Lock ‘n’ Load Delivers Style and Substance with a Few Stumbles

Posted: April 20, 2012 in Shooter

One of the great things about the iTunes store is the seemingly endless game releases each week. Of course, there are only so many hours in the day so finding the better games came be a chore. Fortunately, a mostly terrific game by GameLab launched this week that goes by the name of Lock ‘n’ Load, a content-rich twin-stick shooter that looks and plays as its name suggests. Aside from a questionable in-game currency system, LnL is an engaging experience driven by some really great visuals and humorous voice overs.

First off, if you’re a fan of classic horror movies, LnL doesn’t disappoint. The devs obviously love their flesh eating zombies, homicidal maniacs, freaky clowns and murderous temperamental females. These enemies if you can call them that are a tour de force when it comes to scaring people until they wet their pants. Speaking of murderous females, the storyline centers around an evil girl who dreams of conquering the world by creating her own equally evil and super bad army. While not completely original, the storyline progressively unfolds throughout which I think provides that intangible known as personality to the game.

The hero is equally as maniacal complete with goalie mask but in a good way. If it weren’t for the other hockey mask-wearing psychopaths, our hero would probably qualify since he has that distinct Jason Voorhees trademark look down pat. Along with a spunky wheelchair bound Grandma, the hero is a retiree whose anger is set off by these maniacs stomping through his garden. Already sounds like your typical Charles Bronson movie, right?

Visually, LnL is a great looking game presented with high-resolution 3D animation and equaled only by its awesomely cheesy voice acting. The various rooms and environments are beautifully rendered and pop off the iPad screen. The shadowing and texturing are well done and provide a good feeling of depth. The colors are vibrant and the characters come off looking polished and unpolygon-like which is all you can ask for when talking monsters.

For a game of this type, LnL has a pretty decent amount of content consisting of a 16-level campaign in the main storyline, and an additional nine-level Call of the Minions campaign and six challenge maps. Offered with Normal and Hard modes, there are about 32 enemy types and a good arsenal of weapons that would make Soldier of Fortune proud.

The game has a questionable currency system where money is accumulated by killing enemies (which I’ll explain later), and challenge maps are unlocked through a combination of cash and picking up Gifts. These Gifts are hidden throughout the levels in the main campaign, and you need to pick up 3 Gifts to unlock the challenge maps. LnL has some upgrades in terms of weapons and health that can be acquired through normal gameplay as well as IAP. I found the IAP relatively non-intrusive if you’re willing to grind through the main campaign and challenge maps, but you’ll see later there are problems. Also, the Call of Minions campaign is unlocked once you have enough cash, but you can also acquire the cash reserves through the IAP.

If you’re into dressing up Jason, I mean your hero, there are different skins or outfits that can be purchased with the cash you’ve accumulated. Again, these can also be purchased via IAP (gotta love enterprising devs!).

The gameplay in LnL is what you would expect with a dual-stick shooter, although it’s still very entertaining. The enemies aren’t easy to kill and they are relentless. From the crow unleashing Scarecrow to the pumpkin grenade tossing Mr. Pumpkin Head, there’s a certain respect you develop for the devs in what they throw at you. The boss fights are pretty challenging as well. There’s even one in particular involving a giant octopus aptly named Octo who you try to kill in a swimming pool. Don’t get me started with the mini-gauntlet where your hero attempts to pick up some LnL cash and goodies while being chased by a giant pumpkin head.

Besides that, you’ll face a good amount of other challenges. One for instance is the Ring of Fire where your hero is encircled by fire that moves along with him even as he kills enemies. The catch of course is to keep your hero from touching the fire while dodging and lodging attacks. Otherwise, it’s an instant end for all that’s concerned.

The controls work well and consist of a d-pad for moving and another for shooting which allows for simultaneous moving and shooting. Weapons that are available appear as buttons around the weapons control d-pad which are easily accessed on screen. A slight hitch is that it can be easy to accidentally switch weapons since the buttons are located close to the d-pad. A health gauge tracks the battle worthiness of your hero and handy button shows how much health potion is available in case your hero needs a boost.

The level design is rather well thought out because a certain degree of exploration is involved. Outside of blasting away at enemies, a lot of nooks and crannies exist which make them fair game for hiding cash and Gifts. Your hero will venture through graveyards, mansions and towns each of which have just the right amount of eeriness. In the Campaign mode, certain entrances are locked, and you must clear out sections of all enemies before you gain access. Certain sections within levels involve capturing the necessary number of items while dodging and killing enemies. Others are almost mini-survival levels where the enemies relentlessly attack.

To add another layer of variety, your sidekick Grandma is sometimes thrown into the mix. Her old age and wheelchair may be deceiving, but she packs quite the wallop. In those sections, you’ll maneuver Grandma in her specially adapted apparatus to take out psychopathic swarms. In the special Call of Minions campaign, players are introduced to a new character, Lady Vill, a “heartless female killing machine.” As is typical with the hormone-driven video game industry, Lady Vill is heavy on cleavage and firepower, and still maintains a good degree of mobility. The Call of Minions campaign is on par if not slightly better than the main storyline campaign, and there are a number of hidden goodies if you can there…which brings me to the game’s currency system.

While the gameplay in the campaigns themselves are relatively well balanced, tying them to a questionable in-game currency has a way of impacting the entire package. This is undoubtedly the weak point of LnL because the majority of players will likely need to spend additional money on IAPs if they want to unlock other areas. Within each level, there is a finite number of enemies that can be killed, which makes earning enough cash to unlock Call of Minions near impossible considering all the other powerups (e.g. health, weapons upgrades) that you’ll need to purchase. I consider myself to be an above average player, and in Normal mode, it’s difficult to complete certain levels unscathed or without upgrades.

Even some of the typical upgrades are difficult to reach given the significant amount of in-game cash required. The challenge maps offer survival modes as well as timed sections and mini puzzles where cash can be earned, but those also require cash to unlock in the first place. Unlocking the entire game along with unlimited cash will cost you $15. Note that I ended up purchasing the necessary in-game cash to unlock Call of Minions.

LnL has Crystal game support and achievements which add to the replay value, but lack of GameCenter or OpenFeint support may be an issue for some.

All in all, Lock ‘n’ Load is a great game with terrific graphics and plenty of content if you can get over the currency system. The game’s strong qualities such as engaging storyline and levels make it worth checking out.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (fantastic animation and fun gaming experience; plenty of variety in terms of content and enemy variation; engaging storyline and well thought out level designs; in-game currency system needs tweaking with prolonged grinding required in order to bypass IAPs which can be a turnoff; Crystal game support)


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