When we think of Hide-and-Seek, we almost always imagine it ending in a good bout of childish laughter. In the crimson-tinged, tech noirish world of Surveillant (Out Now, $1.99), however, it ends in someone getting fried by a laser beam. The player views this world through the eyes of an anonymous entity with quite a grudge against the robotic surveillance systems dotting its landscape. Whether in service of great justice or just trying to survive – the overall mystery behind the situation becomes part of this game’s eerie charm – the player must skulk, hack, and leap his or her way to a rotating camera perched atop each level’s pinnacle without being spotted. Unlike your average convenience store security camera, these ones are armed with heat beams capable of charring flesh from any distance in a matter of seconds — and don’t forget that the player has no weaponry to fight back with, other than tearing the camera’s wiring apart at close range.
Surveillant‘s premise sounds unforgiving if creative, but Recluse Studios and Vector Lovers give the player some interesting breaks that add to its overall distinctiveness. Falling under the closed-circuit antagonist’s sizzling glare doesn’t spell immediate doom; the player has a few seconds to jump out of harm’s way and find a hiding spot to recover in. Whoever – or whatever – the player character is, he, she, or it is equipped with the handy ability to leap any distance, which makes bounding from one pillar to another at the opposite side of the level a routine maneuver.
Navigating Surveillant‘s 3D environments couldn’t be more simple — at least, once the player has surmounted a brief learning curve. Aside from one virtual button that pauses the game and another that gives the player an instant look at the enemy camera’s current positioning, the user interface relies on tilt controls for turning and touchscreen taps for forward movement. Players used to virtual buttons in iOS games are liable to wrestle with turning during the first few levels, but should appreciate the uncluttered iDevice screen once they’ve got this down to a science. Tap-and-go in a 3D environment is always a risky proposition, as the player can never be sure that the game engine shares his or her understanding of depth perception; in Surveillant, that means what should have been a furtive tiptoe occasionally turns into an unintended gallop likely to end beneath the camera’s watchful lens. Luckily the absence of instant death makes this much less of a nuisance than it otherwise could have been. Since accessible platforms are much more clearly defined than contiguous flooring, bounding around each level’s heights is ironically much more reliable than ground movement.
Maintaining the player’s interest over Surveillant‘s ten stages are widely varying level designs and rising complexity in achieving the camera-disabling goal. The player will have to constantly move around rotating ring-shaped tracts, collect data cubes that allow automated elevators to be hacked into and activated, and sneak past roving metallic drones armed with their own death rays. One clean run through the release version should keep players occupied for two to four hours, although enough of that time is spent waiting for the camera’s laser to circle a comfortable distance away that players might welcome some sort of fast forward button in future updates. Either way, the game of cat-and-mouse becomes so addictive that the new levels the developer plans for future updates should have many buyers rushing back for more.
It’s a shame that a few iOS gamers might pass this one up simply because the environments look so unimpressively sparse at first glance. Screenshots can only tell half the story; top-notch sound effects work imbues Surveillant‘s environments with palpable tension. The very sound of the camera’s approaching laser becomes enough to make the player’s heart skip a beat as it passes near, and the uncanny electronic babbling the machine emits to itself inspires revulsion. In one of the cleverest uses of sound effects I’ve yet encountered, Surveillant employs a “hot or cold” system of increasingly high pitched tones to let the player know whether he or she is on a path that will ultimately lead to the dreaded machine.
Unfortunately Vector Lovers’ musical talents feel underemployed in Surveillant; it’s no coincidence that the game’s atmospherically strongest and perhaps most haunting level – the “Carousel” – is the only one to feature an ambient electronic track aside from the game’s intro and Level Select screen. Here’s to hoping Martin Wheeler cooks up some more tunes for use in future updates!
iFanzine Verdict: While inspired by retro games of the pre-NES era, Surveillant is unlike anything most iOS game enthusiasts will have encountered before. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys a good game of Hide-and-Seek and doesn’t have an aversion toward tilt controls. While veterans of stealth games are most likely to pounce first, fans of the Survival Horror genre might be pleasantly surprised at how much mileage they’ll get out of this one.