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Following a tutorial outlining its unique controls, The Drowning tasks you with a reasonable mission for a game about shooting zombie-like creatures: Clear out the area around a potential headquarters. Two minutes later, you might be confused as to why it's over when there are still enemies to slay. Soon, it becomes clear that that's all there is to the game's approach – a series of two-minute time attacks against endless waves of brain-dead enemies.
Initial confusion over how the structure makes any sense in terms of the story aside, there's nothing wrong with this. The time limit keeps the game playable on the go, and it's the entertaining action – not the story – that provides the motivation for playing, anyway.
Unfortunately, even when you want to play The Drowning, there are times where it's unclear when you'll be allowed to do so. As a free-to-play game, you're limited in the number of missions that can be undertaken without spending real-world money on "fuel" (which, for most, will prove too costly) or waiting for a refill, a route which inexplicably provides no precise timer for when you can play next. Using a full load of fuel takes about 30 minutes, or far less should an enemy spawn behind you and quickly kill you – a scenario that unforgivably uses up fuel without granting any rewards. Even worse are missions you'll attempt only to find out your equipped weapons aren't capable of damaging its enemies. That's an unpleasant discovery that costs one fuel notch despite the lack of warning.
Following a successful mission, items are randomly granted depending upon your performance, and are then used to craft and upgrade weapons. Crafting needlessly takes real-world time to complete as well (unless you pay, of course), and upgrades are confusing and at times pointless, as they often result in no notable enhancement. A lack of sufficient information is routinely a problem throughout the game.
The Drowning's much-ballyhooed controls are effective and easy to learn, if imperfect for times when you need to switch from firing at close range to long range, or when you need to get away in a hurry. Touchscreen-based shooters typically use awkward virtual joysticks and buttons that cause your hands to obscure the screen. The Drowning, by contrast, has you tap where you want to move with a single finger, and then tap with a finger on either side of an enemy to fire at the point in between your fingers. This setup is ultimately nothing revolutionary, but it is among the most usable for a shooter on iOS, which proves one of the game's saving graces. It's free, entertaining in spurts, and interesting in its genre approach on the platform, but the freemium drawbacks prove frustratingly significant.
The bottom line. While certainly enjoyable at times, The Drowning's free-to-play implementation hampers the game to an inexcusable degree.
iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch running iOS 5.1 or later
Some of the best shooter controls on iOS. When fuel is plentiful and items are rolling in, the game has a good flow to it.
Not enough information provided in menus. Failures and misguided mission attempts cost fuel. AI is woeful.