Not too long ago, a Czechoslovakian developer by the name of Craneballs Studios made its way onto both the top grossing iOS charts and top free iOS games charts. The game is called Overkill, a highly simplistic first-person shooter, for iPhone and iPad, that has been downloaded well over 2.5 million times since its March 17th release.
A static, gallery-style FPS, players gun down 2D enemies with a wide variety of guns that are, more likely than not, the reasoning behind the game’s title. Monetized through in-app purchases, the game does an excellent marketing job in letting players try new and more powerful, premium weapons. Instead of just displaying them, this gives users an actual taste for the loadout in game. Though simplistic, the game looks and functions cleanly enough, and its basic game play makes it easy to pick up and play while on the move. That said, the game does suffer from some player frustrations that stem from the game’s difficulty curve.
Players are an unnamed solider with a simple enough objective: Here are some enemies. Shoot them. That’s really about it. Players are placed in a 2D space reminiscent of a shooting gallery as enemies slide out into the open. The idea is to progress through all the waves of each level with enemies randomly spawning in specific locations. As to which one and what it will be filled with, this is generated on the spot.
Each enemy has varying health, armor, accuracy, and damage. Once they’ve appeared, a graphic will appear around the target which displays how long until the enemy has “targeted” the player. The idea is to shoot them before they finish targeting the user. It sounds simple enough, but there are key factors that come into play when it comes to target selection.
When we say “varying” amounts of health, we mean really varying. Some enemies will take an entire clip of bullets, to the head, while others will die in a shot or two. Now, when an enemy is being hit, they cannot fire, but if users are wasting time trying to kill one enemy, and, say, two weaker ones are around, the user can die before the stronger one is killed. In addition to this, some enemies might be in areas where they are less exposed and further away, making them harder to hit with an inaccurate weapon, costing the user health while other enemies pelt away at them. This creates a central mechanic of target choice.
Choice is really the core of this game. Choosing what target to shoot first is only part of that equation, however. The other aspect is the choice of weapon. As users survive each wave, they earn points, damager multipliers, armor bonuses, and so on. More importantly, they earn cash; cash that is used to buy new guns and upgrades for existing ones (players must also continually buy new ammunition for each weapon). This constant purchasing and upgrading is imperative since players cannot move at all during game play, only aim.
As waves go on, each level becomes more difficult in terms of enemy health, accuracy (the time it takes before they fire), and numbers. In this sense, it becomes a requirement to kill them faster, and there is only so fast the player can aim. Because of this drastic dependency on arsenal load outs, the game can be a bit frustrating as players can often find themselves at a plateau with their current weapon and in a situation where they can’t really advance, nor buy new gun. Since aiming is the only “skill” for players, it can be frustrating to constantly replay the same wave and die, over and over again, just to upgrade.
To note a few more qualms with this, players can die very, very, very quickly. In fact, players can sometimes die in the time it takes to reload some guns, making them pointless to buy until after you die.
To mitigate this, players can purchase many premium weapons with a virtual currency called Overkill Medals that can be bought in quantities ranging from 30 OM to 300 OM at the cost of $0.99 and $4.99 respectively. OM can also be earned via offers or sharing Overkill with friends through both email or Facebook. Players can send a game code, and friends that put it in will earn both themselves and the user who sent it virtual currency.
What works better for coaxing the player into buying these OM weapons isn’t so much the difficulty of later waves. What makes them desirable is that every once and a while the game will pause the game with a pop-up stating “try this weapon.” Overkill will then grant the player with one full clip of said weapon and they can use it until ammunition is depleted, giving them a taste of the gun in comparison to what they currently own. It’s also… slightly gratifying to kill a heavily armored infantry unit with a single shot.
In another monetization effort, players can also use OM to unlock different game levels. They can still be unlocked through in-game means by earning a certain rank (with ranking points earned from killing enemies), but OM purchases allow for early access.
Overkill also has a leaderboard system through Game Center and a slew of different achievements to unlock. One thing that is nice about the latter, too, is that the game shows the user all of the achievements right from the get-go and has a visible indication of their progress in acquiring it.
In the end, Overkill is a pretty decent free-to-play game that does a good job at coaxing players into purchasing its virtual currency. That said, it does have some significant frustrations in the progression versus difficulty curves and can often leave the player in a situation where they cannot really progress without repeating the same sequence over and over again (dying over and over again) until they can afford the next level of weapon. This wouldn’t be so bad, except that the game’s play is far too reliant on upgrading one’s arsenal in comparison to the player’s individual skill level. Still, as a free game, the positives do tend to outweigh the negatives.