Confessions of an iShoot Addict

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I’m at a loss to explain why I’m still playing iShoot. I play it at home. I play it on the subway. I played it in between the last sentence and this one. I have played it while in the same room as a perfectly available PS3. How does that make sense?

iShoot is a turn-based tank combat game for the iPhone. It’s incredibly crude: you choose your weapon, pick the angle you want to shoot it at and how hard you want shoot it, and off you go. In between rounds you shop for weapons. It’s basically Worms without the worms. But there’s some skill to it (gauging the angle, nailing the right shot-strength) and a bit of strategy (picking your target, choosing the right weapon, managing your weapons budget).

And it has a kind of stark, lonely beauty: you’re one of four little tanks, alone on a windy desert or mountain range, locked in a meaningless duel to the death. It’s almost Beckettian.

I got started on it because the freeware version of it, iShoot Lite, was one of the top-rated free games for the iPhone. And the only one at the time that involved shooting things. That crippled version might actually be better than the full game. It’s a nice little challenge when you ramp up the difficulty to Extreme — sorry, 2 tha Extreme – so that the AI tanks nail every shot every time. Because, you know, they’re computers.

The full game is even more compelling partly because it adds about a dozen more weapons, plus the ability to drive your tank a short distance, and partly because the new weapons seem to drive the enemy AI totally mental. They are baffled by them. I mean, I roll pretty conservative: I stick to my Mega-Mortar and my Tactical Nukes. When I’ve got the scratch I splash out on the full Nuke or the Vulcan Cannon (which causes your tank to spew out a practically endless stream of mini-bomblets. It’s a one-shot kill. Plus it’s like you’re peeing high explosives!)

But the AIs are all over the place. They have no idea what they’re doing. Like I’ll hit some dude with a Tactical Nuke. That’s an $8000 weapon right there. He’s got like 3 pixels of health left. And he spits back a Mini-Mortar at me. A Mini-Mortar! That’s the default weapon! It’s free. It’s like the glove from Quake 3.

Plus they never move their tanks. They’re like idiot savants — totally accurate, mentally deranged. Plus, full iShoot adds a whole suite of what I privately refer to as ‘entrenching’ weapons — weapons that create, or destroy, huge masses of earth, so that tanks regularly get buried and unburied and walled off from the rest of the battlefield. It’s anybody’s guess whether all this burying is supposed to be an offensive or defensive measure — the enemy AIs bury and unbury you and themselves and each other so often and so perversely, I have no idea. Sometimes I just wall myself off from the rest of the action, Cask of Amontillado style, and let the rest of them fight it out. Then I swoop in at the end with a couple of Nukes and finish the fight.

But for the moment iShoot has replaced Fieldrunners and Texas Hold’em in my affections. At least until they make iWorms.