I find it amazing how far mobile games have come. In the not too distant past, the mobile landscape was filled with the Candy Crush and Temple Run type of games. With the newest phones packing in multi-core processors, hi-res displays, and decent bandwidth, it's no surprise that mobile developers have branched out to more complex games. Chinese developer/publisher NetEase is no stranger to the mobile arena. While we wait to see how Diablo Immortal turns out, they recently released LifeAfter, an MMORPG with survival elements in the West. While many titles re-released to new markets struggle with translation, NetEase did a stand-up job with the English translation. Did the gameplay survive the trip from the East as well, or is this just another "cash grab?" We explore that question in our LifeAfter review.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
In LifeAfter, the world has been devastated by a virus and, you guessed it, zombies roam the land. Don't stop reading just yet though. LifeAfter is more than just a knockoff of other mobile survival games floating around. Sure, the story is unimaginative - after being rescued and taken to Hope 101, you are commissioned with setting up camp in the Development Zone. You will start by building what can barely be considered a shack. From there, you will gather a few resources to craft your basic tools, but you will have to head out into the wilderness to gather and scavenge the supplies you need to gain a foothold for your new home. LifeAfter offers up both PVE and PVE zones to do your gathering, so the choice is yours on whether you want to play nice or not (or alone for that matter).
As expected, you will have to deal with the infected during your expeditions, but it doesn't stop there. During the day you will rarely encounter infected, but you still have to deal with wildlife, weather, and starvation, not to mention other players in the PVP zones. At night, the infected come out in full force, so you either need to be prepared or find a safe haven. In the event you do die, some of your belonging will be dropped, though generally, it isn't enough to warrant a trek back to your grave unless you just can't bear to lose a few resources. There are plenty of NPCs to get quests from while out and about, and while some of these advance the story, many are just quick and easy ways to get bonus resources. Once you have filled up your backpack you will make your way back to an extraction point and head back to your manor.
CRAFTING ON THE GO
For anyone wanting to do a little crafting on their lunch hour, LifeAfter will surely fit the bill. Base building is an integral part of the game and offers both functional and aesthetic options to improve your homestead. You are also able to farm plots of land to supplement your gathering efforts. Don't forget to build up your defenses though, as there are times where your base will be attacked by the infected. Other players will be able to come to aid you in defending your home if you need the help, and ultimately everything can be repaired if you are unsuccessful in your defense.
Beyond base building, you are also going to be spending a lot of time crafting. There are blueprints to be earned, and these can be upgraded to produce higher tier equipment as well. There is a layered crafting system to deal with, which can be either good or bad depending on your personal take. There are quite a few resources to deal with, but there is a decent balance between being overly cumbersome and a boring time sink.
For me, cooking was more fun. While some recipes are pretty straight forward (adding four berries to the grill makes a jar of jam), you can spend a lot of time mixing different ingredients to create different dishes, each with its own effects. So put on your chef hat and have some fun!
GRAPHICS AND UI
As I stated in the beginning, increased phone specs have allowed developers to up the ante in their mobile offerings, and this is one area that NetEase has cleared, if not raised, the bar with LifeAfter. Graphically, the game is beautiful. If I didn't know better, I would think the game was created for consoles or PC and ported over to mobile. The game utilizes the power of newer phones and goes with a realistic look over a retro or cartoonish style. For those with older phones, there are plenty of options to reduce the graphics and CPU workload to ensure a smooth gaming experience. I was able to try the game out on some older devices (3 or 4 years old), and even at the lower settings, the visuals were still pretty good. On the downside, be prepared to watch your battery percentage drop fairly quickly.
NetEase has done a great job with the UI as well. Screen location, size, and transparency can be set on each UI element. There are even three save slots so you can set your controls to match different tasks such as hunting or base building. This is top notch for mobile games, and many PC and console devs could learn a thing or two from the UI team that worked on LifeAfter.
The only issue I had in this area is inherent in trying to put a game of this scope on a mobile device, and that is the screen size. With limited screen space, I often found myself hitting buttons on accident. After I adjusted the control scheme several times, I was able to minimize this thanks to the customization options available. Having a larger screen, or even a controller, would make the experience much better.
PAY 2 WIN
This shouldn't be a surprise, but being a mobile free to play game there is a cash shop. Along with some cosmetic items, there are plenty of items that will give players a leg up on the competition. For those who can't stand someone paying to get an edge, this will be a dealbreaker on what would otherwise be a great game. If you don't care about other people buying P2W items but don't want to deal with constant nagging about the cash shop, you will be glad to know that the cash shop isn't force-fed to you every step of the way.
NetEase has been in the mobile market for about as long as the market has existed, and that experience shows in LifeAfter. The gameplay is strong enough that you could play for an extended period, but can also be consumed in 30-60 minute blocks while on the go. When the biggest fault to find in a game is being almost too big for the platform it was designed for, you know the developers squarely hit the mark.
SCORE - 8.2
- Beautiful graphics
- Customizable UI
- Strong gameplay for a mobile title
- Small screen size due to mobile platform
- Pay-to-win cash shop