When it comes to jaw-droppingly beautiful role-playing games steeped in medieval hack-and-slash action, Infinity Blade II is pretty much the gold standard.
Gameloft's Wild Blood may not set a new standard, but it definitely deserves a place in the same pantheon of groundbreaking iOS games.
The story goes like this: in King Arthur's Camelot, things have gone cray-cray. Sir Lancelot got busy with Queen Guinevere, who's now being held captive by Arthur's sister, sorceress Morgana Le Fey. To rescue the imprisoned queen, Lancelot will have to fight his way past hordes of Hellgate demons -- you know, the ones set loose by mad-with-jealousy Arthur.
Gameloft keeps the gameplay fairly simple, with tap-driven attacking, evading, and power-upping. You use a left-handed virtual joystick to control movement and right-handed thumb swipes to adjust your view. It's a familiar, if occasionally cumbersome, system, one that gets the job done but leaves you wishing for some magical way to connect a PlayStation controller.
Everything you hack or slash produces gold, plus the occasional potion, magical item, or the like. In true RPG style, there are occasional checkpoints where you can upgrade your weapons and armor, buy healing and manna potions, boost your damage, and so on. You'll also face the occasional puzzle you need to solve in order to unlock a gate or chest.
Combat unfolds gracefully, with Lancelot automatically hacking at the nearest foe and sort of springing forward to engage a foe that's just out of reach. It's a concession to the nature of the onscreen controls, and to my thinking a good one: it speeds up combat by cutting down the amount of running and camera-swiping you need to do.
Like Infinity Blade II, Wild Blood inherits its good looks from the Unreal Engine. (I tested it on my Retina-enhanced iPhone 4S and iPad 3.) I think the former is a more colorful and visually diverse game overall, but make no mistake: Wild Blood looks gorgeous.
And it's a blast to play. I had more fun with this game than I've had with any first-person shooter in recent memory, largely because I wasn't constantly struggling with the controls to get the perfect aim. Here, all the killing happens up close and personal (well, at least until you get your longbow, at which point aiming once again becomes a hassle). Good times.
Once you've saved fair Guinevere, you can turn your finely honed slashing skills on other knights: Wild Blood features local and online multiplayer options, including Capture the Flag and four-on-four Team Deathmatch. That adds a lot of replay value to a game that might otherwise sit on your app shelf after you've completed it.
Speaking of value, it's hard to balk at Wild Blood's $6.99 price when a comparable console game might run you six, seven, even eight times as much. And that's what Gameloft has crafted here: a console-quality RPG that also happens to be original to iOS. (An Android version is in the works.) That's well worth seven bucks in my book.