EPOCH is an arcade shooter that harkens back to the days when Guncon games were in plentiful supply. As a title that began its life on a mobile platform, it’s all the more impressive that it remains as fun and entertaining as it is, and while it certainly suffers from a few slight impediments due to its original use of a smaller screen, EPOCH shines as a wonderful example of a regrettably dying and nearly gone genre.--Full review follows
EPOCH is a lightgun game, make no mistake, and a decade ago, this title would have eaten up quarters in arcades. But where titles like Time Crisis would limit you to ducking in and out of static cover, EPOCH allows relatively free movement along a designated 2D plane, made up of three to four points the player can position themselves, depending on the level. And you will utilize every point, because while you may be able to hide behind cover from standard bullets, other enemies face no qualms about launching timed explosives at your position or firing lasers that can cut right through whatever you’ve chosen to hide behind.
In order to combat the insurmountable odds that you’ll face in the short (but wholly replayable) campaign, you will have to earn (or buy) the use of several varying weapon types and abilities. There are only around a half dozen weapon types, but each is unique and requires a different style of play to succeed with. Abilities you can earn through play or purchase in the store add a little more flair to combat, as they may serve to slow time or increase weapon speed and the like. You are also allowed counter measures in the forms of multi-target rockets and hand-held grenades, both of which can hold perks of their own, like acidic or electrical damage. You will need to learn to properly utilize all of the abilities and weapons at your disposal, as some levels will all but require a specific loadout to give you the upper edge in later difficulties.
In addition to the hour long campaign, Arena mode allows for never ending waves of increasingly difficult robotic adversaries, and provides a chance at leaderboard glory. In this mode, you can complete mini-missions that reward increasing amounts of credits, such as killing a number of enemies before getting hit or not using cover. Unfortunately, the rewards for simply playing and surviving are far from ideal, and considerably less than that of simply replaying story missions on hard difficulty. It’s a shame that there’s no form of co-op play, online or off, as this mode would benefit greatly from such an arrangement.
Here, I’d like to make a note regarding general difficulty in this title, as I begin to speak more to the negative aspects present in the game. When you first begin EPOCH, you’re limited to the easy difficulty level, and to unlock the subsequent normal, hard and ultra difficulties, you will have to beat the roughly hour-and-half long campaign in each. The difficulty you’re originally relegated to, easy mode, is exactly that: way too easy. My first impressions of the game were constricted to this mode, and it almost caused me to quit early and write EPOCH off as a lame mobile shooter whose anemic difficulty simply couldn’t match up with the speed and precision of a mouse pointer. Quitting at this stage would have been a mistake, as upon reaching normal and hard difficulties, the game truly comes into its own, providing a challenging experience worthy of its arcade roots. So, while playing EPOCH, try and hold your bourgeoning opinions until after
you’ve beaten the glorified tutorial/training mode that is the default difficulty.
As little as I enjoyed the default difficulty, it does serve a purpose beyond training you. Every time you beat a mission, you earn credits, experience points, weaponry, and snippets of dialogue from members of the world’s citizenry, all of which reveal the story of EPOCH’s world, and what led to the events of the campaign. Having read a healthy portion, I’ve enjoyed what bits of story I’ve pieced together. Collecting these snippets has become a driving force for replaying missions, beyond the leveling and credit farming. The simple fact is, forcing you to play through each difficulty allows you to earn story pieces and the necessary credits to buy the more expensive weaponry, thereby reducing any potential need to grind at later difficulties.
For the obvious question, what mobile shortcomings made it in to the final product?
, the answer is, not many
. The store menu that you navigate has clearly been tailored to smaller screens, and the in-game symbols for your various recharging abilities hang out way up in the upper right corner of your screen, just outside of your peripheral vision, and in the heat of things, this can be a slight hindrance until you memorize cool-down times. It could be argued, too, that slight movement quirks could be attributed to the game’s original format. Moving to and from cover can feel stiff and slow, making it difficult to find a solid opening from which to return fire. This may of course be a design choice, but it bugs me nonetheless.
On very rare occasion, upon entering a new grid in any one of the dozen or so missions, my character will either initially ignore my input commands completely, or be firing his weapon without my say so. This issue has never gotten me outright killed, but it has caused me to lose several hit points in more than one instance.
My final thoughts, after having just reached the aptly named and truly brutal Ultra
difficulty, is that EPOCH is an exceptionally commendable mobile-to-PC port, whose gameplay transfers beautifully to a mouse and keyboard. It looks great, and with so few of the issues that typically plague mobile ports, and gameplay that could have satisifed lightgun fanatics even in a modern arcade, EPOCH stands as one of the finer of the few remaining shooting galleries available in a home setting.