Review

Final Fantasy 7: The First Soldier Review - Straining At The Seams

  • First Released Nov 17, 2021
    released
  • AND

Though it offers fun additions to the battle royale formula, The First Soldier struggles with being too much game for the mobile medium.

The first time I dropped into a game of Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier, my main opponent was the clutter on my phone's screen. The game's smattering of touchscreen controls include an analog stick for moving around, a button to shoot, another button for a melee attack, one for jumping and parkouring, and one for crouching and hiding. Get close to a treasure chest and you can open it with another button. There's the inventory menu for swapping between weapons, and the one for using your consumable items to heal. And there's the section of the screen dedicated to Materia, the little orbs you can find that give Final Fantasy VII characters the ability to use magic.

Because The First Soldier is a mobile game, all that stuff sits on the screen, occupying the same space you're expected to fight off other players in. It's cumbersome--half the time, my thumbs were in the way of the action. The other half, I couldn't remember which button to hit to call down some lightning bolts in a fight or to dash my way out of danger in a pinch.

Plenty of battle royale games, including big-market favorites like Fortnite and PUBG, have mobile versions. And plenty of players enjoy them, even though they reach a similar complexity to The First Soldier. But Square Enix's Final Fantasy take on the genre throws even more systems into play than those other games with the addition of classes, magic, and mounts. It all feels like too much for my little phone screen to handle. And that's a shame, because The First Soldier is a compelling take on battle royale. A Final Fantasy version of last-player-standing is great fun--provided you can hit the buttons you want to and see the enemies you're fighting.

The idea behind The First Soldier is that operatives of Shinra, Final Fantasy VII's energy megacorp with its own private military, are squaring off against each other as part of elite special forces training. SOLDIER, in the game's universe, refers to a division of high-level operatives who are feared on the battlefield. Cloud, FFVII protagonist, is one such SOLDIER, as is Sephiroth, the game's incredibly powerful villain. So this is, to some degree, the story of how those legendary operatives first came to stand above the rank-and-file Shinra military: by fighting on huge battle royale battlefields.

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In practice, this is pretty much like every BR you've played, if you're familiar with the genre. Players drop into a huge map (in this case, the undercity slums of Midgar, complete with a few recognizable places from Final Fantasy VII Remake) and search for weapons and items to fight against any other competitors they happen to run up against, with the last player or team standing declared the winner. Over time, the playfield shrinks, and anyone caught outside of the "ring" defining the new battlefield takes damage. Like games such as PUBG or Fortnite, you can grab vehicles randomly placed around the map to make the journey go a little quicker, although at the cost of making yourself conspicuous to other players. You can also quickly parkour up most vertical surfaces just by running and jumping at them, allowing you to change elevations, set traps for players, and circumvent obstacles.

As in other BR games, you'll use firearms to do most of your fighting. The First Soldier is a third-person shooter at heart, and there are guns of various types and rarities that determine their effectiveness. Constantly searching for better guns, or taking them off the corpses of your enemies, is key for surviving long enough to claim victory. On the whole, the guns in The First Soldier feel pretty good, and the differences in the ways they handle--like the heavy recoil but high damage of a submachine gun, compared to the longer range but less crushing assault rifle--make your choices of what to take with you pretty meaningful. Add to that the fact that you can only carry two guns at a time and your weapon decisions have a major effect on the game.

However, where The First Soldier sets itself apart is with all the Final Fantasy VII elements it adds to the BR formula. In addition to guns, you can find and carry up to three Materia orbs, each of which represents a different magic spell. You can cast magic using mana you either recover over time or find in destructible boxes, much like in FFVII Remake, and having certain kinds of magic at your disposal can be a massive game-changer. A Thunder spell blasts a whole area with electricity, restricting your enemy's movements, while a Fire spell is akin to hucking a bomb at somebody that sends them flying. With things like Gravity for locking players to a spot, Bio for poisoning anyone unfortunate enough to wander into its noxious cloud, and Cure for healing yourself, magic adds a deep layer of strategy to the usual battle royale gunplay. As in FF7, you can level up your Materia to make it more effective by finding copies of the Materia you already have, giving you another incentive to continually loot the world around you and the players you fight.

You also choose a "class" for your character at the start of each match, which comes with its own caveats. In addition to the guns you find, each character gets a melee attack, which is determined by your class, plus a special ability. The Knight class gets a melee dash attack that also provides you with a brief shield against attacks, for example; the Mage class can drop an arcane ward on the ground that quickly recharges mana; the Ninja can briefly become invisible to sneak away from opponents or relocate in the midst of battle. There are five classes in total, and the longer you survive with one, the higher your class level reaches, boosting your attacks and your abilities as a reward for staying alive until the end of the match.

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And finally, there are accessory items you can find for your character, which add special bonuses like damage protection outside of the ring, resistance to certain types of magic, or better luck in finding money on the ground for use in The First Soldier's many vending machines.

All those systems bring the RPG ideas of Final Fantasy 7 Remake to The First Soldier, and they really help to freshen up the battle royale formula--even if it means a ton of controls competing for screen space on your phone. The possibilities of things like surprising an opponent with a fireball, unloading on them with a shotgun, and then closing off their retreat with a Thunder spell make for some pulse-pounding, strategic fights. Combat in The First Soldier has its similarities to other BR games on the market, but the addition of magic and class abilities, plus accessories and the in-match level-up systems, means it also gains some of the best elements of FF7 Remake. There's just nothing else really like it.

When you're able to execute your attack commands quickly and fluidly, battles against opponents feel great. There's a lot to keep in mind, but once you get the hang of utilizing it all under fire, fights are gripping, intense, and unpredictable. You can also execute really fun strategies, like catching an enemy in a doorway with a fireball to trap them inside or placing a poison field near cover to flush an opponent out of hiding.

The trouble is that things get frantic on a touchscreen, especially as you're battling to keep the camera aimed at the action and competing with the controls to see what's going on. The camera in particular is a huge pain, since you have to swipe at your screen to rotate it, which means you can't use other controls with that thumb at the same time. It can take melee off the table altogether, more or less, since the close proximity you need to attack other players means you can whiz past them, putting them behind you and therefore out of sight.

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Because of the touchscreen issues, The First Soldier improves by a huge leap if you use a Bluetooth controller to play it. When I plugged a controller in, my experience changed dramatically for the better. Suddenly, I could execute every attack I wanted to whenever I wanted to, while keeping the camera aimed where I needed it to be. There are still maybe too many controls to handle elegantly--between shooting, using consumables, and throwing magic, you often have to hold one button while pressing another to have enough commands to get everything done--but using a controller was a huge step forward in making The First Soldier work. The controller feels like a significant advantage over touchscreen controls, even in just being able to reliably manipulate the camera so you can see who you're fighting. Returning to touch controls after using a controller highlights how much the game strains the real estate of a phone screen.

Once I could see everything I was doing and reliably execute the attacks I wanted, though, it became clear how well all the ideas of Final Fantasy VII work within the battle royale framework. Magic, guns, and swords go pretty damn well together, and The First Soldier becomes a very fun take on the BR formula that's both familiar and fresh.

It's just that it feels like The First Soldier is a game that strains the confines of the mobile medium. Not only is the game overwhelmed by controls, but The First Soldier includes a bunch of additional systems that are fun in theory but in practice make the game a bit unwieldy for a medium meant to be played in short bursts. We haven't even mentioned The First Soldier's entire chocobo-breeding minigame, where you find eggs in special treasure chests in a match, hatch them, and then combine chocobos to get exactly the measure of stats you want. The birds you decide to keep can be marked for deployment in-game, so if you find a chocobo sign while playing a match, you can call your bird in battle to transport you around; you can even attack other players with chocobos, and they can be devastating if you're able to get close to a target. It's a fun system you can choose to engage with or completely ignore that further contributes to making The First Soldier feel like something new and different in the BR space, but it's something else to keep in mind when you're in matches, or to mess around with between runs, when you're probably only signing on for a quick match or two on your phone.

I'm enjoying The First Soldier and I'll keep it in my BR rotation, but it already seems like a game I'll struggle to get better at. This is a battle royale title that's good enough, smart enough, and different enough to attract and keep a healthy player base--it's bursting at the smartphone's seams. On PC or console, The First Soldier would take a well-deserved place against other BR powerhouses, but on mobile, it's just too cramped.

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The Good

  • RPG elements such as classes and leveling up add interesting nuances to BR battles
  • Materia is a really cool addition that can make battles intense and frantic
  • Chocobo breeding is a fun, if inessential, addition
  • Gunplay feels pretty good and weapons are distinct and varied

The Bad

  • So many mechanics mean controls crowd the screen and are tough to keep straight
  • Controlling the camera is annoyingly difficult with touch controls, especially in melee fights
  • Feels too big and involved for the short-burst play of the mobile medium

About the Author

Phil Hornshaw dropped into multiple battles over the course of about eight hours in The First SOLDIER, but kind of wished he could trade his assault rifle for gysahl greens to breed chocobos full-time. He played on a Google Pixel 3a XL Android phone.
34 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

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externalpower

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Every mobile game should lose 4pts for being unplayable on mobile.

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MeanJ

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Edited By MeanJ

also i would consider the 2 traits your chocobo can get thru breeding as "essential" and being able to give them more stats like they can jump/run/attack or have more health based on how you breed them and have 1 trait if you dont breed them as traits can bring you items or being able to recall in middle of nowhere,he played 8 games on a phone, if he played 8 games on a ipad he probably would have cured alot of his gripes yes mobile is for phones but the real mobile gamers have ipads, like how a real pc gamer has a nice computer and not a toaster. be funny if you reviewed elder ring on a toaster and complain that you have a walmart mouse and shiity keyboard. does anyone reread or replay your review? shouldnt just be one persons opinion only lmao that would be silly.

the best players in the game will have a tricked out chocobo than can run much faster and do things a non breeded one will.

being able to jump/run faster maters as the best ride in the game are the chocobos but they can be killed, the higher they jump maybe they can get to higher ground other chocobos cant, i seen rangers take there snipers very high up, stamina even matters as they have a energy bar for jumping and running and i can see that this reviewer dint scratch the surface of this game at all.

heck fortnite could steal/copy to breeding to add spice to there game might even add elements in there game (like breeding horses) or (flying dragons) its that fun and yes essential

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WildGoat

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To truly experience the game. You need a controller. I use Android paired with a Razer Kishi. Most IOS use Playstation 5 dualsense. The Gyroscope and ergonomics will be further improved.

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MeanJ

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@wildgoat: its stupid statement because i do not need a controller to truly experience this game i literally tried it and said ehh not much of a difference and still play touch. so if i can im sure other people do not need a controller, maybe the real answer is "YOU" need a controller to truly experience this game.

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MeanJ

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Edited By MeanJ

@wildgoat: thats a stupid statement i love the touchpad over my controller i have tried the aim isnt the same, no its not better you just think its better, practice on touchpad more, alot of us grewup with a controller but no its not better it has horrible aim. stop telling people your preference is a fact cause its not, ask yourself if this is so easy on a controller why isnt it on consoles? why did it hit touchpad before consoles? the dev knows why. its easier to play on the touchpad, like all these mouse and pc games that never came to consoles the devs realize there not playable on a controller, let me quote riot when asked about when Valorant will come to consoles, "itll be easier to play on a touchpad"

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MeanJ

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Edited By MeanJ

i got an ipad recently and one thing i noticed after playing mouse and keyboard and controller for 25 plus years is that touch screen are better than both, sorry to say alot of you are to lazy or close minded men to understand. this game is very easy to play on touch, turn up h/v touch aim speed to 80 an it moves better than a mouse. games that i find easy to play on a controller than on a mouse, LOL wild rift, FF7FS, on my switch i played Pokemon unite and on my ipad it easier on my ipad, this is why alot of people play mobile games, just get a ipad or a bigger device than your phone, if your playing on a tiny phone thats your own fault the touch screen is to small and not viable. this review is kinda a joke he played on a phone and only 8 matches Scoring 7 isnt bad,yall gave league of legends a 7.

reasons touch is better, aim is better than controller, being able to do so many endless things like text,emote,etc etc opens the touch screen to games like MMO's where controllers based consoles are still waiting for those because stuff like chat is non existant, if you learn how to use a touchscreen its better than a controller and k/b mouse.

just look at the sheer volume of games and diverse gameplay on touch screen based games compared to controllers, league of legends wild rift touch screen is a whole nother level of fun, holding the ipad and playing the sounds vibrating it such a immersive experience compared to a console.

when play ff7fs i have full controll even more so than if i use my kb mouse or controller, i can show you my razer mouse and keyboard i dont use anymore because the best thing of all is this

BECAUSE I DO NOT HAVE TO SIT IN A STUPID OFFICE CHAIR MY BACK DOESNT HURT BECAUSE ON MY IPAD I CAN PLAY ANYWHERE I CAN GET AS COMFORTABLE AS I WANT.

its not even close you guys bashing touch screen obviously have not mastered or tried to master it, its really not hard.

IE dont try and change men

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externalpower

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Edited By externalpower

@meanj: Its impossible to play on touch screen. You are making all that up.

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Pierce_Sparrow

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At first, my thoughts were similar. Controls sucked. It was too hard to play. Too many options. As I played though, I found what worked for me and got used to the controls. I now do fairly well at the game, typically coming in top 3 whenever I play and mostly using melee combat, which seems to work pretty well. All of that is rather ironic considering I suck at pretty much every other BR I play and this is the only one I've actually stuck with.

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xNSHD

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haha better than dying light according to gamespot.

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Barighm

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Edited By Barighm

@xnshd: Seriously. A game that is all wrong for handhelds and controls horribly rates better than a game that otherwise plays fine but supposedly has a dull story.

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kabloe

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Edited By kabloe  Online

@Barighm: There is a overloaded FPS style games on the market that make each and every one of them not enough ambitious and different so that they do not require your attention at all except if you're a fan of FPS style games.

It's like coming with the same game year after year but with a different cosmetic, skins and so on... It's a lack of visions, ambitions, efforts and it's all there just to take out your money... People are all about gameplay but in FPS you can't jump correctly, it take 2 seconde to turn your camera and generally controls are not so great...

They are just SHOOT THE TARGET games... really bland!

Just my 2 cents... but everyone that enjoy those type of game are welcome to like those but for me it's a lost of time

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chaosemerald

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@xnshd: LMAO seriously. Review scores are a joke, but I think we all know that. Best to just laugh at it and move on.

Dying Light 2 fan here putting out the word that the game is excellent. Dont let games media sway you.

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Fursnake

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@chaosemerald: Hear hear! I enjoying Dying Light 2 a lot as well!

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chriss_m

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Edited By chriss_m

I can’t believe that people are actually using touch controls for this game. It’s unplayable. Just plug in a controller on an iPad and get on with it.

But the point that this shouldn’t be a mobile game is right. It is fun, but it’s a console game. The only problem is that as a console game it lacks content.

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TreeChopper88

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@chriss_m: I wreck controller players on the regular in COD. I am better at the game with touch than I am controller.

I dont suck with a controller either by any measure either, in fact its the opposite... just been playing touch screen stuff for over a decade and it has definitely something I consider a valid control method.

The games I have beaten on a Surface Pro using touchscreen with a virtual gamepad would make you think twice before writing it off.

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Pierce_Sparrow

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@chriss_m: I've done quite well with the mobile controllers. Was a struggle at first, but once I got the hang of it, I've now been able to do well in nearly every game I join.

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Bahamut50

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Edited By Bahamut50

So what you're telling me is it shouldn't be a mobile game? Like, small screens just aren't... fun to play games on. We've had some great portable consoles, but they do a much better job of dealing with controls and screen clutter.

I just wish mobile gaming would go away personally. Like as an alternative, it's fine, but when you force people to choose it as the primary venue for your game it's such a huge drag. It ruins any of the potential fun for me.

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lonewolf1044

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@Bahamut50: Playing on small screens is subjective as I can't play on small screens and it is less immersive than playing on a 34" screen for me, but I do believe some mobile games can be played on a console or even an PC. Some people find mobile games options not as versatile or plentiful than a console game or PC game for various reasons. If they took a mobile game and made it to play on PC or console as least beef it up so whatever one plays it on can take advantage of the hardware being used.

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StickEmUp

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“Mobile gaming is the future.” Lol.

I remember reading that a lot, 5 or 6 years ago. Not gonna happen. It’s just such a limiting platform and always will be.

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lonewolf1044

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Edited By lonewolf1044

@stickemup: I agree, but mobile gaming can coexist with every format just like console and PC coexist. For me little things are being made to do big things, but what will be limited for me is screen size as I can't play on small screens but that does not mean the next person can't. The reason there is a market for mobile gaming because some people want to take the gaming with them on the go. Heck the Switch is a console and a mobile device and with the Steam Deck coming mobile gaming will be expanded even more and that is the beginning. Mobile gaming is not meant to take over what its big counterparts can do it just a watered down of its big counterparts.

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Catari64

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@stickemup: As much as I hate every pretty much every mobile game ever created, it makes an absolute fortune.

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Barighm

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@stickemup: But it shouldn't be. I don't understand why some games don't treat a phone like a TV box. You can already plug a phone into a TV. Allow us to plug a controller or M&K combo into the phone and you've got yourself a game console you can plug into any monitor.

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lonewolf1044

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@Barighm: You can say technology has allowed them to do such things and years ago it was not even thought of. I do not play games on my phone and use it for the communication side. I more computer literate than phone literate. Tablets and pads are much more powerful than the first generation and I would keep my eyes on that because it does have potential an awful lot of potential and most will blow it off but in time with the shrinking of computer parts that can do the work of bigger computer parts is just beginning.

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illegal_peanut

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I didn't even know this existed until now.

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sakaiXx

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Edited By sakaiXx  Online

After playing it I am surprised, its actually a fun BR game. Probably will be ported to the Switch and other consoles soon if SQ ever want to expand and make it full fledge console BR. Really enjoying my time with the game right now and although I am not a mobile gamer I can see myself downloading the game whenever I am on a long away trip.

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jaijames

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waste of gigabits make the other part of the remake

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Pierce_Sparrow

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@jaijames: The people developing this game aren't even part of Square. Square is just publishing this.

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ghostspartan

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@jaijames: brace for ff7 go where you collect materias, ff7 racer, ff7 baseball, ff7 angry shinra and ff7 smash bros

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aaronlav

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@ghostspartan: ...am I sick for wanting all those things?

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TreeChopper88

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@aaronlav: just bland.

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Zero0010

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With the clucky controls and meh graphic, I uninstalled the game

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