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How the developer of Gears of War has just put an Xbox 360 in your pocket

There's a very good chance that portable gaming changed forever last night . We're talking serious vision-of-the-future stuff here, and even better, that stuff is available right now. To you. For free. Trust me, shit just got real.

Last night Epic Games, creator of Gears of War, Unreal Tournament and the is-there-a-single-HD-game-that-isn't-made-with-it Unreal Engine 3, released a free tech demo on the iPhone's App store. That demo is called Epic Citadel, and is a real-time, fully controllable, first-person look at the Unreal Engine 3 running on a device supposedly less powerful than a PSP. It looks like the screenshot above, which I took last night as I played. And that is to say, it looks like a full-sized console game.

All the rules of portable gaming have changed, and now, both myself and Mr. Towell will tell you why.

"F*ck me gently in the eye socket. Download Epic Citadel right this very second from the App Store. Genuinely speechless... well, apart from all the swearing."

"F* ck me, they've even given it brilliant controls. Carmack vs. Cliffy B: FIGHT!"

"Honestly, I'm calling witchcraft on this sh*t. Cliffy B needs burning at the stake."

So went the excitable text message conversation between myself and Meiks last night.


Above: I grabbed all these screens myself in-game last night

And a few minutes later, the following one occured between myself and Justin:

DH: "They've got Unreal 3 running on the f*cking iPhone. Get Epic Citadel now!"

JT: "Downloading now."

JT: "Ohmygod!"

DH: "Seriously! I have a strange feeling everything's just changed. There is no excuse to question iPhone gaming any more."

JT: "Absolutely! My iPhone is now an Xbox 360!"


Above: The reflections are stunning and that chandelier has physics

And it is. Revealed last night at an Apple event in London, Epic Citadel is a fully interactive tech demo for Project Sword, an adventure/sword fighting game currently in development by the Epic-owned Chair Entertainment, developer of last year's Metroid-alike XBLA hit Shadow Complex. The full game is currently slated for a Q4 release, but just having played the demo, already there's a very real sense that gaming has just taken a big step forward.

Put simply, this is the Unreal Engine 3 running on a device you can fit in your pocket. The environmental models are smooth and detailed. The textures are off the chart. The bump-mapping makes things as tangible as anything in any console game you've ever played. The lighting effects, reflections, and overall ambience are gloriously immersive and affecting. And to top it all off, the simulated twin-analogue controls work better than in any game I've ever played on the iPhone. The potential for the full game is unlike anything we've ever imagined on a phone, hell, even a full-scale portable console. Frankly, I'd have loved to have seen John Carmack's reaction when this one was revealed.


Above: Even in the demo, the sense of scale is ridiculous

And now Justin's reaction, because we were both so excited this morning that we couldn't agree on who was going to write this feature:

"It's so exciting, I can't describe it. My iPhone 3GS is suddenly a handheld Xbox 360. Sure, there's nothing to actually do in this app except admire the graphics as it's just a tech demo, but the possibilities are astonishing. Basically, Oblivion on iPhone is suddenly a possibility, which makes my PSP look totally redundant. I’m especially impressed by the small file size – you could fit a game that looks like this into a single gig that wouldn’t leave your iPhone full up in one go.

I do wonder what the superior grunt of the PSP could do with this tech… which then makes me wonder what 3DS could do with it. I stop at that point because it all gets too much for me, and I have to lie down."


Above: Those shimmering effects are beautiful in motion

Oh course, there remains the question of how the iPhone's touch-screen will cope with the kind of controls needed for a full-sized title. While the simulated sticks work brilliantly in the demo, they won't do the job alone. But given that we're promised sword fighting rather than FPS, I'd guess Chair has differing control systems planned for exploration and combat. Time will tell exactly how the gameplay works, but given the fanfare Epic and Apple are giving this, I can't imagine they'll do a half-arsed job on working it out.

And of course, as Justin said, the even bigger, and far more exciting question is how far this burgeoning revolution in handheld gaming tech can take us. With Unreal 3 and id's port of Rage now running on a machine more traditionally known for the likes of Canabalt and Angry Birds, just imagine what will happen if this sort of technology is unleashed on the 3DS and a future (or even current) PSP. Whenever I try to, I just end up happily weeping for a little while, but tell me what you think. And for the love of God, go to the App Store and download Epic Citadel immediately.

Topics

iPad iPhone Mobile

50 comments

  • NobodyLikesPaul - October 6, 2010 10:18 p.m.

    I have the answer!11... its quite obvious really, 1. just navigate via the two sticks, oblivion style 2. for sword attack tap the right stick, just like you would click in on a xbox stick 3. and the left stick could be used as a secondary, like magic or whatever voilà!
  • Necrohades - September 14, 2010 11:22 a.m.

    Yeah after seeing the screenshots and the enthusiasm of everyone here i opened itunes (long pause here waiting for it to load) went to the app store, found the Epic Citadel only for it to say that it isn't compatible with my iPhone 3G....... ;/
  • mrmorozov987 - September 5, 2010 3:54 p.m.

    That's all well and good, but graphics aren't iPhone gaming's problems. A lack of ambition and crappy game design are.
  • markwiglesworth - September 4, 2010 7:26 p.m.

    Looks amazing.....shame I have an iPod Touch.....does that mean that the game will only wrong on an iPhone :(
  • marzabc - September 4, 2010 12:24 a.m.

    wow. im speachless. PS: SAVE CARMINE!!!!!
  • philipshaw - September 3, 2010 11:55 a.m.

    That does look great
  • TomMishkin - September 3, 2010 10:26 a.m.

    I hope there won't be no d-pads or other gimmicks attached to the iPhone. The strength of Apple's smartphone lies not only in it being a technical powerhouse (like Epic Citadel shows), but also in its flawless touchscreen. Mediocre developers tend to mimic actual joypads with their games (be it ports or new IPs), while smart ones try to exploit the iPhone strength and create something unique. If I wanted to play a game using a proper joypad I'd stick with my XBox, or my DS if I need portability. I want my iPhone games to be different, to invent new and smart ways to be controlled. Portability alone means nothing if it's just a way to fit an old game into my phone. Epic is showing bravery in developing an Unreal Engin-powered game for iPhone, here's hoping they're bold enough to truly experiment with the medium.
  • MarkRein - September 3, 2010 6:05 a.m.

    dbleja--> we recommend iPod Touch (3rd gen) and iPhone 3GS users install iOS 4 to get the most out of our demo. iOS 4 is faster and allows us to use MSAA so the overall experience is improved. iOS 4 is coming to iPad in November.
  • MarkRein - September 3, 2010 5:58 a.m.

    Baron164 --> Windows Mobile 7 currently doesn't support native C++ code so our engine won't run on it. When the iPhone launched Apple had a similar restriction allowed only "web apps". But when Apple introduced native code support the iTunes App Store was born and we all know what a huge success that has been. Today there are over 250,000 apps in the store. Google started with Java apps on Android and now support fully native code. As some of the commenters here have already noticed, we're planning to raise the bar on mobile gaming with Unreal Engine 3. What you see with Epic Citadel is just a taste of even better things to come! Hopefully Microsoft will join the party. We've had a great partnership with them on Xbox 360. The last time I checked 23% of all Xbox 360 games rated 90% or better on Metacritic were created with Unreal Engine technology including our two Gears of War games.
  • Hobojedi - September 3, 2010 5:41 a.m.

    And suddenly much iPod touch seems much more inferior to the iPhone.
  • spideralex90 - September 3, 2010 4:49 a.m.

    This makes the RAGE announcement look somewhat mediocre.
  • Brutalicus - September 3, 2010 3:58 a.m.

    I'm hoping other developers take this as the kick in the ass that it seems like, and that software like this is utilized to its fullest in the 3DS (and hey, why not PSP and my Droid, lol) and upcoming portable platforms. Y'know, cause I don't like Apple.
  • dbleja - September 3, 2010 3:27 a.m.

    hmm. Pretty good for a phone, I guess. But the resolution is low, the controls could never be particularly great, and there's some hardcore aliasing happening on those coloured tents. Maybe if I had an iphone I'd see what the fuss was about, but I don't. I like my games big, beautiful and epic, so I'll take my high-res, surround-sound PC games any day. Phones are for talking to people.
  • AxiamWolfe - September 3, 2010 2:47 a.m.

    WHAT? NO!!!!!!! Damn you 2008 era iPod Touch 2nd Gen Hardware!
  • y2kpikachu12 - September 3, 2010 2:41 a.m.

    It doesn't work on my iPod touch. very disappointed.
  • FinderKeeper - September 3, 2010 1:50 a.m.

    Apple is about to pwn Sony and Nintendo... and yes, Microsoft... just wait, there will be a "gaming" iPhone attachment with two small analog sticks, etc. Probably this time next year we'll be talking about how the gaming version of the iPad is eating into 360 and PS3 sales... :-p
  • ADT - September 3, 2010 1:33 a.m.

    it is F#$%&in sweet
  • lzim - September 2, 2010 11:42 p.m.

    "WHYMUSTEVERYTHINGBETOUCHSCREENNOWADAYS?WHYWHYWHYWHYWHYWHYWHYWHY?!" yeah sorry, I'm still asking why I need a mouse to operate windows and STILL am irritated that MS doesn't support tabs or side by side folder view. but that's just me.
  • Brutalicus - September 2, 2010 10:21 p.m.

    1. Goddammit, stop heaping more indirect praise on Gears. 2. Goddammit, come out for Android. 3. I just ate an awesome burrito.
  • EliteM0nk3y - September 2, 2010 7:51 p.m.

    Damn this Ipod Touch. This is the only time I want an iPhone :(

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