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Back in the video-game heyday of the ‘90s, it wasn’t uncommon to see high-profile titles get releases on portable systems as well as home consoles. The former ports were invariably watered down — handhelds could at best make a valiant attempt at capturing the spirit of whatever the game was, but the chunky hardware just couldn’t quite get there. Surprisingly, the iOS conversion of well-regarded shoot-'em-up Sine Mora feels like a throwback to those days.
Sine Mora isn’t typical shooter fare. Garnering a wealth of (well-deserved) critical praise on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC last year, the game weaves a layered, morally gray narrative through heavy subject matter, including genocide, alienation, familial revenge, and even existential misery. Its mechanical side is fascinating, too; instead of lives, a ticking-down timer rewards extra seconds per kill, while knocking your time down when you take damage. You’ll also need to slow down time to get through some of the game’s more insane, screen-filling bullet patterns.
While Sine Mora allows you to play the game simply at face value, its story, presented mostly as a series of text monologues, is just as integral. Unfortunately, the iOS port fails here, heavily censoring some of the game’s more adult themes. War is a dirty, brutal business, and in excising the impact of certain narrative implications, the game loses some of its teeth. Script edits themselves aren’t necessarily the end of the world, but there are other notable compromises at play.
Take the inconsistent visuals. At times they look close to the original release, while in other moments, the flat shading and simple polygons look noticeably weaker (and changing the graphics-quality option doesn't seem to improve them). At least the game’s single control scheme usually works well, sacrificing some screen real estate to prevent obscuring on-screen action with your thumb. Still, at times you’ll need finesse — playing the game on insane difficulty, where everything explodes in a ring of shrapnel upon death, seems almost impossible — that a digital nub simply can’t provide. A serviceable attempt, but it's not quite there.
The bottom line. Sine Mora is still worth exploring on iOS if you can’t play it elsewhere, but know that it’s the difference between eating filet mignon and ground chuck.
iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch running iOS 6.0 or later
Solid gameplay with interesting concepts. Strong graphics and music. Fascinating narrative (such as it is).
Single control option is somewhat lacking in finesse. Visuals can't measure up to original. Censored script robs themes of their impact.