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Infinity Blade II cuts above any other game available on Apple’s iDevices

by Phil Hornshaw

The most anticipated game of the year for Apple’s iDevices will literally give players a workout. In terms of graphics, gameplay and story, Infinity Blade II - which is out now - is the best looking game to date for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Earlier this week, Infinity Blade II developer ChAIR and publisher Epic Games released a list of “finger workouts” players could do to prepare for the release of the game.

Little did we know that the video wasn’t a joke – Infinity Blade II is about four times the size of its predecessor, and that’s a whole lot of finger-swiping swordplay.

The original Infinity Blade made a huge splash on the iPhone and iPad when it was released, in very large part because it showed off the power of Apple’s devices (and Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 graphics software) in a very real and surprising way. Infinity Blade is gorgeous. It looks amazing, and what’s more, it looks amazing on a telephone. That was kind of mind-blowing in 2010, and Infinity Blade set a visual standard for games on the platform.

Sequel even more cutting edge, especially on iPhone 4S and iPad 2

Infinity Blade II is one of the first games optimized for the iPhone 4S and leverages the extent of Apple’s new A5 dual-core processor, which is available only in the latest-generation iPhones and the iPad 2. And once again, ChAIR and Epic have set the standard for mobile gaming in terms of graphics. Infinity Blade II is stunning and huge, taking what was started with its predecessor and adding more of everything. Huge, sweeping vistas. Massive structures. Imposing enemies with tons more animations. Visually, Infinity Blade II is beautiful and sets a new high-water mark for graphics among mobile games.

Fans of the original game will definitely want to download Infinity II  right away. And while the game understandably performs the best on the iPhone 4S and iPad 2, it is still a worthy download on older devices. The game is compatible with the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, the third and fourth generation iPod Touches and both iPads. Apple’s iOS 3.2 software or above also needs to be installed on the device.

Much deeper gameplay

In terms of gameplay, players who loved Infinity Blade will find even more to love in Infinity Blade II. Everything that made Infinity Blade interesting – namely, its fairly tight touch controls and often-intense sword-dueling action – is back and made bigger and better than before.

The primary thrust of the game is still sword-to-sword action against a single opponent, although ChAIR has added a few new abilities to the mix. As in the original, you take on opponents in Infinity Blade and avoid their attacks either by dodging them with a pair of left and right buttons, blocking with a shield or parrying by swiping at the screen in the opposite direction of the enemy attack. But instead of being limited to a sword and shield, you can now carry a pair of weapons, one in each hand. That limits your blocking ability, obviously, but adds to your ability to chain together massive combos as you slice away at your opponent. You can also opt for a big two-handed weapon that’s quite a bit slower, but much more powerful.

The biggest criticism leveled against the first Infinity Blade was how repetitive the title could be. Sword fights were interesting, but often boiled down to memorization of an enemy’s attack patterns. Over-reliance on the dodge button could take quite a bit of the challenge out of the game, with every fight boiling down to “dodge, dodge, attack.” ChAIR has adjusted things in Infinity Blade II to lessen that ability and make fights more difficult and deadly. Your dodging ability is limited by a stamina meter now, and overusing the dodge causes your character to tire and start taking glancing blows as he tires and fails to get out of the way, which can really add up over time. The touch controls in general are much more responsive this time out.

Also remaining from the original but with lots of additional depth is the big reliance on finding and purchasing new weapons, armor and items, as well as new abilities, to increase your character’s stats. ChAIR has added new elements to this system – like gems you can buy to give your weapons special effects – but at its core, the system remains the same and will give fans of collecting everything a lot to do.

A focus on story

But the biggest addition to Infinity Blade II, and perhaps the most welcome, is the addition of a coherent and interesting story. Plot was fairly minimal in Infinity Blade, with a few elements coming to the fore over time but with most of it just being tidbits divined by the player. The goal was to kill a creature known as the God-King, and while the whole story mixed fantasy with a bit of science fiction, all it really did was leave a whole lot of questions about what the heck was going on.

This time, ChAIR has added more to the world while keeping things subtle. You learn a little bit more about why you’re doomed to fight duels endlessly (even if you’re killed), and it adds a new drive to the game that goes beyond just enjoying the fights and collecting all the equipment that you can.

But Infinity Blade II doesn’t stray far from the path that its predecessor created, and that’s mostly a good thing. The one complaint about the original’s repetitive nature has mostly been answered here with a lot more content: a bigger game with more enemies and more to discover. The core of the game remains relatively simple, though, and those few players who didn’t get into the original probably won’t get much out of the sequel.

For the legions of sword-wielding Infinity Blade fans, however, this sequel is pretty close to perfection. It continues to look great and offers more of everything that made Infinity Blade a hit, with even more polish. Expect to spend quite a bit of time swiping away at your phone after you download this one.

Tasty: A huge new Infinity Blade adventure that offers a much deeper experience

Bummer: Some (very) slight framerate issues even on the iPad 2

Cool: Dual swords, giant axes and a coherent story – plus more awesome graphics

Rating: 5 out of 5 bars