"Infinity Blade III" has been almost synonymous with the iPhone 5s. The game and the mobile device were both announced at the same Apple event, and the much-touted A7 chip in the new phone seemed to be tailor-made for graphically intensive games like "Infinity Blade III."
The good news is that the graphics and animation live up to the hype. The bad news is that they're used to house a game that's absolutely average in every other way.
"Infinity Blade III" is a decent way to pass the time, and a fitting conclusion to the surprisingly resilient "Infinity Blade" trilogy, but hardly the promised harbinger of a new breed of mobile game.
The central mechanic in "Infinity Blade III" is swordfighting, and few other games have ever pulled it off so well. The system is deceptively simple: Swipe your finger in the direction you want to swing your sword.
That's just about all you need to do. You can press your finger down on a shield icon to block, or on a directional icon to either side to dodge, but it's usually more effective to parry an enemy's attack with one of your own.
Battles are seldom straightforward swipe-fests, however. Enemies can block and parry as well as you can, and they are not prone to making errors. Instead, you'll have to learn the indicators for their attacks and parry or dodge accordingly.
Succeed, and enemies will stumble, at which point you can pummel them with as many blows as your nimble fingers can dish out. Attacking, blocking, dodging and parrying all feel incredibly precise, although the techniques you learn at the very beginning of the game will see you through to the end without much meaningful change.
The gameplay is simple, but it's hardly easy: Enemies can dish out a lot of punishment, and when you make a misstep (when, not if) they'll reset any progress you've made toward staggering them.
Rely on your shield too much, and it will break; dodging will exhaust you. The only reliable defense is parrying, which sometimes requires almost preternatural timing and exactitude.
As a result, the game can become a slog, especially when dealing with its frequent difficulty spikes. Memorizing enemy patterns and revisiting areas to level up is one of the only ways to conquer the punishing stage bosses. The other way is to buy powerful equipment through in-app purchases, which can get expensive and break the game's sense of progression.
During "Infinity Blade III," you'll take control of two different characters: the warrior Siris and the assassin Isa. Although Isa is faster and requires somewhat different timing, the two characters are controlled very similarly. Still, the attempt at variety is a nice touch, because the gameplay can get repetitive otherwise.
Each character has access to a light, a medium and a heavy weapon, allowing players to customize their play styles somewhat, although some weapons are more effective than others against certain enemies. Beyond that, upgrading equipment, brewing potions and leveling up abilities all function well, but "Infinity Blade III" is all about swordfighting, and keeps that mechanic in the spotlight.
The narrative in "Infinity Blade III" will be either one of its major stumbling blocks or one of its selling points, depending on your familiarity with the series. The game picks up more or less where "Infinity Blade II" left off, with former God King Raidriar squaring off against the present monarchic deity.
He doesn't last long, as a young woman named Isa discovers when she begins to relive his memories through an "Assassin's Creed"-style computer simulation. From there, it's up to returning protagonists Siris and Isa to journey across the world and save it once again.
If the plot sounds disjointed and hard to piece together, that's because it is. The introductory cutscene tries to fill in new players on the world's unique history (a combination of sci-fi technology and swords-and-sorcery fantasy) and the confusing story that took place in the two previous games and tie-in novel.
But the narrator bombards new players with so many names, places and events that it's almost impossible to follow who did what to whom, or why any of it matters. This uncompromising approach to series lore will not bother returning players, but it seems strange to tout "Infinity Blade III" as the app that will sell gamers on the new A7 chip, and then plunge them into the world of hardcore mobile gaming without so much as a how-do-you-do.