I am not your typical App Store consumer. I weigh a $0.99 purchase with the same careful consideration as a $60 investment. It takes something entirely special to move my hand for anything higher than that which is why I put off Prope Discoverer for so long. One day not long ago, though, it was briefly marked down for sale and I finally got to discover(er) the game for myself.
I was originally intrigued by the game because so many sites were having a hard time conveying just what it was. Clearly this was more than another ‘Angry Farmville HD Defense‘, one of the overworked genres that everyone seems to get stuck in on iOS. No, this looked more like Epic’s Unreal tech demo, Epic Citadel, with a mysterious 3D world to explore. I’m all about exploration at this point in my gaming life cycle and so I put it on my short list of iOS games to price watch.
Straight away I got a Myst vibe from the otherworldly contraptions I first saw from my spherical cage. Using a pair of virtual sticks to move and look around, I found and tapped on a small tarot-like card which served as the requirement to escape. But was I really free or simply let loose into a larger cage? This is the kind of poetic musing the game initially inspired. The courtyard you step into looks pleasant enough with bright clouds, butterflies flitting around in the air and manicured topiaries. But at the center is a large opening that lets you gaze down into the darkness below where torches light up a peculiar zodiac clock. It’s whimsical, but only just.
To reach this subterranean area you have to find three more cards scattered around the courtyard. They’re not big enough to simply pick out by running in circles so three podiums guide you with cryptic hand drawn clues. This is the gimmick to get to each of the three areas in the game, culminating in a romp around a quaint (though vacant) medieval village that reminded me a little too much of Epic Citadel. You ultimately have to figure out a cryptic steampunk computer puzzle in order to fire up a dirigible and then it’s over. You fly away into the distance, free… or something. Figuring out that last puzzle has remained a game of trial and error for me but whether you succeed or fail it always ends the same by dumping you back to the title screen.
It turns out that there are multiple hiding places and corresponding clues for the cards in each area so repeat playthroughs are supposed to be totally unique. The problem turned out to be that after my first time through — which amounted to about thirty minutes — I didn’t really care to ever go back. Some of the clues are frustratingly vague and there isn’t very much to see. No little notes to pick up for backstory, no secret lizards to find. In fact, the free Epic Citadel demo is probably twice as large in size and much more interesting to walk around in than what I paid for in Prope Discoverer.
Prope Discoverer is different, something that’s getting harder and harder to say about iOS games in general. As one of the first 3D games built on Epic’s iOS engine I suppose it may be worth a look if it ever hits $0.99 again but there are much more interesting and atmospheric (not to mention lengthier) experiences out there. With new titles piling features on top of Prope Discoverer’s meager offerings it won’t be long before it’s lost to the dark annals of the App Store.