Operation Eradicate shows exactly how not to make an iPhone game

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Pandemic is a supposedly co-operative board game in which players control asymmetrical pieces in an attempt to contain the spread of global epidemics. It’s a bit of territory control, a bit of card drawing, a bit of dice rolling, and a lot of themework. It’s also a pretty awful multiplayer game, since social interaction (i.e. having more than one player) adds absolutely nothing. I like to think of it as a single-player single-session adventure. And therefore I’d love to play it on my iPhone.

Fortunately, Operation Eradicate is an unofficial 1:1 port of Pandemic to the iPhone. Unfortunately, it is a textbook example of how not to make an iPhone game.

After the jump, who let the zombies out?

In translating Pandemic to the iPhone, the developers of Operation Eradicate get some very important things very wrong.

1) Zombies aren’t diseases
Operation Eradicate jumps onto the zombie bandwagon by changing the theme from a pandemic to a zombie outbreak. This makes no sense given some of Pandemic’s mechanics. For instance, the players in Pandemic have to study different strains of diseases. This is expressed in zombiedom as four, uh, strains? Breeds? Species? Let’s say flavors. Operation Eradicate suggests four flavors of zombies for no discernible reason. In Pandemic, players collect research about specific strains of the diseases by drawing tiles for each city. I have no idea what this is supposed to represent in a zombie outbreak. So I’m in Lima and I uncover a vital piece of zombie data related to Kinshasa how? And I’m supposed to fly to Kinshasa to use it why? And I’m fighting the zombie outbreak by personally globetrotting because? What is going on here?

2) Operation Eradicate doesn’t explain the rules
Operation Eradicate is bewildering enough for its forced zombie reskinning. I can only imagine how bewildering it is to someone who doesn’t know Pandemic. A few screens of text explain some of the rules without explaining the actual mechanics or implementation. Why are there outbreaks popping up? How do they spread? What’s the deal with these city tags? What are the bits and pieces of the interface? Some games can get by with sketchy documentation. Board game ports aren’t among them.

3) Operation Eradicate is clearly not built for the iPhone
Hey, iOS developers, I don’t have an iPad. So if you’re going to make a game for the iPad, quit selling it to me. Operation Eradicate is almost literally unplayable on the iPhone because my fingers don’t have tiny needle-sized points at their tips. Have you ever tried to type using a beachball to press the keys? Of course you haven’t. For good reason.

4) Operation Eradicate is slow
I’m just here for my single-player single-session adventure, but this game takes forever. Maybe it’s just because I have to stab at tiny buttons five or six times before my touch registers, often on something I wasn’t trying to touch. Oops, I accidentally flew to Tokyo instead of Shanghai. At which point I have to stab delicately at the undo turn button, which usually registers as a touch on one of the tiny buttons to either side of it.

I still really want to play Pandemic on my iPhone. Single-player single-session adventures based on randomness are a great idea. For instance, an iPhone game called Henry and the Psionic Overlords was a noble attempt at a simple die-rolling RPG played within a limited number of turns, but it was similarly undone by its awful interface. The current gold standard for single-player single-session adventures is Fantasy Flight’s Elder Sign: Omens, which does a great job combining its love of Lovecraft with lots of dice. The indie game Ancient Trader, which is too gorgeous to be squished down onto an iPhone and is only available on the PC and Xbox Live, is a turn-based adventure about sailing a ship around a stylized map in search of artifacts you need to defeat a sea monster. On the analog front, Victory Point Games sells a chintzy but smartly conceived tabletop single-player adventure based on 20,000 Leagues under the Sea called Nemo’s War. If only it had the production value of Ancient Trader!

But Operation Eradicate is a colossal disappointment for how it takes something I really want — an iPhone version of Pandemic — and manages to screw it up completely, reducing me to frustrated stabbing at impossibly tiny icons. Oops, I just flew to Dubai instead of Jerusalem.

1 star