‘The Collectables’ review: unexpendable

April 9, 2014
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Between Ryse on the Xbox One and the free-to-play shooter Warface, Crytek is one developer that knows a lot about in-app purchases. So it’s a mild surprise that it wasn’t until recently that Crytek has ventured into the mobile games space with The Collectables. While the studio wasn’t so ambitious as to delve into its first person shooter roots, this new title maintains Crytek’s penchant for action-oriented gameplay.

The Collectables is like real time strategy training wheels. It's very accessible, though the game’s degree of wanton violence makes it inappropriate for users below the tween age range.

I still can’t decide if calling this game The Collectables is the smartest or the laziest kind of marketing. As far as products on portable platforms, “collectables” personally conjures images of capturing monsters that are either cartoony and cute or detailed and menacing. Instead, "The Collectables" is a play on words referring to The Expandables movie series and as such, features a G.I. Joe-inspired squad of armed specialists.

The great news is that The Collectables is miles better than any game adaptation of those films. It’s actually an easy comparison to make, since The Collectables and the console game of The Expendables 2 employ the same camera view and campaign gameplay with AI companions.

Taps on the screen direct your squad, or you can tap and drag them individually for more precise, tactical movement. This kind of micromanaging is appreciated when you have specific targets in mind, since your squad will automatically fire at any enemy within range. It also maintains its fast pace by performing in real time and the soldiers’ level of firepower encourages guns-blazing assertiveness over caution, although the game does have a cover system.

Speaking of cover, the chest-high walls are the only points of protection. Should this game get a sequel, defensive actions like wall hugging and crawling on your belly while concealed in overgrowth would be welcome gameplay enhancements. 

From Titanfall to Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, I’ve recently had a renewed interest in the element of chance of collectable cards. The Collectables has its own card mechanic, which features everything from buffs to explosives to healing–and the best part is that these cards are reusable. You earn them through the blind pack cards you buy after earning enough gold in the field. Alternatively, you can also buy gold using real money.

Publisher DeNA managed to hit a pricing sweet spot with its paid gold options. While I was perfectly happy earning gold through gameplay, buying more gold to unlock more digital cards was always tempting. Moveover, Crytek’s art department put a lot of noticeable effort to make these double-sided digital cards informative and aesthetically pleasing. The game was clearly influenced by the popular sticker albums of the '80s and '90s.

Complementing the card-based enhancements are the heroes' permanent upgrades, which are mandatory for the later missions. This brings an element of grinding to The Collectables, as some missions will require multiple playthroughs using squad mates with better stats. As if to soften the potential boredom of grinding, Crytek was nice enough to offer better rewards with each repeated playthrough of each stage.

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The Collectables further shows the versatility of Crytek's CryEngine. Considering the developer first gained notoriety for visually intensive series like Far Cry and Crysis, it’s of little surprise that its first foray on mobile looks superb. The levels are predominantly based in jungles, so it’s great to see vegetation react accordingly when bullets are whizzing by. Yet what’s more impressive are the lighting effects, where it’s easy to notice the convincing real time shadows, light blooms, and beams of sunlight piercing through the trees.

As a first time effort on mobile from Crytek, The Collectables' solid quality is not unexpected. What it lacks in originality in gameplay and monetization it makes up for in production values high enough to attract the attention of onlookers.

  • The Collectables
  • Developer: Crytek
  • Publisher: DeNA
  • Platform: iOS
  • Price: Free
  • In-app Purchases? yes

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