om Clancy’s Elite Squad is even worse than you might have expected, as one of the best games of the month involves playing as a dog’s kidney.
One of the beauties of mobile gaming is also its biggest vice: free to play. It gives you the chance to try games without risk but can also distort the gameplay itself, so that you’re continually being lured into paying up. It’s a dichotomy that favours Brawlhalla and EVE Echoes, with their baked-in belief in player equality, but proves to be the undoing of Ubisoft’s insipid and exploitative, Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad.
EVE Online is the limitlessly vast and legendarily complex, yet highly democratic, space-based MMO in which a council of players helps inform its development. EVE Echoes was clearly born from this environment and while it is free to download and has microtransactions it’s by no means an empty-headed cash grab.
In fact, it’s a surprisingly expansive mobile interpretation of its older sibling, your clone pilot gradually earning and learning new skills, and with that the ability to fly better spacecraft. Ship-to-ship combat takes place at huge range in the empty blackness of space, but it’s nevertheless satisfying blowing away space pirates with your slowly improving arsenal.
You need a £5 per month Omega account to sell any loot you acquire, and while you can pay using in-game currency or just do without it, its absence will noticeably slow your progress. For fans of the original and awestruck newcomers alike, this is space opera size XXL.
In Bonfire 2’s tale of settlers in a strange land, you start by building a fire, then add a hunter’s lodge to gather food, a dock to fish from, huts to sleep in, and before you know it you’ve overseen the construction of a small but thriving hamlet.
Assign villagers to do jobs, and increase the number of guards to ward off monster attacks, as you manage your people through day and night cycles, and try to see past the game’s limitations: the tiny map and the fact that in each playthrough you’re initially forced to construct the same buildings in the same order.
It’s a good looking game, but without the capacity to make enough of your own decisions in the opening hours, each attempt feels identical to the last, holding back the possibility of any real strategicrawing its characters from across Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy universe, from Ghost Recon to Splinter Cell to Rainbow Six: Siege, Elite Squad is a blandly generic gacha game, with tedious, tactics-free, but mercifully brief gun battles tacked onto the front end.
Login bonuses, loot crates, timed energy refills to initiate battles; Elite Squad ticks all the boxes for free-to-play mobile games, reducing your agency to tapping when you’re told to and either waiting or paying to shortcut the upgrade process. The game also As if its core mechanics weren’t offensive enough, the raised fist logo of Umbra, the standard-issue shadowy organisation you fight in the first of its campaigns, bears an unfortunate resemblance to the imagery used by Black Lives Matter protestors. A perplexing choice in the currently febrile atmosphere but the game itself provides plenty of additional reasons to want to avoid it.
You’re a dog’s kidney. As a set-up for a mobile game, it’s hard to think of a more peculiar one in living memory, but the gameplay in this melancholy pixel art masterpiece is simply to break up blockages in the kidney so the hound can last another day.
Turn your phone on its side and you can sit back and observe the dog and its owner, an elderly farmer, going about their routine in real-time, day and night. You can also watch ads to raise the dog’s blood pressure for a few seconds, making it much quicker to clear blockages.
But whatever you do, the most you can hope for is to prolong the dog’s life slightly, leading to a delightful but bittersweet ending. It’s a strange and beautiful game, although one you’ll need to approach with an open mind and absolutely no sense of hurry.