In games “cinematic” has doubled as a buzz word for marketers and a holy grail for many designers who wish to provide an intersection between two distinct media by bridging the central characteristics of visual continuity and interactivity. However, this bridge has been uneven to say the least with previous attempts drawing complaints of veering far too much on the cinematic side or injecting token interactivity through quick-time events.
Revolution 60 falls into the latter category. Its promotional description of “Heavy Rain meets Mass Effect” is a fairly accurate description, but not always for good reasons. Revolution 60 smashes the Bechdel Test through the roof with an all-female cast, which is unfortunately still a rarity in this medium. Its cast of four female agents lends the game quite a bit of freshness even if some characters play off a few archetypes. But since these female archetypes aren’t often given enough on-screen time in other games, they don’t feel as clichéd as they could have been.
Despite its claim of offering cinematic gameplay, Revolution 60’s biggest surprise is the fact that it has a proper combat system. It resembles a real-time equivalent of turn-based RPGs that takes place on chessboard-like square grids. With varied AI tactics and upgrades, the evolution of the combat system throughout the game’s three hours of playtime is easily one of its highlights, even if Revolution 60 doesn’t experiment too much with the kind of challenges you face on the battlefield (which always boil down to a one-on-one fight.) All of these encounters are scripted to fit the game’s cinematic nature and as a result it circumvents the frustration of random battles. It also gets tedious during some of the more repetitive sections of the game.
This is contrasted with its “cinematic” side where Revolution 60 pads its cut-scenes with a quick-time event every now and then, each action involving any one of the six gestures the game uses. While the limited QTE gestures get old far too quickly, the game’s biggest problem stems from the most common complaint directed at QTEs—that of token interactivity. QTEs in Revolution 60 often have little to no consequence on failure with cut-scenes often looping to an earlier point. Worse, sometimes said cut-scenes continue as they otherwise would have, reducing your failure to an inconsequential triviality. This not just greatly lowers the stakes but also robs large chunks of the game from any sort of intensity, emotional or otherwise. Devoid of such stakes and consequences, the QTEs in Revolution 60 simply boil down to mundane actions to continue watching the cut-scenes, its attempts at cinematic interactivity come across as completely shallow.
While the dialogue is professionally voiced, the writing is hit-and-miss, veering between humdrum sci-fi technobabble, melodramatic monologues, snarky one-liners and sarcastic jibes. When it works, it adds a layer of personality to some of its characters, particularly the central protagonist. Holiday largely avoids falling into any stereotypes and has an endearing dual personality depending on the dialogue options you choose, reminiscent of Mass Effect’s “FemShep”.
Occasionally, Revolution 60 allows some on-rails exploration with optional areas resulting in added interactions, but it isn’t anything too remarkable. The on-rails exploration sometimes works against its narrative pacing as the entire middle part of the game involves traversing similar looking corridors from one battle to next with radio conversations being the lone distraction.
As a game developed for mobile platforms, Revolution 60’s ambition is admirable. It’s worth noting, though, that it isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as some recent high-performance iOS games, like Republique. The environmental textures and their bright colors stand at odds with its sci-fi visual style, the result coming across as jarring more often than not. If the developers were trying to set the game’s color palette apart from generic sci-fi, then it’s an effort which never really works, instead undermining some of the visual finesse that the game actually brings to the table. The fluid animations and visual continuity corresponding to the on-screen quick-time events is essential and Revolution 60 nails that part which makes it fun to watch even if the one-dimensional nature of QTEs often works against it. Whether it is in combat or in cut-scenes, it runs smoothly on the iPad 3, especially if it’s updated to the latest OS version, as the game recommends.
Revolution 60’s main plot suffers from a peculiar duality. It initially appears to be a plot-heavy sci-fi story but reveals a deeper layer of being more of a character study in a bottled environment. The latter element is where the story shines, working off implied loyalties and rivalries between the characters. Even if it isn’t anything exceptional, it’s functional because it combines its cast and plays them off each other in entertaining ways.
The player makes decisions at various points and in typical Mass Effect fashion the choices are largely unsubtle in their nature, working under the banner of “Professional” or “Rogue”. However, it lacks the depth of Mass Effect’s decision-consequence element. Revolution 60 instead saves most of the variations for the final stretch by offering 24 different potential endings. By delaying that critical consequence element, Revolution 60 misses on a lot of potential it could have used for its choices instead of adding them as points in another “affinity meter.”
Giant Spacekat’s Revolution 60 is an interesting, if underwhelming, melange of elements you’d be hard-pressed to find in another game, let alone one on a mobile platform. On one hand the failed attempts at cinematic interactivity, counter-intuitive design choices which reduce QTEs and choice-making to mundane actions with lower stakes, may count as red flags for many, but the combat system shines, combining visually striking action with the swift interactivity offered by the platform. It’s not always the sum of all its features, but Revolution 60 is still worth a try, if only because there’s nothing quite like it out there.
Ansh Patel is a game developer and an occasional pop culture critic who tweets philosophical ruminations and angry political rants @lightnarcissus. His words and games can be found at lightnarcissus.com.