Price: $5.99   Score: 10/10   Category: Games

While only officially available on the app store today, for the past few days we’ve had our hands on a final-release copy of a the hotly-awaited 3D sword-and-shield RPG Infinty Blade, from Epic Games and chAIR Entertainment.

Even before its release, the buzz around this game has been enormous. Months ago, the draw-dropping Unreal Engine 3 tech demo Epic Citadel went beyond what most people thought the iPhone and iPad were graphically capable of. Now that Infinity Blade is here, how does it live up?

Firstly, Infinity Blade is perhaps not the game that many were either expecting – or hoping for. The most surprising thing about the game is that you cannot move freely and explore the world as you could in Epic Citadel – this is an RPG-on-rails. Each area gives you only one to two options as to where you can go, indicated by a flashing blue circle. Tapping this initiates a cinematic sequence as you enter the new area or approach your next foe.

The only time you really control your character is during the fight sequences, but having said all that – If you’re able to put aside what you wish Infinity Blade was, and take it for what it actually is, then you’re going to enjoy every second. Infinity Blade is hands-down the most amazing game I’ve every played on a mobile device. No question. It’s a visually stunning experience, highly addictive, surprisingly deep and well worth every penny of the $5.99 asking price.

The game begins with a battle, and fittingly so. After a quick tutorial on the controls, you’re thrown into a fight to the death against the near-immortal God King, your soon-to-be arch nemesis. You don’t stand a chance – but you’re not supposed to either. After fending off your feeble efforts, the God King drives his sword into your chest and the game fast forwards 20-odd years and begins again. This time round, standing outside the very same ancient castle, you’re playing as the son of the hero who was just killed. But you don’t start from scratch – you retain all of the equipment, items and experience that the father had earned. This cycle of the hero’s bloodline attempting to avenge the death of the father continues until one son finally succeeds.

As you make your way through the richly detailed realm, you encounter armor-clad behemoths – trolls, golems, knights and assassins that provide a formidable obstacle at every turn. There is no way around, and each foe acts as a gatekeeper to the next area. Battle is initiated by tapping on the blue circle next to the enemy, and, after some ceremony and cinematic posturing, the fight begins.

Battles in Infinity Blade are all about ‘breaking’ the enemy’s attack, opening up a small window to retaliate. Attacks can be broken by dodging, blocking or parrying. You can dodge to the left or right simply by tapping in that direction, block by holding down the shield icon in the center of the screen, and parry by swiping in the direction of your attacker’s incoming blow. Parrying is by far the most difficult defensive move to execute, but parrying attack chains daze your enemy, giving you a larger window to attack.

The easiest way to defend is to block, but each block weakens your shield to eventual breaking point, forcing you to adopt a different defensive strategy. As you progress through the game, you have to mix up your defensive moves – dodging, parrying and blocking to survive against increasingly tough opponents.

Magic and special attacks are also available, and charge up over time. Special attacks are initiated simply by tapping the icon, but magic attacks must be “cast” by gesturing a particular symbol with your finger. Different gestures yield different spells, and there are many to learn – including fire, ice, lightning and healing. The battles are always a one-on-one affair but are challenging and exciting events, with the action unfolding in real-time.

With each bloodline, or cycle of the game, your character grows stronger – but so to do your enemies. Every battle you win yields a number of experience points, which are added to your running total and also to each of your equipped items. Every time you level up, you’re awarded two skill points which can be spent to increase your character’s health, attack, shield or magic.  Armor, swords, shields, helmets and magic rings also ‘fill’ with XP, and once full, become ‘mastered’ which yields an extra skill point to be spent in the same fashion.

The world of Infinity Blade is littered with treasure chests and bags of gold and health potions, which you can collect simply by tapping on them. Your enemies also carry substantial cash, which can be saved or used to buy new weapons and armor in the store. The store features an impressive number of items that can be purchased to improve your chances of survival, including at current count; 28 swords, 12 shields, 15 helms, 5 full armor sets and 12 magic rings, with additional items promised for future upgrades.

The God King can be beaten in a few hours, but the RPG element of Infinity Blade is what will keep you coming back. Mastering all the weapons and equipment in the game gives you extra skill points to improve your character stats, which will come in handy when the next update brings Game Center enabled multiplayer and an all-new area: The Dread Dungeons.

Bottom line: Infinity Blade is an addictive action RPG, with a compelling story, exciting combat and well-developed character progression. The dark cinematic nature of the game draws you into the world, and the Unreal Engine take graphics on iPhone and iPad to never-before-seen heights. A must-have for any true gamer.

Infinity Blade is compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad, iTouch 3, and iTouch 4.