Slightly disorientated, systems damaged, you struggle to your feet. Servos whining as you do. The only information left uncorrupted in your memory banks concerns the princess and her current location; a cryo-tower, visible in the distance. Your intention is to reach her whatever the cost. All that stands in your way is a robotic army hell bent on the destruction of all other mechanical lifeforms. Welcome to EPOCH. Set in a nameless city ripped apart by warring factions of rogue robots, this is the story of not only your journey, but also the struggles experienced by the humans caught in the middle.
For an on-rails style shooter, EPOCH is fairly impressive when taking into account that it was originally intended for smartphones and tablets. With the release on PC, developer Uppercut Games have made several changes with the aim of appealing to a more demanding audience. Touch and slide controls have given way to full mouse and keyboard and Xbox controller support; both of which can be switched between on the fly, with on screen prompts updating accordingly. Likewise the aim assist which kept the current enemy targeted have also been removed, meaning players now need to aim their shots more precisely.
This can be a little confusing at first as targeting information for the currently selected enemy remains visible even when you move the crosshair away from them. Keyboard controls can be redefined but if you’re comfortable with the traditional WASD layout, there’s little need to do so. While I tried playing with both mouse and keyboard and an Xbox controller, I found mouse and keyboard better for both aiming and navigating the menus. While using the mouse felt smooth, playing with controller resulted in slower aiming, and made the menu difficult to use.
Graphic options are fairly minimal, offering only three preset graphical detail settings, along with V-sync and fullscreen toggles. Being an Unreal engine based game though, the graphics are suitably impressive for the most part. There is some noticeable texture pop-in and blurring during some cutscenes and this detracts a little from the experience. However, I did not notice any drop in FPS throughout and FRAPs reported a steady 60 FPS. The UI feels somewhat chunky at times with large buttons that were originally meant to be used for touch control filling a significant amount of screen space, but it’s the onscreen prompts showing the direction of cover which I find distracting. It would be nice if an option to toggle them off could be provided. The music I found to be fairly forgettable with all tracks sounding somewhat similar and generic overall. However, the sound effects more than make up for this. The whirring of servos and thumping of grenade launchers help set the tone of the game.
While described as an on-rail shooter, this is in the traditional sense of the term and is not to be confused with its use to describe linear first person shooters. EPOCH is very reminiscent of the old Lightgun games, such as Time Crisis or Virtua Cop found in the arcades of yesteryear. Each level consists of one or more sub-sections with the player needing to eliminate waves of enemies in the current sub-section before being automatically taken to the next. Your character can only be moved to the left or the right between three different areas of cover, which you can duck behind to avoid most incoming fire.
Four main types of enemies, the Gunner, Grenadier, Slicer and Blaster, are introduced through the first nine levels, with the tenth and final level being a boss fight. With the limited character movement, EPOCH often becomes more about tactical planning and prioritizing of threats than just outright shooting. Although with several enemies of differing types on screen at once, it can also become rather frantic when trying to dodge grenades and avoid a slicer’s beam weapon as it rushes towards you.
When you first start EPOCH, there is only one difficulty level available – Easy. This must be completed before unlocking the next one and the same goes for subsequent difficulty levels. This can cause the game to become slightly repetitive as you’ll be playing through the same levels multiple times. Upon unlocking Medium difficulty, a message is displayed which implies there are new enemies to be faced, yet this is not entirely true. Opponents are still selected from the same four types met while playing on Easy. The only difference is the weapon, armour and damage types they use. A Slicer may now appear in the second level using corrosive ammo, whereas on Easy they did not appear until later in the game using normal rounds.
There are no new attack patterns or weapon types to be experienced and this can result in certain foes appearing in a level before the cutscene that serves as their introduction. While this does not affect the gameplay, it does come off as strange from continuity viewpoint. On the plus side, the challenge ramps up nicely and feels well balanced, if a little hectic on Hard. At no point did I feel frustrated upon dying; I merely chastised myself for it was generally my own mistakes that caused my downfall. Death will force you to restart the level, but upgrades to aid with health recovery can help, but do not guarantee survival as they will only recover energy in any non-depleted cell.
For the most part, gameplay is fluid and enjoyable. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction to be gained from facing a particularly nasty wave of enemies. Taking them out one by one and watching as the last one explodes in a huge fireball, falling to its knees headless. During the first few levels this will be interrupted by a mandatory on-screen tutorial which pauses the action and requires you to perform a specific move before you can continue. While expected at the start of the first level, this wound up being more annoying than helpful by the time the last new game element had been introduced.
The environment can sustain damage in the midst of fire-fights, however this appears graphical only. I never noticed any effect on actual gameplay as a result. Upon finishing a level, you will be awarded a new item to be used in the customization of your robot in addition to receiving credits, experience and one or two data intercepts. The latter being used to unfold the story from the viewpoints of several humans, AI, and robots. These tales are served up through a series of several intercepts sorted by who wrote them, and I would often replay levels just to see which ones would be dropped next so I could learn the fate of a particular individual.
Likewise, replaying levels also allows you to collect more credits and item drops which can be sold. These don’t always appear to be random, yet they also seem to bear little correlation to the following encounter. So while you may end up with a new gun, it will often be more advantageous to use one you already have in the next stage. This constant need to tweak armour and weapons based on your upcoming set of opponents can become a little tedious. I would often end up exiting out of robot customization to double check weapon and armour types of enemies. This could have been eased had it been possible to save some custom loadouts. The only time I truly found EPOCH to start feeling like a grind was when I came up against the boss on Hard. By this point, it is a real challenge and current equipment may not be sufficient to survive. The cost of higher tier items is a little steep meaning that rounds may have to be repeated several times in order to level the playing field again.
There is, however, an arena mode unlocked during the course of play to provide a change of pace. While the main gameplay remains unchanged, the arena expands slightly on your freedom of movement. Thus allowing you in some stages to move to a new set of cover above. Mini-missions are also introduced. These can be anything from managing to kill a specific number of robots without using cover, to using certain moves a set number of times. Credits can be used to purchase any mission you feel is too difficult to complete, thus skipping it. Although doing so will not allow you to earn the XP for it. Arena Utilities can also be purchased to aid with survival; they will automatically trigger when their conditions are met. Rounds tend to start off very easy and this can lead to becoming overconfident as the difficulty soon ramps up to a point where, even with level three equipment, you’ll be hard pressed to take down an enemy while avoiding damage. But you get to keep the credits you have earned when you do finally succumb to the robot hoard.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Uppercut Games have served up an enjoyable shooter which is somewhat different to most other offerings available in the genre today. EPOCH is packed with fluid action which has kept me coming back for more and includes an interesting story which doesn’t get in the way. While there are some flaws, the enjoyment EPOCH provides outstrips them. For a budget game, this is a refreshing change in pace and well worth the asking price of $9.99.
- Time Played – 10 Hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- Bugs/Crashes Encountered – None
- DRM – Steamworks
- System Specs – i7-3770K @3.50 GHz, 8.00 GB RAM, 4GB GeForce GTX 670
- Control Scheme – M/KB (Recommended), Controller
- Saved Game Location – Steam\SteamApps\common\EPOCH\UDKGame\EpochSave
- Game Acquisition Method – Review
- Availability – Steam
- Demo – No