Game Reviews

Horn Game Review – A Glorious Game Partly Undone by Minor Flaws

Horn has been one of the most awaited titles to hit Google Play in recent times. After being shown at the Google I/O running on a Nexus 7, Horn has been creating the buzz in the Android gaming world. A console-like gameplay on a touchscreen device was what it touted. Developed by Phosphor Games and published by Zynga, does Horn deliver?

Name: Horn | Developer: Phosphor Games | Category: Action & Adventure | Players: 1 | Version: 0.9.4 | Size: 1.8 GB | Price: $6.99 |

Storyline & Gameplay

Let me just get this off my chest: Horn has without doubt the most compelling storyline for a mobile game. You play the titular Horn who shoulders the duty to lift the Pygon curse off all the inhabitants of the land, as he is the first to awaken from the curse. The story is presented via amazing cut-scenes (and hand-painted artwork), and there’s great voice-acting to go along with it.

The game is equal parts exploration and combat (well, maybe more of the former). There are puzzles to solve, journals and weapon blueprints to find by exploring the nook and crannies of the world, and songs to learn to play with your horn. Monetary rewards are also scattered across the lands. If you find yourself stuck and think that maybe it’s because of a bug, think again, because there’s surely a solution. I got stumped myself a few times.

Of course, the highlight of the game is the combat. Fighting against the metallic creatures is a strictly one-on-one affair. Some may abhor this fighting style, but I think it manages to do well. Unlike Phosphor’s previous title – Dark Meadow – the enemy’s attacks are harder to preempt, and there’s a little more freedom of movement. Also, each enemy has a weak point that you can expose, so this helps to keep the combat an engaging affair.

Graphics & Sound

Horn features a lush, living world. The plants, tress, grass and flowers all sway and move graciously. In that respect, Horn heralds a new era for mobile gaming graphics. The environments (of which there are three distinct ones) are nicely detailed as well. Horn’s and the enemy’s animation during combat are all top notch too. Water simulation, however, leaves a lot to be desired. The waterfalls and rivers simply look fake, to be honest. Another chink in the armor to the game’s amazing graphics is that it all gets messy visually when you enter dark areas, like caves.

To achieve all the ‘extra’ graphical content on Tegra 3 devices, some notable shortcuts have been made. Compared to the iPad version, there is obviously ‘more’ going on in the Tegra 3 optimized version, but the Tegra version has low-res surroundings and the iPad’s shows better anti-aliasing.

Sound wise, Horn hits all the right notes. The game has a beautiful soundtrack that accompanies your journey, procedurally changing its pace depending on what’s going on. The environmental sounds are great too. You can hear water lapping against the river bank and insects chirping. Another standout is the game’s imperious voice-acting. However, the voice-acting is undone by some out-of-sync dialogues.

Controls

Horn makes full use of the touchscreen as the game’s control mechanism. In terms of movement, there’s tap-to-go aka point-and-click (sorry, no virtual d-pads). Combat requires you to slash enemies by swiping the screen, and you roll to the left or right by clicking on virtual buttons. There are other touch and gesture controls, like swiping to move across a ledge, or tapping furiously to make a jump.

The controls are OK for the most part. One issue though is that the point and click doesn’t work like it should. Horn doesn’t go around obstacles intelligently like most point and clicks out there. Instead, he gets stuck, and you have to get yourself unstuck. This may not be a big issue to many, but I find it annoying.

In-App Purchases & Miscellaneous

While I’ll admit that you do not need to make any IAPs to complete the game, I feel as if a section of the game has been locked out but for those who splurge some extra cash. For one, additional skins cost a lot of in-game cash. You can either mercilessly grind for hours on end just to buy one skin, or well, spend $2.99. I agree, these are merely cosmetic changes, but don’t you think they should be more accessible to those who paid for the game? Upgrading and buying new gear is on the pricier side of things as well. I don’t know whether to blame Zynga or Phosphor for this, but it leaves a tinge of bad taste in my mouth.

Another issue I have is that the game stutters quite a lot. More than that, I feel that it runs on a lower-than-normal frame-rate. I’m sure it’s not my tablet that’s the problem, as it runs other Tegra 3 games without so much of an issue. Panning the camera, moving – it all lacks a certain degree of smoothness. For a game delayed by 2 weeks to “optimize the gaming experience” and one that’s tailor-made or Tegra 3 devices, this is simply unacceptable.

Conclusion

Horn has – up until now – the best storyline and sound for a mobile game. The graphics (not without its own flaws) are impressive, bested only by Madfinger Games’ Shadowgun THD and Dead Trigger. The combat system is unique and engaging, and there is more than just combat to this game with three whole lush worlds to explore. Coupled with an expansive campaign that should last you longer than 10 hours (OK, make that 20), the promise of a console-quality title is not far off.

However, rather disappointingly, the game is let down by a lack of polish and proper optimization for Android (I really wish it just ran smoother), sketchy point-and-click controls and an egregious IAP implementation among others. Despite all these small niggling flaws, Horn is a really fun game. If you happen to have $6.99 lying around, then by all means give this game a shot.

Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

PS: At the time of writing, many (me included) are reporting an incessant series of crashes, force closes and screen flickering. The game ran OK in this respect on the first day, but I can barely get it to work since then. I believe the developers will address this quickly, and have therefore not factored this problem in the overall rating of the game.

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