as I was able to tell, there is no way to earn these during regular play.
While I would expect this sort of system in a free-to-play title, it's disheartening to see it in a game that is already one of the more expensive on the itunes store at $6.99 (set to increase in price after a limited introductory period). Despite this, many of the lower level items are varied and familiar to anyone who knows 40K. Power swords, lightning claws and plasma pistols all behave in a fashion you would expect, and often feel well realized.
Even after the mini map opens up into branching paths, and the player is allowed a small amount of freedom in choosing which route they will take to the center of the city stronghold, there is little variation in the actual levels, and most are simply a combination of recycled assets you will have seen repeatedly by level 10. Generally, the gameplay is shallow and repetitive, and the levels are designed as variation on a single theme, meant to be played over and over again, to hone your score and time, attempting to achieve a three star rating - similar to angry birds.
Overall, the game is well crafted, and represents a faithful adaptation of the source material, including an extensive codex that details the enemies and areas you encounter, but its repetitive nature, and the inclusion of micro-transaction in a paid title make it hard to recommend. This one is best suited to the 40K junkie who must have everything GW produces, or those gamers who are simply drawn to grind based loot games.