Gunplay on rails with Total Recall

Total Recall is a new iOS and Android title from Jump Games released as a tie-in product with the recent Sony Pictures movie Total Recall, a reimagining of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle. The game is available now for a launch price of $0.99 on both the iOS App Store and Google Play.

This review is based on the iOS version, tested on an iPhone 4S.

The Total Recall mobile game takes the form of a first-person “rail shooter” — in other words, it is a “shooting gallery”-style game in which players look through the eyes of the protagonist Douglas Quaid and take on waves of enemies at various predefined locations. Players do not have complete freedom of movement, but are able to rotate their viewpoint 360 degrees around them as well as looking up and down. This is accomplished simply by sliding a finger over the device’s touchscreen. Shooting enemies, taking cover, reloading weaponry, switching to alternative armament and using powerups is all accomplished through on-screen buttons.

Basic gameplay is very simple. Quaid must make his way through the game’s 11 levels by clearing each wave of enemies one at a time. Between waves, the game shows Quaid moving from location to location from the same first-person perspective, and the player is occasionally able to pick up collectible objects by shooting them on the way. The level ends in success if Quaid successfully defeats all enemies, and failure if he runs out of health before accomplishing this.

In order to assist Quaid, he is able to purchase various items including weaponry, consumables and protective gear using soft and hard currency. Soft currency is earned through normal play and by completing various “challenges” for each level. These range from completing the level in a certain time limit to performing specific tasks such as only using a large limited-ammo “primary” weapon to defeat all enemies. Completing all challenges for a level rewards the player with hard currency — otherwise, this may only be acquired via in-app purchase. Weaponry items are generally level-locked, meaning the player is unable to acquire them until they have made a specific amount of progress in the game; consumable items, meanwhile, are always available, but are generally too expensive to afford without either in-app purchasing or significant “grinding.”

Total Recall’s most impressive feature is its presentation. It features stunning, smoothly-animated 3D graphics during missions and well-drawn comic book scenes to tell the story between levels. The background music and sounds are loud and brash, giving the game an intense, cinematic feel that captures the atmosphere of the movie well.

As is so often the case, however, the “business” side of things feels like it gets in the way of gameplay a little too much. It is frustrating for players to see a variety of available items to purchase in the store and be unable to acquire them without spending additional real money on top of the game’s price of admission. When it becomes impossible to purchase health packs — an essential commodity in the game’s more challenging levels — without opening one’s wallet, that’s when in-app purchasing is crossing a line between “providing additional value” and “wringing the player dry.” Players are also significantly more resistant to the idea of frequent required in-app purchases if the game is a paid title in the first place, as App Store and Google Play reviewers are generally quick to note.

The game itself isn’t without its issues, either. The default sensitivity of the controls is much too low, for example, meaning the player is often pelted with gunfire while simply attempting to turn around to face their assailants. Control sensitivity may be adjusted in the settings menu, but this option is not made immediately clear to the player — and even at maximum it is still rather more sluggish than desirable.

An additional issue for casual players is that upon first starting the game, the action begins immediately without any explanation of the controls. A help option is available on the main menu screen, but this is easily missed — a brief (skippable) tutorial or simply a single screen explaining what all of the on-screen icons do would have sufficed. Likewise, consumable items in the store are represented by icons without any explanation of their effects. Given that the game practically requires the player to make use of these items in order to progress successfully, some clarification of what the player is spending their virtual currency on would be very welcome.

All in all, Total Recall is not a bad game and its presentation alone makes it worthy of note. The developer also seems committed to expanding the game over time — a variety of additional missions are promised in future updates, though whether or not these will be paid expansions is not yet known. The decision to make it a paid app with heavy emphasis on in-app purchases is likely to be an unpopular move with players, however — while many mobile gamers are willing to spend additional real money on in-game items after the price of admission, those who are not have a strong inclination towards being the most vocal commenters in the reviews.

Total Recall is currently ranked at No. 156 in Top Paid iPad Games, and No. 326 on the top paid iPad app chart on iOS. On Android Google reports the title has been downloaded between 500 and 1,000 times. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for iOS and social games and developers.