posted 10/21/2004 by Charlie Sinhaseni
other articles by Charlie Sinhaseni

I never really felt that portable gaming machines were viable arenas for first person shooters. But then I got my hands on the Tapwave Zodiac and it changed my tune on the entire ordeal. By incorporating the analog stick and the shoulder buttons, I was able to attain a level of control I never thought possible from a portable. But what if I were to take away those options and instead, rely on the number keypad of the Nokia N-Gage? I had the chance recently when Nokia sent Ashen our way, and while I’m still not fully sold on the N-Gage as a FPS machine, I had a good enough time with the game that I wouldn’t mind seeing more shooters on the device.

Ashen is the second first person shooter to appear on the N-Gage, following on the heels of THQ’s Red Faction. This one takes a decidedly different approach by concentrating on straight-up action and keeping the action simple. By doing this Nokia was able to develop a game that was fun for short and casual outings for action on-the-go. Playing the game is simple to the core; move with the d-pad, strafe with the 4 and 6 keys, fire with the 5 key and switch weapons with the 7. From time-to-time you’ll need to hit 1 to activate night vision-like goggles but that’s very rare. You’ll also be called upon to jump at some points of the game but that too is simple. Basically the developers kept the game simple and it really works to the advantage of the gamer.

Ashen is a 3D first person shooter in the respect that it takes place in three dimensions, but besides that it’s a pretty basic shooter. It can similarly be compared to the original Duke Nukem 3D in that most of the action takes place on the ground level. When enemies do happen to be positioned above or below you there’s no need to aim at them. The game will magically raise of lower your shots automatically, just like in the olden days. It’s kind of ridiculous but it’s also unreasonable to think that a gamer would be able to operate on 3D dimensions solely with the gamepad. So in that respect it actually works out pretty well, although it gives the game a sort of archaic feel.

I was impressed by some of the technology found in Ashen. A momentum system was built into the engine that increases and decreases your speeds when you travel up and down slopes. I was pretty impressed when I jumped as I reached the top of a bridge only to have my momentum carry me down the other side. Because of this the game has a really smooth feel that’s convincing and not too twitchy. Your character exhibits a satisfying amount of weight when he walks instead of slipping and sliding around the landscape. This is important because it makes aiming at foes and maneuvering around the environment simple and intuitive.

I haven’t really been impressed with the N-Gage’s graphics since we got our hands on a review unit about a month ago and Ashen pretty much maintains the status quo. Technically the game looks decent but the washed out textures and god-awful creature design make the game difficult to look at. It’s also impossible to play this game with any kind of natural sunlight in the area. I tried to get in some action in between innings at a Dodger game only to be greeted by a washed-out screen. Overall it’s decent but I’m still waiting to be impressed. The same goes for the audio; there’s a decent soundtrack here but nothing worth pulling out your headphones for. All of the weapon sounds are underpowered and the music is by-the-numbers.

On the box you’ll find an icon telling you that the game supports N-Gage Arena but it’s ultimately misleading. If you’re like me you’ll assume that Ashen supports multi-player action over the GPRS network. Instead what you get is some lame high score feature which allows you to compare level scores to other players. When was the last time you played a first person shooter that took point tallies into account? It’s just a pointless feature and Nokia should have done more to accommodate their online aspect, not patronize it. There is a multiplayer aspect but it’s via close-range Bluetooth. This means you’ll need to have another friend with an N-Gage and a copy of the game which as you probably know, is much easier said than done.

It’s not perfect, but Ashen is a step in the right direction. After the horrible showing by THQ’s Red Faction, the future of first person shooters on the N-Gage was in doubt. With this entry Nokia has proven to the rest of the world that shooters are indeed possible on the platform. Possible indeed, but it’ll take a lot of effort and polish.

Probably not the ground-breaking title that Nokia wanted it to be, but it's as decent as they come. After seeing how horrible Red Faction turned out, this is definitely a step in the right direction. Let's see if the developers can capitalize on this momentum.

Page 1 of 1